What does it mean to stand your ground?
The answer depends on the context in which this question is made. As children, our parents probably told us to stand ground against bullies and other miscreants. In the workplace, to stand your ground means remaining true to personal ideas and suggestions, even when these might prove unpopular. When politics enter the equation, standing your ground often denotes remaining true to your word even though great opposition from others and their special interest sugar daddies is mounted.
When it comes to legal matters, though, something else entirely springs up.
After George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law took a role in the national discussion. Stand Your Ground - SYG - allows people to harm aggressors if they have legitimate reason to believe that their lives are endangered.
Whether or not one has the ability to retreat is irrelevant.
Despite the law’s straightforward nature, no shortage of pro-Trayvon Martin activists, the lion’s share of whom now constitute the Black Lives Matter movement, earnestly believe that it is a magnet for violence and vigilantism. Race is made a cornerstone of their arguments because they believe that, in accordance with violent crime statistics, a perceived aggressor might very well be black.
Race and the law are two paths which ought never cross. If anything other is the case, then one race ultimately receives special privileges, if not rights, at the expense of different groups. So, claims that SYG ought to be modified to suit the interest of a specific racial classification should find their home in a festering pile of garbage; particularly one that has been left out in the sun for several midsummer days.
The reality is that SYG was designed to protect the interests of those who find themselves with the wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is not a license for lunatics harboring a grudge against the next-door neighbor to open fire.
SYG does indeed work for a white man who gets off at the wrong exit and finds himself in an urban battlefield, quickly becoming a target due to his lack of melanin. Likewise, the law functions for a black man, lost in some methamphetamine-ridden countryside, who becomes the prey of deranged good-old-boys simply because of his race.
Beyond matters of ancestral identity, SYG stands for the gay person hounded by violent homophobes in a dark alley. The law also exists for women about to be beaten with a lead pan at the hand of some male who calls himself a “man”.
As can no doubt be inferred, the examples go on and on.
SYG critics should remember that Zimmerman’s refutation of the charges against him was not the law which they deride, but rather a traditional self-defense claim. Of course, SYG is the defining aspect of Florida’s self-defense law. Still, to assert that SYG allows murderers to run free is absurd.
The law is present in many other states than Florida, having come to prominence during the new millennium; a period which saw sharp drops in gun crime. It is not only there for the fellow mugged while walking down a deserted street late at night. SYG exists for the mother home with her toddler during a break-in.
In short, SYG laws, even if not used as an alleged victim’s court defense, are an invaluable asset to any free, civilized society.
Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org