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My Ethics: 'Stand your ground' laws are invitation to kill
The author says Florida legislators who supported the state's "stand your ground" law are responsible for Trayvon Martin's killing.
March 28th, 2012
02:53 PM ET

My Ethics: 'Stand your ground' laws are invitation to kill

Editor’s note: Edward L. Queen II directs the D. Abbot Turner Program in Ethics and Servant Leadership at Emory University’s Center for Ethics.

By Edward L. Queen II, Special to CNN

(CNN) - The true architects of the Trayvon Martin killing not only will not go unpunished, they also will go unnamed.

Those who created the conditions for Martin’s killing - those who, one might say, invited it - were the Florida legislators who voted for a law that undid not only decades of positive law regarding self-defense but also centuries of legal tradition.

In promoting “stand your ground” laws, self-proclaimed conservatives become grossly irresponsible radicals, drastically and dramatically undoing centuries of accumulated wisdom in their evisceration of the traditional formulation of self-defense.

They rip apart the traditional understanding of the legitimate use of deadly force in self-defense and invite people to kill.

Traditionally, the law understood deadly force to be justified in self-protection only when an individual reasonably believed that its use was necessary to prevent imminent and unlawful use of deadly force by the aggressor. Much of the tradition also argued that deadly force, outside of one’s immediate home, was not justified if a nondeadly response, such as retreating to a safe place, would suffice.

In adopting its "stand your ground" law in 2005 (officially Title XLVI, Chapter 776.013) the Florida Legislature, along with 20 other states with similar laws, both expanded the understanding of when deadly force is acceptable and eliminated the duty to retreat.

Florida’s law in particular remade the very nature of self-defense, turning what had been an “affirmative defense” into a presumption of innocence.

Before the passage of these “stand your ground laws,” most jurisdictions in the United States required one to demonstrate that one was acting in self-defense, that one had been attacked, that one reasonably feared for one’s life and that it was reasonable to use deadly force to protect oneself.

Unfortunately, Florida’s law expressly presumes that the individual using deadly force in self-defense had a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury. It also immunizes the individual from arrest or even being detained in custody, hence the failure of the police to arrest George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who has acknowledged shooting Martin.

One can only be shocked at this law’s idiocy. It is, simply, an invitation to kill.

Under the “stand your ground” law, any liar who kills someone and can concoct a reasonably plausible story cannot be arrested by the police or even taken in for questioning. Lest one think the Martin case is exceptional, justifiable homicide/self-defense claims have tripled since the law’s adoption, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The law also places police officers in a difficult situation; the killer’s story often cannot be contradicted because the person in the best position to challenge it is in no position to do so. That individual is dead - silent and cold.

That many people, including the legislators who authored the Florida legislation, have said the facts, as they emerged later, suggest that Zimmerman may not have acted in self-defense changes nothing.

The problem with the law is that, absent the outcry that followed, the facts would not have emerged. Unable to arrest and question the killer and to pursue the case, police find themselves in a situation where they are prevented from gathering the facts.

This structural limitation is exacerbated by the biases and prejudices that the officers bring with them regarding race, age, gender and criminality, to name just a few.

In their thoughtless attempts to undo the wisdom of centuries, extremists in the Florida Legislature went out of their way, if not to legalize murder, at least to decriminalize it. Each legislator who supported the law had a hand in Trayvon Martin’s killing and perhaps others.

With its craven attempt to garner votes by purportedly expanding individuals’ abilities to protect themselves, the Florida Legislature has made all of us targets and each of us a potential victim.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Edward L. Queen II.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Crime • Florida • Opinion • Race

soundoff (870 Responses)
  1. Win Adams

    Would there be all of this attention if the boy would have been white? I feel pretty sure that the Revs All and Jesse and Oprah would not have even commented on the incident. I also carry a gun and have a license for said gun. I do not plan on shooting anyone and will only remove it from my person or purse if there is a reason to do so. In my home, notice I said MY home, I have it laying near me. It only will be used is some fool decides to come in my home and wasn't invited to do so.

    However, that said, I think there are way more questions than answers in this case. I think the police investigation left a lot to be desired. In this case, I think Mr. Zimmerman should have been arrested and the case should have gone to a jury. There is no problem with the law. The problem seems to be in it's interpretation. This all should have been clarified and obviously was not.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  2. zodiac

    I just love how 1 person can get special treatment and news attention when 400,000 children died in Africa last year.. I just threw up form the trash CNN puts out..

    March 29, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  3. william coffey

    if i was the father i would not come on tv .. i will let him go free.. then he will go back to his house and one day trhere i will be in the corner waiting for him.. the only difference is that this time he will be a whole other... history ,, i am tired of this black people asking for justice all the time you have been doing that for 200 years... if someone kill my kid i will kill yours too, then if you love your kid you will think twice before killing mine...you want war , then its going to be

    March 29, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  4. Adam_Warlock

    OH MY GOD!!! why do they keep showing pictures of this teenage kid smiling? I need to see him in a hoody so that I can somehow justify why an unarmed kid with skittles and ice tea somehow seemed dangerous and deserved to die. -_-

    March 29, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • leila

      "deserved to die"???? Wow...that's pretty bad. Are you God?

      March 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Adam_Warlock

      Im being sarcastic GENIUS smh

      March 29, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  5. Reality

    ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:

    The hoodie as the new sign of crime?

    From today's local newspaper: "Mayor decries killing of Fla. teen"

    25 lines down another headline: "Man Shot Dead at Apartments"

    "The man was shot with a handgun at close range by a man in a gray hoodie".

    Couple this with almost daily news' accounts and photos of robberies of convenience stores and small grocercies by teens and young adults dressed in hoodies and no wonder the country is sensitized by the hoodie. And then there are all the TV cop shows with almost daily stories depicting the same scenario.

    Note: Some banks now ban the wearing of hoodies in their facilities.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  6. TEREDA

    I'm disgusted when i read that was self defense ???
    self defense between a mad man who had one weapon against a teenager who had nothing ??
    but the alone defect to be black
    I have the shame for the US Police and "justice" ? no justice will give back Trayvon to his parents

    Zimmerman was 'self-appointed', he had called 911 over 40 times in three months and was well known to the police dept., he was told NOT to follow the individual that the police would take care of it. How about the kid felt threatened. How would you feel walking home to have some strange guy following you? I agree with you.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  7. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 29, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Stupidity is not healthy for Christians and other loser things

      Prayer is delusion

      Prayer is a joke

      God is a fraud

      March 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • just sayin

      Prayer is Divine
      Prayer is a Joy
      God is a Friend

      March 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • just saying

      As I prove again and again, when you're stupid, there's nothing that can be done

      March 29, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • just sayin

      Everybody wants to be me is back.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Richard Dawking

      Religion is such an outdated illogical concept, it amazes me that in this current day and age people still believe crap like the bible. Then again, there are a lot of dimwitted people in the world.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • just sayin

      For writing of dim witted person read post by Richard Dawking

      March 29, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Jesus

      .Lying is a sin, you've been proven a liar over and over again on this blog. A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      Plus don't forget. The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.!. .

      March 29, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  8. John Spurlock

    If some 17 year gorilla in a hoodie stalks me to my car, jumps me, breaks my nose and then punds my head on the cement sidewalk... I'm going to shoot the rotten S.O.B. So would anyone else who wants to stay alive.

    You want to know who's at fault here?
    The parents of the dead boy.
    It's their fault for raising him to be a thug.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • kc

      Dude, wait until all the evidence (what they can now gather) is in before making assinine comments. If you see the video of Zimmerman right after the event, it's kind of hard to see any injuries or a messed up jacket where he says he was on the ground struggling for his life.
      Flip that coin you are tossing and look at it from the kids point... he's walking home from the store and some unidentified guy is following him. According to his girlfriend the kid was scared.... perhaps he was the one to 'stand his ground'.... Its a bad, bad, bad law.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • dave

      "Gorilla" nice - Zimmerman was told by the 911 operator to stop following the kid - Zimmerman made this shooting happen not the kid

      March 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • D

      How is it his parent's fault? I understand that he was being followed by the neighborhood watch member, and I never heard anything that he identified himself as a neighborhood watch member so if I had been the kid I would've been concerned and a woman that had been in the kitchen said the screaming stopped when the gun shot, and also where's the facts that the kid did that? Who says he did except the neighborhood watch member who killed him? Before we go blaming people, we should wait for ALL or as many as possible of the facts to come in, and either way, I believe the law should be revoked ( or whatever the proper word is for it) because things like this can just happen over and over again.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • D

      Also, calling the kid a thug when he'd just bought from a store, and had been followed by someone, I would've thought it to be the other way around.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • jesh

      You did take a look at the video when the guy was brought into custody right.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • REALITY

      My Story,
      As a WHITE American living in America, my fear and hatred of BLACK Americans is so paramount, that I must embrace every opportunity to inject my venom of stupidity and ignorance, regarding the reality of RACIAL PROFILING in America. As a coward, I hide anonymously in my home, concealing my face behind my computer, that I may impart my innermost darkness and evil of RACISM upon society. Sometimes when hanging out with the boys...the KKK that is, I feel somewhat empowered as we hide underneath our HOODIES....oops, I mean HOODS. Even while wearing my costume, I still find it hard to escape the cowardly person that I am. What a miserable life I have, never really having understood who I am, or my worth. You see, my parents raise me to believe that I was superior then people of color. But DANG BLASTED @#%...the more I live, the more I realized that people of color are not only my equal, but in most cases, more educated, innovative, talented and skilled than I. Please understand that my ignorance of hate towards people of color was handed down from my parents. Hopefully I will not spend the rest of my life in gross darkness and ignorance. Maybe one day I will face my fears of black people, enabling me to embrace justice for all people, that I may live in peace, harmony and REALITY with all of humanity.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  9. Jon

    The way modern racism works, and why Zimmerman probably subscribed to racial stereotypes, but is not completely racist. 27. 4% of African Americans live below the poverty line (10.7 Million people)
    In 2010 black males were incarcerated at the rate of 4,347 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents of the same race and gender. White males were incarcerated at the rate of 678 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. Hispanic males were incarcerated at the rate of 1,755 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents
    Approximately 12%-13% of the American population is African American, but they make up 40.1% of the almost 2.1 million male inmates in jail or prison
    A black male born in 1991 has a 29% chance of spending time in prison at some point in his life.
    Nearly one in three African American males aged 20–29 are under some form of criminal justice supervision whether imprisoned, jailed, on parole or probation.
    1 out of 9 African American men will be incarcerated between the ages of 20 and 34.
    Black male’s ages 30 to 34 have the highest incarceration rate of any race/ethnicity.
    18% Percentage of blacks 25 and older who had a bachelor's degree or higher in 2010.
    72% Of Black Kids Raised By Single Parent compared to 25% overall in U.S.
    Only 47 percent of black males graduated from high school in the 2007-2008 school year
    The report's authors also stated that the results of the eighth grade reading assessment test scores, which measure how many black males read at or above the proficiency level, "should set off alarm bells." The "best" score was a dramatically low: 15 percent (Kentucky, New Jersey), and several states averaged only five percent (Mississippi, Nevada)
    • Lack of a family unit.
    • No positive male/father role model/No disciplinarian
    • Education is not a priority.
    • Mom is simply too busy or mentally and emotionally unable to handle the problems. Kids are left to fend for themselves. They become tough and find themselves on the streets switched into survival mode.
    Results: The pursuit of easy money. Wondering why they can’t get ahead. The race card is a cop out, a catchall, to not take responsibility for your own actions.
    Modern racism is founded on very real statistics. Which leads me to the conclusion; more than any other reason, African-American males are profiled and stereotyped because of the actions of other African-American males. Many of the race problems faced by these communities is a result, not of racism, but by and large a disproportionate segment of this population chooses the “fast and easy” way. In short, African-American males may actually be their own worst enemy. Not society, not the police, and not the white population.
    Until the above bullet points are addressed, racism, real or perceived, will continue to be a problem in American – and it will get worse.

    Liberals will twist facts around to get a vote...the sad thing is that half the country is buying into this BS.
    I hate this tragedy occured but it wasnt race related.
    If I'm being beaten by anyone of any color, and i am armed and thats my last resort, youre dead. Plain and simple – 99.9% of you reading this would do the exact same thing in a situation such as this. Ask a Marine...

    March 29, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • thinkingdownstream

      Also, about 16 to 17 black people are murdered every day in American and over 90% of them are killed by other black people. The only people to benefit from the current 'white v. black' model of race relations are the liberal racialists who create and enlarge the divisions between the races. And benefit they do: Racialism – the promotion of racial hatred – is an growing industry in America that is heavily government subsidized and its tenants forced into nearly every relationship citizens have with other citizens be it in their work, home buying, education, health care, etc. it all has been politicized by race for the benefit of the Al Sharptons, Jesse Jacksons, their white/latino limo-liberal-elite peers and all their mindless socially and culturally brainwashed sycophants on the streets.

      Most Americans, of all races, just want to get along and live their lives in a nation of decent, respectable people who don't give a dam* about another person's race because we all have much more important things to worry about.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  10. Tim

    This case is NOT an example of the true intent of the Stand Your Ground laws..... The attorney for Zimmerman says it does not apply, the legislator who sponsored the bill says it doesnt apply. The law was meant to protect someone who was threatened, to allow them to stand their ground, not to allow them to pursue someone. Quit trying to take the events with Trayvon Martin and turn them into an indictment of this law. The law makes sense.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • johnfrichardson

      Thanks for actually knowing something, an uncommon trait amongst CNN posters – and authors, for that matter. There are both merits and problems to stand your ground, but none of them are even remotely relevant to this case and Edward Queen's exploitation of this tragedy for some other, wholly separate cause is nothing less than unseemly. An absolute disgrace.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Mikeindm

      Does this law address someone taunting and individual and when that individual reacts you feel threatened and shoot them.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  11. Katie

    No, it is NOT an invitation to kill.... I carry a weapon, and have a permit to carry it, and I don't shoot people every day. I will though if my life is threatened.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  12. Mykel

    Zimmerman will NEVER get a fair trial with all of the publicity.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • lunchbreaker

      He went looking for trouble and found it.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • dave

      we will give him a fair trial and them hang him – all legal like

      he killed an unarmed kid

      March 29, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • No fair trail needed when guilty

      Why care about a fair trial when the facts so far point to him being guilty. So that there can be some sort of technicality that will throw out his case?

      March 29, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  13. Jack

    Mr Queen, centuries of wisdom says if someone attacks you, you have right to defend yourself. It is because of self aggrandizing liberals like yourself this law is necessary. A burglar fell through a rotten part of roof while trying to break into an elderly ladies house. The admitted burglar sued, and won, the case. This flies in the face of common sense. Due to liberals like you, we had to make a "Stand your ground" law. That way I have the right to defend myself, my family, and my property when assaulted by a criminal. Hypocrit.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • dave

      stop repeating these urban legands - go back to kissing the stinking rear ends of drug addicts and alcoholics - Limbaugh and Beck

      March 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  14. Tom G

    Stand you ground does not apply because it was a matter of self defense, the media started the whole "stand your ground" issue. Zimmerman was following this teenager who was not known to him in his gated community in his capacity of neighborhood watch captain. The people who criticize Zimmerman for that have effectively invalidated the whole idea of Neighborhood Watch. Finally, Zimmerman returned to his car and was then attacked by Martin which is supported by 911 call records and by witness testimony.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • kc

      Zimmerman was 'self-appointed', he had called 911 over 40 times in three months and was well known to the police dept., he was told NOT to follow the individual that the police would take care of it. How about the kid felt threatened. How would you feel walking home to have some strange guy following you?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  15. Jack

    Sigh....this is not what this law is about. Damn liberals twisting histotry around. This law is to stop criminals from sueing their potential victims who fought back. An example – you are in the McDonald's parking lot getting into your car when a punk walks up and tries to rob you. You defend yourself, hitting, macing, and/or tazing the punk, then call the police. You are free and clear because of this law. You weren't looking for trouble but trouble found you. Now, before this law, thanks to the liberals that have overwhelmed our courts with frivelous lawsuits (McDonald's hot coffee!!) you could have been sued by the punk for hurting him while defending yourself. Now the liberals are trying blame everyone else for this law. It is because of the liberals that we have to legislate common sense in this country.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  16. ohhey

    Except that even the author of the bill in Florida says that his law does not even apply to this case since Zimmerman stalked the kid. Go read Castle's OpEd.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Tom G

      ohhey, maybe it's beyond your imagination to see what happened. Martin was in a small gated community that had experienced a rash of break ins. He was visiting his father because the little angle was suspended from school for 10 days which is why he was unfamiliar to Zimmerman. While Zimmerman did pursue him to see what he was doing in the gated community, he did give up pursuit and return to his car at which point Martin returned and attacked Zimmerman. Witness accounts, 911 records and the police report all support those facts.

      The problem is you have to dig to find the true facts. In fact, I would be willing to bet that until the police station video was released, most people were unaware that Zimmerman had indeed been arrested for manslaughter. It was only after going through questioning at the police station and having reviewed the facts that Zimmerman was released without charges.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Tallulah13

      And now it's a federal case and that police department is under fire.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  17. Steven Reinhart

    What bothers me about this whole thread is the arrogant presumption that I or anyone else should actually CARE what you think, Mr. Queen. Why does your opinion actually matter more than the millions of Americans who are not afforded such a “voice” on the international stage via CNN?

    March 29, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Jack Pickett

      well said

      March 29, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Tallulah13

      Did a representative from CNN come to your house, hold a gun to your head and force you to read this? Stop complaining about freedom of speech. If you have so ethnic to say, submit it to CNN and maybe they'll publish you too.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Tallulah13

      Argh. Not "so ethnic". It should have been "something".

      March 29, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  18. N.Shapiro

    Why are we iscussing "Stand your ground" in connection with the Trayvon case?

    Zimmerman told 911 dispatch he was following Trayvon, he was told to stop, but he continued following, he was armed and killed a kid.
    Following is AGRESSION, not sell defense, or "stand your ground" [which is a bad idea, but not involved in ths case]

    March 29, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Jack

      you are 100% correct. It is because liberals want to make a fuss about a law that because their previous actions, became necessary. Criminals suing their victims. Seriously, when did common sense die in this country?

      March 29, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Tom G

      Actually following is doing what a Neighborhood Watch is about, call 911, get a description and location for the police to follow up on. I mean what is Neighborhood Watch anyways? Watching out for your neighborhood, reporting strangers to the police. It was a GATED community that had experienced a recent spate of break ins. It's why they had a Neighborhood Watch to begin with. Martin was visiting his father while suspended from school for 10 days, he was a stranger to that community. Sounds to me like a classic "what are you looking at?" that escalated into a fight and unfortunately one of the participants was armed (legally) and fired his gun in self defense.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  19. JEN

    IT FUNNY HOW THIS KID PARENT DON'T WANT TO HAVE THE PUBLIC KNOW THE BAD SIDE OF THEIR SON. THE KIDS WAS A TROUBLE MAKER AND HIS PARENT SHOULD STOP HAVING MORE KID.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • lunchbreaker

      So because he was a bad kid he deserved it? Your point is moot to the case.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • kc

      What do you have that proves the kid was 'bad'? An empty baggie and a school suspension? If that made a kid bad, my tunnel construction worker and my former marine must be flukes?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  20. Ozerik Sleipnijr

    Here in Switzerland we have more gun owners & holders(soldiers who have to take their mg`s home) per square mile than anywhere else in the world. A vigilante typ of law that allows you to shoot some unarmed teenager is unthinkable in this country. But considering your system of govt. which has been rigged for a "winners take all (1%) and the losers all suck (99%)" its not surprising that America is faced with this kind of problem. The problems of a nation obsessed with desire will continue to grow untill it breaks down and finds out what it as a people needs. The Americans need to change their system of govt. starting at the grassroots level with the prinicple of direct democracy.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Jack Pickett

      I agree, although i have read many stories where the stand your ground law has helped and even saved lives. And also the world and sociaty as a whole are set up for the 1% to far surpass the 99%, every country has rich and poor.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Gudrun Ennslin

      Direct democracy? The reason America does not have direct democracy is the extreme risk of mob rule that ends crucial right based on the blindness of spur-of-the-moment emotions. That is why we have a Constition, and that is theoretically why we have representatives – though they have deteriorated into a mob in recent decades.

      In direct democracy, the majority tend to follow demagogues – the power lies with the Limbaughs – clearly a dangerous situation. People already prove they will believe the most ridiculous stuff and are easily led by demagogues.

      Direct democracy can only work if the citizens take it upon themselves to think critically and independantly, and to carefully understand each issue in detail, unswayed by the opinions of others. Does that sound possible in America? Remember, intelligent people are the minority.

      Direct democracy guarantees that the stupid vote wins again and again. Forget it – the human race is not up to it, just as they are not up to pure anarchism, which would be the ideal state if people did not fall prey to their base animal instincts.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.