The tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman has focused the nation’s attention on a new breed of law called “Stand Your Ground.”
The tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman has focused the nation’s attention on a new breed of law called “Stand Your Ground.” Florida is one of 20 states that now have such a law. If a shooter uses deadly force in self-defense inside or outside his home, he [sic] is shielded from prosecution. All he [sic]has to do is assert a “reasonable” fear of grave harm expected from the other person.
After many raised legitimate concerns across the nation, Mr. Zimmerman was finally arrested for killing Martin and has been charged with 2nd degree murder. Without an arrest, the judicial system could not do its job of assessing the circumstances to determine whether there was in fact a threat of grave harm and thus a legitimate defense of self-defense. Whether or not this homicide was justifiable will be determined by a judge and jury, not by law enforcement. At least now, the process can move forward.
But this case has brought the reality and the consequences of the “Stand Your Ground” laws into public view. The Florida law was passed in 2005 after lobbying by the National Rifle Association and in spite of objections from many in law enforcement.
The “Stand Your Ground” law seems to be a law for men, men who like to carry weapons, who are suspicious of other people who look different than them, who are driven more by fear than hate. It certainly doesn’t seem to apply to women who actually defend themselves in actual life-threatening situations. Contrast Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense with the claims of self-defense made by battered women who use deadly force on their batterers.
Statistics on the number of battered women who defend themselves and their children and end up in prison are very hard to come by.
A survey of women in a California state prison in 1969 found that, of the 30 women who had killed their mates, 29 had been abused by their mates. Twenty of the women indicated that the homicide had resulted from their attempt to protect themselves or their children from further harm. Totman, J. (1978). The murderess: A psychosocial study of criminal homicide. San Francisco, C.A.: R & E Research Associates. p. 33-36.
A case study of Chicago women’s prisons found that 40% of the women in that city who were incarcerated for murder had killed partners who had repeatedly abused them. These women sought police protection at least five times before killing their abusive partners. Rotondo, S. (1993). Battered women in prison: Statistics and update. Out of Time, 17. p. 3.
Even with significant progress in addressing domestic violence in the U.S., Sue Ostoff with the National Clearinghouse on the Defense of Battered Women says that they are still seeing a very high percentage of women who kill their abusers being found guilty or pleading guilty.
So there is one law for men and another law for women. Women who defend themselves go to prison. Men who use deadly force and simply assert self-defense may not even be arrested and tried. There is something wrong with both sides of this reality.
Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune