Dear Commons Community,
Justice is being served by the decision of a special state prosecutor to bring second-degree murder charges against George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager. A New York Times editorial comments:
“It is critically important for the prosecution and the defense to present the fullest explanation of the shooting before an impartial jury. The need for a thorough investigation of Mr. Zimmerman’s conduct has been obvious since the day of the shooting in February.
The killing stirred national outrage after the local police department failed to bring charges and accepted Mr. Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense under the state’s dangerous Stand Your Ground law. This law — a sop to the gun lobby by state politicians — foolishly gave licensed gun owners the benefit of the doubt in shootings if they “reasonably believed” their lives were threatened. It has hobbled the work of prosecutors by requiring them to disprove a shooter’s claim of self-defense when a slain victim cannot contradict that claim.
Angela Corey, the special prosecutor, declined to discuss details of the case but said that if the Stand Your Ground law is invoked by the defense, “we will fight it” with evidence that the shooting was unjustified. In this case, Mr. Zimmerman exited his car to follow the teenager despite a 911 dispatcher’s warning: “We don’t need you to do that…”
As the case proceeds, the Stand Your Ground law should be on trial as well. It has invited gun owners to flirt with vigilantism by eliminating the traditional requirement to seek a path of retreat before resorting to force in self-defense cases. Claims of justifiable homicide have tripled in Florida since 2005, when the state became the first in the country to enact such a law. A score of other states have followed suit.
That the Police Department in Sanford, Fla., did not bring charges weeks ago shows how this law undermines the justice system and harms public safety. It must be repealed if the Trayvon Martin case is to advance the meaning of justice.”