Now that we realize the man protecting invisible children was crazy, the media is moving on to the next injustice. In case you haven’t heard, 17 year old Trayvon Martin was shot dead in some sort of altercation with George Zimmerman. The reason the case is attracting so much attention is because Florida has a “stand your ground” self defense statute (Zimmerman has yet to be arrested), and because Martin was unarmed and holding skittles.
Now let’s be honest, holding skittles doesn’t actually make someone less dangerous. If I asked you to step in the ring with Mike Tyson, but assured you it’d be okay because he was holding skittles, you’d think I was nuts. But at the same time, if I told you Jake Gyllenhaal got his ass handed to him by some guy holding skittles, you’d think it was funnier than if the guy wasn’t holding skittles. This is because you naturally want to hate Jake Gyllenhaal as much as possible, just like the media wants to drum up as much attention as possible so they can sell you soap.
For the same reason the media mention skittles, they don’t mention that Zimmerman isn’t white (Slate actually issued a correction after claiming he was white). Look at this quote from MSNBC:
Police have described Zimmerman as white; his family says he is Hispanic and not racist.
I can see the parents screaming now, “For the love of god people, he’s not racist he’s Hispanic! We all know only white people can be blamed for being racist!”
I’m not saying that being white doesn’t have its benefits. Chris Rock famously stated that white people wouldn’t switch places with him and he’s rich. Well, my advice is if you shoot a black teen holding skittles and you’re white, you probably want to consider Rock’s offer.
But the more egregious reporting error comes from Slate, other news outlets, and all your friends facebook posts. They focus on the fact that in Florida has a stand your ground statute. Slate gives a nice history of the evolution of common law self defense, and then describes the statute as follows:
Florida’s new law did three things: It further loosened the restrictions on using deadly force at home. It scrapped the duty to retreat in public places. And it gave people who use self-defense civil and criminal immunity.
Slate goes on to quote a former Sheriff who echoes what everyone is screaming on facebook, saying the law gives you “a free pass to shoot.” But here is the actual statute:
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.
Slate and others completely ignore the element that the person executing deadly force must reasonably believe its necessary to do so to prevent great bodily harm. So guess what, if everyone finds it outrageous that an almost white man shot a black kid holding skittles, then we don’t have to worry about any of this! It wasn’t reasonable for him to believe he had to shoot a 17 year old black kid holding skittles in order to prevent bodily harm.
Yet in Slate’s 1100 word article explaining the statute, not one of those words is “reasonable.” That’s a little unreasonable. The tag line is “Florida’s self-defense laws have left Florida safe for no one—except those who shoot first.” Except that’s just wrong. You can only shoot first if a reasonable person would think its necessary to prevent bodily injury.
The end result is that the two hooks of this new story are irreconcilable. Either Zimmerman was reasonable and there’s more to the story than him shooting a skittle holding teen for no reason, or the self defense statute doesn’t apply. The only glitch is that the law has prevented Zimmerman from being arrested so far.
If the facts come out as they are now being reported (a big if – usually there’s more to the story when one side claims a shooting is this out of line), then Zimmerman’s day will come. In a perfect world he’d be in jail right now, but in the current world he’s no threat to society being out of jail. People may view it as an injustice, but remember justice isn’t the point of holding people while they await trial.