Can People of Color Stand Their Ground?

By Priscilla Jimenez | Apr. 26, 2012

You’ve probably heard a lot of public outrage over the Trayvon Martin case. In case you haven’t, here’s a quick synopsis of the story: George Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood watch volunteer, fatally shot Martin on February 26, 2012. He said the killing was in self-defense, and he reported to 911 dispatchers that Martin appeared to be a “suspicious” looking guy just walking around the neighborhood. Zimmerman proceeded to follow him, got out of his vehicle and fatally shot him. At the heart of this tragedy lies Florida’s Statute Chapter 776, which deals with justifiable use of force, including the controversial stand your ground provision.

The stand your ground provision of the Florida Law allows an individual to use deadly force when they feel a reasonable threat of death or serious injury. Both critics and supporters of the law have argued over precisely what it allows, when it applies and whether it achieves its intended effect. In light of the shooting of Martin, where Zimmerman claimed he was acting in self-defense and essentially “standing his ground” against the “threat” presented by Martin’s presence, the question of who may stand their ground begs to be asked.

As a result, on April 19, 2012, it was announced that a task force made up of a “diverse and qualified group” (according to Governor Rick Scott) has been convened to review certain laws. Officially, the group is tasked with reviewing laws and policies that affect public safety, including the seemingly confusing stand your ground provision of Florida Statute Chapter 776. The task force will hold public meetings throughout the state to hear from local citizens. The first meeting took place May 1, 2012 in Tallahassee. You can also get in contact with the task force by emailing them directly at CitizenSafety@eog.myflorida.com, and according to their website, they invite public input.

One of the issues that the task force will hopefully target and as a result clarify, is whether or not this type of law is discriminatory in practice and what can be done to prevent individuals who feel threatened by minorities from harming and potentially killing them. Geraldo Rivera weighed in on the situation by stating that “parents of Black and Latino youngsters” should not allow their children outside of the home wearing “hoodies.” Hopefully the task force will come to a more practical solution. The perceived threat of minorities is a very real problem, and may result in more casualties if laws like Chapter 776 aren’t clarified or repealed.

Priscilla E. Jimenez is an Associate at the Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia and works on personal injury, pharmaceutical litigation, products liability, and medical negligence and malpractice cases. In addition to being a member of the Hispanic National Bar Association, Jimenez also serves as a director on both the Board of the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania (HBA of PA) and the HBA of PA’s Legal Education Fund Board. She can be reached at 215-893-3420 or pjimenez@lockslaw.com.

PLEASE NOTE: The views expressed are those of the people writing and not necessarily those of the HNBA.