Fulwider 6-17-2012

My Word: Protecting the ‘stand your ground’ myth

Fulwider, Bryan(Orlando Sentinel, June 17, 2012)

By Bryan Fulwider

My heart goes out to the parents of Trayvon Martin concerning the tragic loss of their son on Feb. 26. In the instant it took for a trigger finger to move less than an inch, life for Trayvon’s family became an unrelenting nightmare.

But their lives weren’t the only ones effectively destroyed that night. No matter what our view concerning relative guilt and innocence, three facts remain: A 17-year-old died, a man’s life was changed forever, and the lives of those closest to Trayvon and George Zimmerman, the shooter, were also shattered.

It doesn’t take a sensitivity specialist to imagine the pain Zimmerman and his family are going through as he sits in jail and his wife is free on bond, charged with perjury. This isn’t the life they dreamed of. But the foregoing is just background.

On Tuesday, a 19-member task force appointed by Gov. Rick Scott met in Longwood to hear testimony about the “stand your ground” law (which the Sanford police cited as the reason for not arresting Zimmerman the night of Trayvon’s killing). More such hearings will be convened. My concern is what may not be heard at those hearings.

Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab writes that the Tampa Bay Times “reviewed 200 cases and found that nearly 60 percent of the people who claimed the [stand your ground] immunity either weren’t charged by prosecutors or were freed by a judge.”

I hope justice was done in the 120-some cases thus dismissed. But I’m equally concerned about the 80-some people who were charged. To what degree did the stand your ground law embolden them to use lethal force unnecessarily? To what degree did the law itself encourage them to take the actions that have now turned their lives upside down in ways they could never have imagined?

When watching cop shows on TV, I’ve always been amazed at how the good guys are depicted as being able to take a human life and then head home to a hot shower and a good night’s sleep. It rarely works that way. Not at the procedural level. Not at the psychological level. Not at the spiritual level. It’s bad enough that TV promotes such myths. It’s even worse if our duly voted statutes do.

I already know the feelings of Trayvon’s family and other bereft families like them. I’d like to hear what George Zimmerman and 80-some other killers who have been charged think about this law now.

Bryan Fulwider is senior minister of First Congregational Church of Winter Park and president of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.