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Standing Your Ground?

Our obsession with guns has run up against our desire to be tough on crime, resulting in laws that are beyond ironic. According to an article in the LA Times:

Self-defense laws reward shooters with permission to kill if they can prove they’re acting out of fear for their lives. At the same time, minimum sentencing laws mandate harsh punishments for those whose fear is judged to fall short of that threshold – regardless of context or motivation.

That’s how George Zimmerman walks free after shooting and killing Trayvon Martin in self defense (even though Martin was unarmed). Meanwhile, also in Florida, Marissa Alexander, a mother of three, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a “warning shot” into a wall in her home during an argument with her estranged husband. Alexander had a restraining order against him because of previous abuse, and during the argument he threatened to kill her.

But Alexander left the scene of the argument to go into the garage to retrieve her gun, so her “stand your ground” defense was denied. Apparently “stand your ground” doesn’t apply when you are protecting your home, only when you are afraid for your life. Since she walked back to the kitchen with her gun (instead of leaving her home), she became the aggressor. And Florida law requires a minimum sentence of 20 years if a gun is fired during an aggravated assault.

As one expert put it, “Florida’s gun laws are schizophrenic.”

Even though Zimmerman is white and Alexander is black, I don’t believe the big problem here is racial. The main problem is crazy laws where what someone is thinking can make the difference between them receiving a very harsh punishment and no punishment at all.

There is a racial problem – that white people feel threatened by blacks, which also means that it is easy for a court to believe that a white person felt afraid for their life. I don’t want to downplay the racial problem. It is a huge issue, but it wouldn’t be solved by convicting Zimmerman. Zimmerman is a symptom.

By the way, if you don’t think we have a huge racial problem, read this.

Adam Zyglis
© Adam Zyglis



  1. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Alexander’s conviction seems to make perfect sense to me. She had escaped the situation and came back armed to confront it. The law isn’t stand your ground to protect your property, just your life. In the Zimmerman case he believed he was protecting his life. There was no evidence he had escaped the beating and come back to exact vengeance. So this is a false equivalence.

    Now the mandatory 20 years for firing a warning shot is extreme given the mitigating circumstances, but she did have the opportunity apparantly to leave altogether, so it does show some pre-meditation at some level.

    I do agree completely there are some twilight zone laws out there and that the discussion on race needs to continue and broaden.

    Monday, July 22, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink
  2. Iron Knee wrote:

    PSgt, yes, legally Alexander’s conviction makes perfect sense. It is the laws that are crazy. That was the whole point.

    Note that the law doesn’t allow any consideration of “mitigating circumstances”. It doesn’t matter that her husband had beaten her, that she had a restraining order against him, that he had threatened to kill her, or that she never aimed the gun at him.

    And “pre-meditation” is only significant if she shot him, which she did not.

    By the way, I added a link to the story, but I want to encourage people who are interested in continuing (and broadening) the discussion to read this —

    Monday, July 22, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Permalink
  3. Hassan wrote:

    So in Stand your ground law, is there definition of square footage you can move about. Why the whole house was not considered her ground?

    I am afraid of black people because that is what been told to me by media and environment when I moved to this country. I have no other personal reason whatsoever. Actually very few I came across were extremely nice. And they always called be brother (seeing me non-white perhaps).

    But I am thinking, should not blacks be afraid of white people rather? They enslaved blacks, they deprived them of their rights for long, the police profiles them, they get to jail more often, seriously if I were a black and see a white man, I would be terrified.

    Monday, July 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Permalink
  4. Becky wrote:

    PatriotSgt, Marissa Alexander could not get out of the garage any other way. From her husband’s deposition:

    He described her going to the garage, “but I knew that she couldn’t leave out the garage because the garage door was locked …” He reiterated, “I knew she couldn’t get out of the garage.”

    “She came back through the doors and she had a gun [from her car]. And she said, ‘You need to leave.’ I told her, I ain’t leaving until you talk to me … and I started walking towards her and she shot in the air.”

    Monday, July 22, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink
  5. Thatguy wrote:

    If I remember correctly, Zimmerman defense team didn’t claim stand your ground, he was acquitted based on basic self defense. With stand your ground, he probably could have won the case even without the bruises and I on his head. This is because (I believe) stand your ground removes the responsibility to retreat before using deadly force, though this makes the Alexander case really confusing to me.

    Monday, July 22, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    That is correct, the Zimmerman defense team based their defense on “self defense”, not “stand your ground”.

    Monday, July 22, 2013 at 10:28 pm | Permalink
  7. Thatguy wrote:

    I wonder if the knowledge that stand your ground would protect his use of deadly force if a “threatening” confrontation arose from his following of Martin played a role in Zimmerman’s decision to disregard police advice. I certainly don’t question a person’s right to defend themselves, but to let people off after they go looking for a fight seems asinine. Self defense laws in general need a good review.

    Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 5:16 am | Permalink
  8. Bard wrote:

    Here’s what I don’t get. It’s not self defense for Alexander, because she was able to leave the scene. Yet Zimmerman was told by a 911 operator not to get involved. It was Zimmerman who created the situation. At the very least Alexander wasn’t purposely trying to star a confrontation with her husband.

    Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 5:26 am | Permalink
  9. patriotsgt wrote:

    Thatguy- As I recall from one of his reports or accounts to police he was not even aware of stand your ground until after.
    Becky- thanks for that, it changes the whole thing. Now it looks stupid. Why isn’t the SPLC or ACLU challenging the constitutionality of the law? And wasn’t that the same prosecutor who brought the charges against Zimmerman?

    Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 5:27 am | Permalink
  10. patriotsgt wrote:

    IK, I read the link and it has some serious issues. It tells a very different story, and is not equal at all. If we keep the story as presented to us by the trial, which is the only one we have, and then change the colors of the participants it would be a better start to the discussion. I don’t think Martin went up to Zimmerman and said gee mister why are you following me and then Zimmerman quick drew his weapon and shot him. It’s exactly the kind of article that prevents a serious discussion because it’s not even close to being accurate, according to the only information we have.

    Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 5:42 am | Permalink
  11. Steve wrote:

    “The main problem is crazy laws where what someone is thinking can make the difference between them receiving a very harsh punishment and no punishment at all.”

    You have just described 95% of the criminal law, where the subjective mindset (the ‘mens rea’) of the accused is an element of an offence. For example, the difference between murder/manslaughter, assault/accidentally-bumping-into-somebody.

    Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 6:55 am | Permalink
  12. anon wrote:

    I think everyone including the author of the blog should read the court findings before commenting or comparing the said cases. Please refer to the link.

    Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink
  13. patriotsgt wrote:

    Anon – thanks for that information it definitely adds to the discussion. Perhaps our legal system isn’t as broke as purported to be. Although I’m certain there are some miscarriages of justice, but perhaps not so much in this case.
    It certainly makes it clear the 2 cases have little if nothing in common.

    Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Permalink
  14. George wrote:

    Anyone who tries to understand this rationally is going to have great trouble. The reason for the is that it none of it is rational. You have the right to defend your home. You are not required to give it up.

    Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 6:59 pm | Permalink
  15. Jay Castor wrote:

    It was Marissa’s home. She was standing her ground. If you believe in that principle, and she had that right as a citizen, Marissa was wrongly convicted. There’s no two ways about it. Juries discriminate, whether they’re conscious of it or not.

    Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 4:25 am | Permalink
  16. ebdoug wrote:

    Black people are very fearful of white people, Hassan. Up until world war II, black people were kept in slavery in the south. Walk along a road, you are picked up on false pretenses, put in a mine where you are starved, not clothed, not given medical care and worked to death. The mines were owned by Northerners. After the Civil war, the black people got ahead for 20 years until the Federal government turned their back on the south. The south then reenslaved the blacks. No trial, just put them under ground. So everything was taken away from them if they hadn’t gotten to the north. So up here, we hear “The blacks are shiftless.” Never mind that they never had a chance.
    “Slavery by Another Name.” Douglas A Blackmon

    Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 5:38 am | Permalink
  17. Gerald wrote:

    From “Occupy* Posters” on Facebook:

    Imagine Your Daughter
    walking home from the store.

    A man in a car starts following her.
    He gets out. He starts following her.
    He starts chasing her.

    She knees him, or pepper sprays him,
    or trips him. She is then

    She is the aggressor, and he is justified
    for shooting her in “self-defense.”


    Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink
  18. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Good try Gerald, but it’s a false comparison. George never chased Martin. Now if the little girl mounted him and started bashing his head against the sidewalk…. Also, is she 6″ taller then the perpetrator?
    If you want to make a point and start a real conversation then make an equal comparison so we can talk.

    Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink
  19. Iron Knee wrote:

    Anon (comment 12) – first, that is not the findings from the trial, that was only the preliminary hearing to determine if she was immune from prosecution because she was afraid for her life.

    PSgt (comment 13) – I didn’t say there was a miscarriage of justice. In fact, I said that Zimmerman should have gotten off, given the stupid laws in Florida. It is the laws I am complaining about, not the verdict(s).

    Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Permalink
  20. anon wrote:

    Even if it is the findings of a preliminary hearing, the point I am trying to make is that this hearing in which the defendant and husband both gave testimony it is clear that the two cases cannot be compared.

    I tried to find the trial transcripts regarding the case but failed. But multiple well established news organisations have provided snippets of the proceedings.

    The husband kept on changing his version of what really happened (Going by his statements one can realistically assume that at some point during the case he wanted to get her out of the case).

    This case is clear case of domestic violence and I am not surprised by the jury’s decision, given the evidence. From the hearing it is clear that she could have ran out of the house and called for help from neighbors or practically anyone outside. But instead she went to the garage and and took a gun and came back to the room where her husband was, and fired. (this is the point when the stand your ground defense became void. Also the defense was unable to prove that all 3 exits where blocked by her husband. She chose not to escape.)

    Now lets consider an alternative scenario. Lets assume that if the gun was kept in the bedroom or near to the room where the husband tried to block her, and if she had reached for the gun, then the defendant could have easily won this case using “stand your ground”. But she went all the way from bedroom to the master room (with 2 exits) and then to the garage (with 1 exit) to get the gun.

    For those who are arguing about that it was her house, then you are wrong. The house is their marital house meaning it belongs to both of them.

    But my personal opinion is 20 years being the minimum for firing a gun which did not kill anyone is simply preposterous. If my memory is correct even that judge commented that he was helpless because this is the minimum. She should have taken that deal by prosecutors or at least tried to work it out with her husband (abusive or not) to give a consistent statement that could have saved her. I blame her lawyers for this.

    I would certainly like the lawmakers to make laws that are less stupid.

    Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink