By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA)—Two years ago, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was returning from a trip from a nearby 7-Eleven store in Sanford, Fla., to purchase a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona tea when he was confronted by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman.
Instead of making it back to the house to watch the tip-off of an NBA All-Star game, the unarmed black teenager was fatally shot in the heart by Zimmerman, who was later acquitted of first-degree murder charges.
The not guilty verdict triggered protests across the country and calls for a review of Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law that justifies the use of deadly force by anyone who believes their action was necessary to prevent “imminent death or great bodily harm” to them. The killer gets a free pass even if the person on the receiving end of a deadly bullet is unarmed. Even if that person is not breaking any laws. Even if that person happens to be a frightened black teenager. Especially if that person is a frightened black teenager.
Wednesday, Feb. 26, marked the two-year anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death. Two years after the fatal slaying, Florida and more than 20 other states still have Stand Your Ground statues in place, which have led to other incidents with racial overtones.
Standing on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, Zimmerman, who identified himself as Hispanic, was acquitted July 13, 2013 of first-degree murder.
On Saturday, six months later, a jury failed to reach a first-degree murder verdict against Michael Dunn, a white computer programmer, in connection with the death of Jordan Davis, a black teenager, at a Jacksonville, Fla., convenience store. Upset over the loud music coming from of a vehicle occupied by 17-year-old Davis and his friends—whom Dunn instantly characterized as “gangsters” and “thugs”—an enraged Dunn fired 10 shots into their Dodge Durango SUV. He continued to shoot into the vehicle even after it sped away, according to witnesses.
A jury composed of four white males, four white females, two black females, a Hispanic male and an Asian female found Dunn guilty on three attempted second-degree murder charges, which could land him in jail for at least 60 years. However, a verdict could not be reached on first-degree murder charges, the most serious offense.
Al Sharpton called for the civil rights community to redouble its efforts in Florida, a state he described as “ground zero” for the battle against Stand Your Ground laws. Sharpton stated, “From Trayvon Martin to Jordan Davis enough is enough.”
But, the Stand Your Ground law in Florida is not enough when the assailant is black.
For example, in 2010, a year before Trayvon Martin was killed by Zimmerman, Michael Giles, who was on active duty with the U.S. Air Force, and some friends were attending a party at a local nightclub in Tallahassee when a fight broke out between Florida A&M University fraternities.
Giles, who was licensed to carry a concealed weapon, went to his vehicle and retrieved a pistol and stuck it in his pants pocket. Giles testified—and other witnesses confirmed—that he was punched in the face. Lying on the floor and fearing for his life, Giles drew his gun and shot his alleged assailant one time in the leg; two others were injured by stray bullet fragments. For that, Giles, who had no criminal record, received a 25-year sentence for attempted murder, which he is still serving.
And, it’s hard to forget the case of Marissa Alexander, the Florida woman who was sentenced to a mandatory 20 years in prison after she fired a warning shot to hold off her abusive husband. No one was injured yet Alexander received a mandatory 20-year-sentence under Florida’s 10-20-Life law. After serving three years, she was released shortly before Thanksgiving after an appeals judge vacated the verdict, ruling the jury had been improperly instructed. Her new trial has been set for March 31.
In 2005, Florida was the first state to adopt Stand Your Ground legislation, nicknamed “The Shoot First” law. It states, “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
Blacks see a double standard applied when blacks who fire into the air or shoot an assailant in the leg receive serious prison time yet whites and Hispanics who kill black teenagers are not found guilty of first-degree murder.
Moreover, according to the Urban Institute, an independent nonpartisan think tank focused on economic and social problems affecting Americans, “White-on-black homicides were most likely to be ruled justified (11.4 percent), and black-on-white homicides were least likely to be ruled justified (1.2 percent).”
When the Urban Institute looked a justifiable homicides matching many of the common details found in the Martin-Zimmerman case, the institute found that rate of justifiable homicides is almost six times higher in case with attributes that match the Martin case.”
The Urban Institute report on Stand Your Ground laws stated: “With respect to race, controlling for all other case attributes, the odds a white-on-black homicide is found justified is 281 percent greater than the odds a white-on-white homicide is found justified.”
What should be done to hold Florida accountable the same way Arizona was punished with a national boycott in 1990 after it refused to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday?
Following the not guilty verdict in the Zimmerman trial, Sharpton’s National Action Network and other civil rights groups called for peaceful protests in 100 cities.
Sharpton said, “We gave people a way to express themselves and not just explode. One of the things, going back to Dr. King, media never gives credit to people when there is organized protests it in many ways channels to make sure that justice can be achieved but also gives order in society so that you don’t have mass bedlam.”
Longtime activist Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, said there should have been a national boycott of Florida similar to the one mounted against Arizona.
After Arizona voters blocked observance of Dr. King’s birthday with a ballot initiative, local businesses reported losing more than $200 million as a result of the boycott. The National Football League refused to consider holding a Super Bowl in the state because of the vote. In 1992, voters reversed their decision and in 1996, Arizona hosted Super Bowl XXX.
At a panel discussion last summer at the National Urban League’s annual convention in Philadelphia, Jesse Jackson expressed support for a boycott of Florida, but failed to follow-up with a national movement. Sharpton said he could support a support of a boycott of Florida if it were limited. And Urban League President Marc H. Morial did not express an opinion. The National Urban League is holding its national convention next year in South Florida.
“We lack a spirit of resistance in Black America,” said Daniels. “Here was an opportunity for us to not only get justice for Trayvon Martin, but it was also an opportunity to imbue a spirit of resistance in Black America that we could use to go state by state and roll back these laws.”
Sharpton said when he and other civil rights leaders raised the possibility of a boycott with Florida state legislators they found that a boycott would not help them get the votes that they need to repeal the law.
“The governor’s race in Florida ought to be around the ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws in the same way we made the mayor’s race in New York about ‘Stop and Frisk,’” said Sharpton. “That’s how you get laws. You have to be able to pinpoint and punish somebody or reward somebody based off of what you want.”
All sides agree that the only way to get a different verdict in high-profile cases is to have more blacks participate as jurors, which requires them to be registered voters.
“For the justice system to work, people have to respect each other diversity and cultures. We also got to make sure that we educate our community and let them know that jury selection is an equal justice issue,” said Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Trayvon Martin’s parents. “If we don’t sit on these juries, then shame on us, because no one is going to understand Trayvon like someone from his community.”