Adrienne BoettingerThursday,18 July 2013

The Snap:

The first time I went to England, my young cousin asked me how many cowboys I knew. His idea of America was the Wild West and in between shoot-outs, all Americans vacation in Disney World. Although I confess to a fascination with cowboys (I blame Val Kilmer in Tombstone), I’ve been thinking about the idea that America is inherently violent in light of George Zimmerman’s trial. Is America more prone to violence and vigilantism than other countries?

The Download:

I don’t understand how “Stand Your Ground” statutes became law in 30 states, oftentimes over the objection of law enforcement. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the power of the lobbying groups behind the law. I even agree with the concept of self-defense but not of going against the explicit direction of authorities, engaging in an act of vigilantism that takes the life of an unarmed teenager, and walking free.  I just can’t understand how a Florida jury can set Zimmerman free while another Florida jury decides in less than 15 minutes that Marissa Alexander deserves 20 years in prison for firing warning shots into the air to defend herself against her abusive husband.

The United States is not the only country with “Stand Your Ground” laws; England, Japan and Argentina are among the countries with similar statutes but many have some sort of “duty to retreat” provision. Preliminary studies suggest the laws result in more violent crime than they deter. According to Mark Hoekstra, an economist with Texas A&M University, these laws “lower the cost of using lethal force and as a result you get more of it.” The same study found that states with the laws have higher rates of homicides than those without. Within 5 years of the law’s passage in Florida, the rate of justifiable homicides tripled. About 70% of those invoking the law have been declared innocent.

Currently, no conclusive studies have proven what role race plays in these cases. However, the Tampa Bay Times has reported that out of those pursuing a “Stand Your Ground” defense, 73% who killed an African-American faced no penalty compared to 59% of those who killed a Caucasian.

More studies need to be done and tough questions need to be asked and answered. A law that produces the opposite result of what is intended and appears to be unevenly applied isn’t the hallmark of a just society. It’s the symbol of a broken system and we owe it to ourselves and our children to do better.

We also owe it to ourselves, our children and the memories of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis to not respond to vigilantism and violence with more of the same. Civil disobedience and peaceful protest can do far more to change the system than attacks and looting. This battle will be lost and won, not in the streets, but in the courtrooms and state houses where we stand up and say that our voices will not be silenced no matter how deep the pockets of lobbyists.

Take Action!

Hat Tips:

The Atlantic, Salon, Washington Post, CBS News, Slate, Chicago Tribune, NPR, PBS, Tampa Bay Times, Rolling Stone, Baltimore Sun, Huffington Post, The Daily Show, Image Credit: Flickr


  1. […] terms of more definitive change, I think political action may yield better results; fielding candidates, campaigning for them and for God’s sake VOTING can […]

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