President, National Action Network
Ever since the verdict in the Michael Dunn so-called ‘loud music’ trial was announced, many parents have asked me what they should tell their children. How do they even begin to explain why a judge was forced to declare a mistrial on the charge of first-degree murder? How do they say to their young boys and girls that no matter what they achieve, how educated they are or what they do in life, some may only view them as dangerous or threatening? Whether these parents have called into my radio show or stopped me on the street, my answer has continuously been that the very first thing we must do is permanently remove despicable legislation like ‘stand your ground’ laws. It is 2014 and we must focus our energy on state legislative elections so that we may have leaders in places like Florida and elsewhere that can revoke these laws. Our children’s lives are literally at stake.
It seems as if we are stuck in some sort of disturbing pattern. A young Black teen is shot to death, we are all consumed by a trial against the alleged perpetrator, we watch this defendant claim that he was fearful for his life and then we see a jury fail to deliver appropriate justice. Well, it’s time to stop dancing around the issue and address the 800-lb. gorilla in the room: ‘stand your ground’ and similar laws have become an escape route for people to justify anything. And the state of Florida is ground zero for the devastation that has been caused by this legislation. In the Dunn case, just as in the George Zimmerman trial last year, the defense may not have invoked ‘stand your ground’ specifically, but the jury was instructed using language from that law. Because of this deplorable regulation, an individual has no duty to retreat and can therefore justify his/her actions by simply stating they feared for their life. Despite the fact that Jordan Davis, the 17-year-old victim in the Dunn case, wasn’t armed and no weapon was recovered in the vehicle that he and three of friends were in, Dunn claimed he felt threatened. ‘Stand your ground’ and similar self-defense rules have created a dangerous space where any shooting can be excused by simply stating that you feared for your life. It has allowed an individual’s ingrained biases to potentially be protected under the law, no matter who gets hurt in the process. And let’s not act like Florida is the only place where this is happening.
There are currently 23 states (including Florida) where legislation like ‘stand your ground’ exists. That means that in 23 states, cases like the Dunn and Zimmerman trials are taking place continuously without the presence of the media. That means mothers and fathers are burying their young because someone or multiple people felt ‘threatened’. And that means jurors across the country may very well fail to convict people who kill others because the burden of proof is virtually impossible to achieve.