On Trayvon Martin, Media Bias, and Self Defense

There’s so much hypocrisy in the media narrative of the Trayvon Martin incident that it makes one’s head spin. The media narrative is also driving a similarly hypocritical public response. The media narrative of the incident is basically: an innocent, unarmed Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin was shot by a half-white half-Hispanic (emphasis white) neighborhood watch volunteer named George Zimmerman (who is probably a racist), and the police aren’t charging Zimmerman with a crime because of Florida’s so-called “stand your ground” law that allows an individual to use deadly force in self-defense rather than retreat from an attacker. The incident certainly looks suspicious for Zimmerman (though he does have possible exculpatory evidence), but both the media framing of it and the leftist public’s response to it have some serious flaws.

The reason the Trayvon Martin incident has gotten such leftist media attention is twofold: it is a case of alleged racism and white-on-black crime (even though the alleged perpetrator is half white and half Hispanic), and it can be used to attack self defense laws like Florida’s “stand your ground” law which allow the use of deadly force such as from a gun (and thus it can also be used to promote stricter gun control). To the first point, the media is running stories about things like black men warning their sons about public perception of black men as criminals and about pervasive white-on-black crime, despite the fact that such crime is relatively rare compared to black-on-white crime, and especially relatively rare compared to black-on-black crime. That the public often perceives black men as criminals is certainly tragic, but not entirely unreasonable or inherently racist (the author who warned his son about being black at least admits this) given actual crime statistics. To the second point, the leftist media hates guns and doesn’t understand them (they usually can’t even identify them) so they will run any story that could possibly convince the public to increase gun control or remove laws that allow the use of guns (like Florida’s “stand your ground” law).

The actual M-16 and AK-47 are in the top row and labeled in reverse

The problem with the media’s portrayal of Florida’s “stand your ground” law as preventing Florida police from arresting Zimmerman is that the “stand your ground” law is not much different than any basic self-defense law. The relevant text of the law is

(1)  A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if

(2) The presumption set forth in subsection (1) does not apply if:

(c)  The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity

(3) 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. 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.

The issue in the Trayvon Martin incident is whether Zimmerman acted in self-defense or not. If Zimmerman did not act in self-defense then by (2) (c) the “stand your ground” law does not even apply (nor would any self-defense law, of course) since Zimmerman would in that case have been engaged in unlawful activity. If Zimmerman did act in self-defense then the only difference between Florida’s “stand your ground” law and a “duty to retreat” self-defense law is that under Florida law Zimmerman’s legal defense would not have to prove that Zimmerman was unable to retreat. This is a fine distinction as it is, and if Zimmerman’s claim that Martin was slamming his head against the sidewalk is true then Zimmerman may not have been able to retreat (and thus would have been justified in shooting Martin even under a “duty to retreat” self-defense law). On the other hand, one can argue that self-defense is not applicable — either under “stand your ground” or “duty to retreat” — since Zimmerman apparently pursued and confronted Martin. Despite these legal arguments, the media are assuming that Florida’s “stand your ground” law would make any difference in the incident compared to a “duty to retreat” law. We the public just don’t have enough information to know whether the “stand your ground” law is even applicable, much less if it would make any difference.

Another hypocrisy in the leftist media narrative and many leftists’ public response is the fact that the same leftists who constantly admonish everyone not to “judge” people have rushed to judgment of Zimmerman. Not only do they judge him as a murderer even though he hasn’t been arrested, but they also judge him as a racist based on the fact that Martin was black and Zimmerman is (half) white. Once again, Irreverend Al Sharpton is accusing the local authorities of racism if they don’t charge Zimmerman (which, after the Tawana Brawley rape hoax, probably means that the police really don’t have enough evidence to arrest Zimmerman). Instead of pre-judging that Zimmerman and the police are all racists and that Zimmerman murdered Martin, we must all wait and allow the legal system to judge whether or not a crime was committed. That’s what it’s for.

In some extreme cases the public response has been particularly and obviously hypocritical. While Zimmerman has been accused of having acted like a vigilante during his encounter with Martin, some members of the public have reacted to the incident with their own vigilantism: fliers labeling Zimmerman as “Wanted Dead or Alive” have been created and circulated, and the New Black Panther Party has posted a $10,000 bounty for the capture of Zimmerman (H/T StuphBlog). It is disturbing that these anti-Zimmerman vigilantes fail to see such blatant hypocrisy in their actions (fortunately, the Martin family attorney seems to see it).

No matter how the investigation of this incident turns out, it is ultimately a tragedy. As a result of it Trayvon Martin has lost his life and George Zimmerman’s life will be forever tainted by it even if he is not held criminally responsible. One can only hope that the legal system brings to light the truth. If George Zimmerman really committed murder then hopefully he will be charged and convicted of the crime, and if not then hopefully he will either not be charged or will be acquitted at trial. Either way, we would do well to reserve judgment and not attempt to use an isolated incident for political gain.

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