Trayvon Martin And The Florida ‘Vent Your Grudge’ Law

No, of course that’s not what it is known as; it’s called the “Stand Your Ground” law, isn’t it? I just read through the law itself several times, and while I am not a lawyer, the language of the law is not particularly subtle, and I am still trying to fathom on what basis in law George Zimmerman was thought to be justified in shooting Trayvon Martin dead. Even more mysterious to me is how the Sanford police could simply decline to pursue the matter. As if killing Martin were not bad enough, there is evidence that Sanford police are leaking derogatory information, information irrelevant to what Martin was doing at the time he was shot dead, as a way of somehow justifying Zimmerman’s fear of him.

After thinking about it for a while, I can only conclude that parts of Florida are as hostile to the very presence of young African Americans as they ever were in the days of frequent lynchings. (The same is true of parts of Texas; I am not singling out Florida.) When I was Trayvon’s age, I heard similar expressions from older Texans. I remember in particular one occasion when a neighbor was upset that a possibly 10- or 12-year-old African American boy walked through our solid white lower-class neighborhood. I said to the neighbor, “He’s not doing anything.” The neighbor replied, “They’s never a (n-word) that ain’t doin’ somethin’.” Would he have shot Trayvon? I don’t know; I’d like to think he wouldn’t have. But he certainly had a “fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another,” whether or not that fear was “reasonable.”

I can only conclude that a law that allows George Zimmerman to get away with murder, literally, is not a law about self-protection, but rather an open invitation to kill people you don’t want to see on your street. Zimmerman did, in fact, take advantage of a “Vent Your Grudge” law. A local law enforcement investigation of this incident is not good enough. If this law is not challenged and removed, or if Zimmerman is never charged with any sort of crime, we can expect an unending series of such killings, as nervous people who believe what my neighbor said over 50 years ago arm themselves against the “menace” of young people walking to the corner store to buy Skittles. That simply will not do. America has to be better than that… it simply has to.

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