Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Trayvon's 'Stand Your Ground' Rights

Trayvon was also allowed to defend himself. But the state has rarely protected African-Americans' right to do so

I am both a former prosecutor and the mother of a 15-year-old son. When my son was little, like most moms, I told him to beware of strangers; that even in a nice neighborhood, like ours, a pedophile might drive through looking for a child victim. I told him to watch out for strangers, even in nice neighborhoods, because once he was inside the trunk of a car, I might not be able to help him.

Trayvon Martin was 17 years old and, based on the photos, not very big — like my son.

Based on media accounts and the reports of the 911 calls, he was walking through a nice, but unfamiliar neighborhood, talking on his cellphone when a strange adult male began to follow him in a SUV. At one point, he thought he had lost him, but the male reappeared following him again. This time the man, who was nearly twice his size (in body mass), got out of the vehicle, approached him, and had a gun.

Under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, Trayvon was allowed to stand his ground and use force to defend himself. If the gun was visible as George Zimmerman approached him, Trayvon would have been allowed to use deadly force against Zimmerman.
Previous cases in Florida have upheld subjective, though mistaken, beliefs about the danger presented to the person who feels threatened. Under the law, as the aggressor in this situation, Zimmerman had no right of self-defense.

Why was Zimmerman the aggressor?

1) The police dispatcher had advised him not to follow or approach Trayvon Martin.

2) On the 911 call, Zimmerman initially said that he was concerned about break-ins in the area. Deadly force is not legally authorized to protect property.

3) Zimmerman said that he thought the “suspect” might be high or using drugs. Both are offenses that do not warrant the use of deadly force in apprehension efforts.

4) Zimmerman also said, “Those assholes always get away …,” which clearly indicates that he had decided that Trayvon was guilty of something — he was no longer merely a “suspect.” So his approach, whether with his gun in hand or concealed, was with the intent to confront a “criminal.” Such an approach would be aggressive rather than passive.

To Trayvon, Zimmerman was a stranger. The media has made much of the fact that there are no other witnesses to what happened except George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. That would mean that this child was being approached on an isolated street by a strange adult, with a gun, driving a big vehicle.

Zimmerman is a threat, and Trayvon is in the fight of his young life — perhaps in the belief that he is fighting for his life.

Ironically, I have not yet seen this version of the Trayvon Martin case portrayed in the media. Standard media analysis of this incident begins with Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense and the applicability of the “stand your ground” law to Zimmerman. Did Trayvon have no right to be afraid of this strange, large man, with a gun, who had been following him for some time, in a vehicle large enough to abduct him?

A Department of Justice report from 2002 notes that in one year nearly 800,000 children under age 18 are reported missing, nearly 60,000 of them are reported as abducted by a stranger. Was this high school football player required to stand idly by to wait to see what this aggressive stranger planned to do to him?

Or, did the statute allow him to defend himself, as the Sanford Police Department was satisfied that Zimmerman had a right to do?

A Republican sponsor of the “stand your ground” law has indicated in media accounts that, based on the information currently available about the incident, he does not believe that the “stand your ground” law applies to Zimmerman. It seems that no one has yet asked whether the law would have applied for the protection of Trayvon Martin.

That was a colorblind analysis of the incident for those who choose to believe that race had nothing to do with this encounter.

Now for some ugly race facts.

For nearly two and a half centuries the right of self-defense did not apply to African-Americans against attackers under the laws of many states and, after emancipation a noted writer named Hinton Rowan Helper referred to African-Americans as “Negroes … with their crime-stained Blackness,” when discussing why blacks should not be allowed to vote and why racial segregation was paramount in social relations.

In 2004, Stanford University professor Jennifer Eberhardt and her colleagues wrote an article titled “Seeing Black: Race, Crime and Visual Processing,” in which she presents the results of several recent psychological studies that found race effects exist in all of our daily thinking and especially with regard to the association between blackness, crime and perceptions of danger.

So in the end, this encounter isn’t really about the hoodie; any racial proxy will do.

This historical and scientific background begs the question: If the racial roles were reversed in the Trayvon Martin killing, would the criminal justice system response be the same?

One might look to the 2006 Long Island, N.Y., case involving John Harris White for a possible answer. In that case, an African-American father shoots a white teenager who is in his driveway. The white teenager, Daniel Cicciaro, age 17, had come to John White’s home with a group of other white teenagers to attack John White’s 19-year-old son after an altercation that had taken place at a different location.

Although John White claimed that he had acted in self-defense when he pointed a gun at Cicciaro and, that the gun had accidentally discharged when Cicciaro tried to grab it, John White was arrested, tried and convicted of manslaughter and was sentenced to two to four years in prison. John White served five months in prison before his sentence was commuted by Gov. Patterson.

In that incident, John White’s family was under attack at their own home. The “castle doctrine” on which the “stand your ground” law is based, provides the greatest protection for persons who are threatened at their homes, but John White was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to prison.

George Zimmerman is free, and a blanket of racially tinged controversy hovers over private and media discussions of whether George Zimmerman deserves to be punished and, in some circles, whether Trayvon Martin deserved to die.

Delores Jones-Brown is a professor in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and former director of the John Jay Center on Race, Crime and Justice. More Delores Jones-Brown

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Positive Thought for the Week

"Change is the engine of the empowered life; if you are not willing to tap into the wellspring of your existence, to accept change, you will never move beyond your present shores."

-Author unknown

Did You Know?

Between the 1970's and 1999 the rate of suicide among black males climbed from 7.9 per 100,000 in 1970 to 10.9in 1997, compared to a modest increase in the rate for all blacks during the same period. Furthermore, since the 1970's, the rate of increase in suicides among black males in their twenties has been alarmingly steady. Source: Lay My Burden Down, Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis among African Americans, Dr. Alvin Pouissant and Amy Alexander

Don't Believe the Hype!

Hype: Teenage pregnancy is a runaway problem in the African American community.

Fact: African Americans ages 15 to 19 experienced the steepest decline in birth rates—42 percent—from 118 per 1,000 women in 1991 to 68 in 2002. Among African Americans ages 15 to 17, birth rates dropped by 52 percent between 1991 and 2002.
Source: Advocates for Youth

The Literati: A Crisis in the Mental Health of Black America

Suicide has always been a hush-hush topic in the African-American community; nothing silences a conversation more suddenly than talk of someone who has taken their own life, whether a family member or friend. With the publication of Lay My Burden Down, Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African-Americans in 2000, the veil of secrecy and inherited shame was lifted and the subject was put out in the public arena. Its authors, Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint and Amy Alexander, offer a convincing, cogent and relentlessly grievous account as to the myriad reasons so many African-Americans suffer from depression and other mental health issues and how those reasons lay the groundwork for the ultimate act of self-aggression: suicide. In particular, and certainly disturbing, is the suicidal trend of black males in America, which tripled between the 1980’s and the end of the twentieth-century, according to the authors. The common element of this trend is the loss of hope, a virtue that historically underpinned the ability of blacks to overcome the legacy of discrimination, segregation and unequal justice. Says Poussaint and Alexander: “…the realities of modern life have begun to undermine the historic adoptions, the coping strategies that are part of the African-American culture.” Lay My Burden Down requires the immediate and consistent attention from anybody who senses the urgency of self-destructive behaviors in a family member or friend and is a must-read for policy chieftains, church leaders and grass-roots organizations.

An Interview with Rev. James David Manning

This interview was conducted by W. Eric Croomes on Friday, October 31, 2008 regarding Manning's comments on Senator Barack Obama.

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W. Eric Croomes is a writer and playwright based in Irving, Texas and a native of Phoenix, Arizona. Eric is a graduate of Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Texas, earning a Bachelor of Arts in religion and sociology and is founder and executive director of Millennium Men of Color, a non-profit black male advocacy group. In 2002, Eric self-published Dance in the Dark, Poetic Reflections on Love and Culture, a collection of his original poems and essays on love and relationship in the African-American tradition. Three to Eight, a play examining the hours when most teens become pregnant and most juvenile crime is committed, was Eric’s first theatrical release and debuted at the 2004 Black N Blues one act play festival at the African-American museum in Dallas. Brotha2Brotha, Becoming Healthy Men from the Inside Out, a spiritual primer for men of color, was released in September, 2006. Eric’s next book, Thoughts in Black and Male, is slated for release in spring 2008. COMING SOON: THEVILLAGEREPORT.NET Visit Eric at www.wericcroomes.com

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January 19, 2008 issue of Golfweek Magazine

January 19, 2008 issue of Golfweek Magazine
and I didn't say 1958!