Northampton Press

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Another view

Thursday, July 25, 2013 by The Press in Opinion

Zimmerman verdict sparks debate and action

The jury verdict in the Trayvon Martin case has generated much public comment.

On one end of the spectrum are those who say George Zimmerman should be held legally responsible for the death of Martin.

The other end of the spectrum includes those who say Zimmerman was legally justified in defending himself.

Last February, Martin was shot and killed by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, in Sanford, Fla. after Martin attacked Zimmerman by knocking him down and banging his head multiple times into the ground. Zimmerman claimed self-defense, arguing he had a legal right to use deadly force to defend himself.

Regardless of where these people, or you as a reader, may stand a young person just 17 years old is dead.

Zimmerman's jury-approved not guilty verdict has led to heated consternation and debate across the country, along with recent incidents of violence.

Early last week, riots broke out in Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif., fueled by the verdict. In Los Angeles, a reported peaceful vigil turned into rioting resulting in trash set on fire, windows smashed and protesters assaulting a television news crew.

In Oakland, about 250 protesters converged on downtown streets and vandalized cars and businesses.

While disappointment, anger and sadness are natural reactions to the death of a young person (or the death of anyone), is this really the course that should be taken in the name of justice?

As thoughtful, responsible and educated members of a civilized society, what we should be doing is asking honest and serious questions regarding the possession and use of weapons to defend oneself from harm or death, and the impact guns may have on our society.

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1791, protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms. While this is a constitutional "right," along with such rights come duties and obligations on our part as citizens.

In addition to asking how we, as a nation can reduce crime within our cities, we must also ask, under what circumstances someone with a weapon may use force in defense of himself or herself?

Another issue worth exploring is the inconsistencies among the 50 states regarding laws similar to Florida's Stand Your Ground law. Although the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants states powers not reserved or prohibited by the federal government, are state Stand Your Ground laws consistent with or diametrically opposed to one another? Would there be a benefit to a federal Castle Doctrine that would eradicate these inconsistencies?

The Press spoke with Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin July 23. Martin said the state district attorney's association initially argued against the then proposed Stand Your Ground law because it was not necessary. Martin also said "Stand Your Ground" has made it more difficult for prosecutors, and street criminals are now most often using "Stand Your Ground" as a defense.

Under Pennsylvania's Stand Your Ground statute (18 PA consolidated statutes 505(b)(2.3)), adopted two years ago, a person in any lawful place outside his home "has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground and use force, including deadly force if ... (he) believes it is immediately necessary to do so to protect himself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse by force or threat."

Moreover, the Pennsylvania statute stipulates deadly force may not be used unless the person against whom force is used displays or uses "a firearm" or "any other weapon readily or apparently capable of lethal use."

Florida's Stand Your Ground law (776.013)(3) states "A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."

So, where does the inconsistency lie between the Pennsylvania and Florida laws? In Pennsylvania, before you can defend yourself without retreating, and shoot a suspect because you are in reasonable fear of your life, the suspect must possess a lethal weapon.

It is these inconsistencies between the individual states that muddy the waters. Would a federal law help to clear the inconsistencies?

Would a federal law offer more protections to the citizen defending himself or herself?

"I personally don't think Stand Your Ground is good law," Martin said. "I also don't want a broader federal Stand Your Ground Law."

Or, does it simply come down to personal responsibility and following the various laws of this land?

As we ask questions like these, debate the law and attempt to move forward, let us replace fear, paranoia, violence and hatred with love for all, regardless of one's political persuasions or skin color.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

Mark Reccek

editorial assistant

Whitehall-Coplay Press

Northampton Press

Catasauqua Press