When the 28th Alaska State Legislature convenes in January of 2014, I would very much like them to fix something. It would only take a single sentence.
Since last Saturday, the nation has been struggling with the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman emerged from an encounter with 17-year-old Trayvon Martin as the sole survivor. The defense argued that their client pursued Martin, a struggle ensued, and the teenager “weaponized the sidewalk,” forcing Zimmerman to use deadly force in self-defense.
The law afforded the jury only one way to rule. Zimmerman found himself in a moment where he feared for his life and acted in self-defense. Florida law pays no respect to his pursuit of Martin beforehand; it only deals with the moment of fear for his life that Zimmerman found himself in.
The jury could not rule, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Zimmerman did not at any point fear for his own life. Because that’s what the law demanded, the man who admitted to killing Trayvon Martin was found not guilty.
Alaska has the same law in effect, including the same ambivalence towards any context surrounding the moment where someone fears for their own life. Thus, my appeal to the Alaska State Legislature.
For the past two years, Representative Mark Neumann (R-Wasilla) sponsored the same legislation that asserted itself in Florida. Last year it passed, and Alaska’s Stand Your Ground Law was born.
Neumann’s sponsor statement clearly states his proposal’s intent:
Alaska Statutes already recognize that we have a right to use deadly force to protect our family, person, and property. HB 24 further clarifies that right exists not only in our home but also in any other place that we have a right to be. This legislation clarifies the individuals’ right to stand their ground and not second guess the consequence of protecting their family or self. HB 24 strengthens the legal recognition of a basic human right to defend oneself….
The emphasis is clear: Defend. Protect.
If the true purpose of the law is to “defend” and “protect,” take a moment to reflect on the Zimmerman case, where the exact same law enabled a pursuit and sanctioned a murder.
We should fix that. Before it happens on our own doorstep.
In Florida, Governor Rick Scott called together a state task force, which held its first hearing last Tuesday. Trayvon Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, showed up to speak. They weren’t there to argue for the outright repeal of Stand Your Ground.
Per the Miama Herald:
“I am not saying get rid of it. Please amend it, review it,” Fulton said, stressing that her father was a Miami police officer who kept a gun in the house. “I do not have anything against weapons. I grew up with a weapon in the house.”
Her attorney, Benjamin Crump, proposed the Trayvon Martin Amendment, saying that, as it stands now, the law encourages aggressors to shoot to kill and not leave any witnesses.
“You cannot initiate a confrontation and then turn around and say you are standing your ground,” Crump said.
Right now, in Alaska as in Florida, that is very much what current law sanctions.
In Juneau, last year’s deliberations on Stand Your Ground ignored the prospect of an aggressor claiming self-defense, despite the emphasis put on the possibility the year previous. Whether or not you believe that Zimmerman typified that role, the current law our legislature passed, our governor signed, and we are now obliged to obey, did not address that possibility.
Our current law says that one may defend oneself with use of deadly force if they are anywhere they have a right to be.
That’s insanely ambiguous.
So long as your were somewhere you had a right to be, you’re legally allowed to use deadly force to “defend” yourself. So long as you tell the jury you feared for your life, they can’t convict you. So long as you’re the only survivor of the altercation, there’s no way to disprove that claim.
That’s a terrifying monopoly on justice.
Until the legislature addresses this loophole, Project Mad Max is a go.
The legislature can, however, fix the narrow scope of the law so that it bars an oppressor from pursuing a target and then claiming self-defense.
One sentence is all it would take to improve a law that says “there is no duty to leave the area if the person is… in any other place where the person has a right to be” by adding the clarification “so long as the person acting in self defense did not pursue or initiate confrontation with the other person(s).”
The law shouldn’t work overtime to enable confrontations while preventing a way to adjudicate them after someone turns up dead.
We need to add a “no pursuit” clause to Alaska’s Stand Your Ground law. Otherwise, it isn’t a self-defense law. Defending and protecting are two concepts very different than stalking and killing. Current law makes no distinction. As it stands now, you are legally empowered to taunt someone, follow them, pick a fight, and then reach for your gun when you start getting your ass kicked. That is not self-defense. That is a hunt. You shouldn’t feel safely wrapped in the arms of the law as you watch your victim bleed out.
If the law’s true intent was to codify the right to defend one’s self wherever they have a legal right to be, let’s make sure that’s what it does.