In 2005, Florida passed the “Stand Your Ground” law that George Zimmerman and his defense team used to justify the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, which ended yesterday with an acquittal. The available evidence suggests that these laws may lead to more deaths and that the results are racially biased, since white-on-black homicides are considered to be “justified” over 350% more often than white-on-white homicides in states with Stand Your Ground laws, as seen in this table from PBS:
In 1997, the third episode of South Park was unfortunately prescient in how the Zimmerman trial ended up. A clip of the relevant portion of the episode can be seen here. In the clip, Stan Marsh’s uncle Jimbo takes the boys hunting, explaining the technicality that allows him to shoot anything he wants:
“You see, boys, the Democrats have passed a lot of laws trying to stop us from hunting… they say we can’t shoot certain animals anymore, unless they’re posing an immediate threat. Therefore, before we shoot something, we have to say, ‘It’s coming right for us!'”
This is, essentially, George Zimmerman’s entire defense. Despite the fact that he was told not to pursue Martin and despite the fact that he did so and then shot and killed the unarmed teenager, because there were no witnesses who could contradict Zimmerman’s argument that he felt that his life was in danger it was impossible for the jury to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman’s version of events did not occur. It appears that the evidence in this case was applied in compliance with the law, but the graph above (and the case of Marissa Alexander, who was not allowed to claim that she was “standing her ground” because she went back into a house where her attacker was in order to get her car keys and ended up being sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing warning shots that did no harm to anybody) shows that these laws are not applied equally across racial lines and need to be changed.