The Trayvon Martin case has caused us to again be confronted with perennial issues present in American culture. As this story continues to unfold, the debate over whether George Zimmerman acted in self-defense or not opens deep questions about the role of guns in our society, the nature of justice, racial and other prejudices, and even the divisions of left and right politics.
Much scrutiny is now being given to the reasonability of the so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws that, like in Florida where Martin was shot and killed, are on the books or being considered in many states. Statistics on justified homicide claims following enactments of such laws along with complementary anecdotal evidence from some of these killings would strongly suggest that these statutes have emboldened citizens to take the law into their own hands—to figuratively and literally shoot first and ask questions later.
It appears that “Stand Your Ground” is to neighborhood watch as the Bush Doctrine is to national defense. There was a time when American military force was viewed as the last resort to be used only when necessary and when no other options were available. A provocative, preemptive strike based on the supposed ill-intent of another country was considered unworthy of American values. The invasion of Iraq in 2002 radically shifted military policy from a stance of defense to one of offense. In doing so, a sort of international “Stand Your Ground” was established.
So there appears to be a larger ideological framework that informs the laws that George Zimmerman and others have stood behind as they have not merely defended themselves but have pursued others with guns drawn. And it all seems to reflect something within our cultural psyche that deserves serious examination.
We must ask ourselves some very tough questions about our souls as individuals and about our soul as a nation when we effectively authorize lone citizens to become judge, jury, and executioner. As much as the gun slingers of the wild west appealed to our collective imagination, we still held the line that there should be no place in a civilized society for vigilantism. That line appears to now be in the process of being erased…and sadly enough, in the name of justice.