I missed the memo about Sanford, Skittles, and standing your ground.
This week a lot of water cooler conversation in my office has been about the senseless killing of Trayvon Martin. In case you’re just emerging from a coma or something, you can get the basic details of the case here. Like most people I know, I’m outraged and heartbroken. I think of my own son, and what a deep human betrayal it would be if some trigger happy, paranoid miscreant decided to just arbitrarily take him away from me because they had no common sense or impulse control.
The case hits a bit close to home for me because Sanford, Florida, where Trayvon Martin lived and died, is the closest thing that this Navy brat has to an ancestral home. My parents grew up there, my sister was born there. I lived there for a time when I was a tiny kid and my Granny still lives there. This small city north of Orlando was charming in my childhood memories, but these days when I visit, I am saddened to see how it has declined. Pawn shops and bail bondsmen seem to dot a lot of corners. There’s still plenty of good in the place, but everything is just a bit shabbier than it was a couple of decades ago. And since I don’t live there anymore, I don’t have a fully informed opinion on this, but my sense is that the community is fairly segregated and race relations pretty much suck. It is not terribly surprising to me that given where the events occurred that things have unfolded as they have.
As I’ve been thinking about Trayvon Martin, I’ve been trying to be honest with myself about how I react to people, and when I might perceive other people as a threat. I walk around downtown Los Angeles before the sun comes up most mornings, so I am on my guard against anyone who might do me harm. The kind of profiling I do is to look for signs of crazy, and crazy comes in every color. I give twitchy people and people who are talking to themselves a wide berth. A young black man in a hoodie, carrying an iced tea and bag of Skittles would not seem particularly crazy to me, and the only thought I might have if I encountered such a person would be, “Oh, Skittles, yum.”
Some might say that Trayvon Martin’s killer was somehow justified in presuming that Trayvon was up to no good. After all, there had been burglaries in the neighborhood, and some had been committed by people who, superficially, looked a bit like Trayvon. But even if you concede that there was any reasonable suspicion to keep an eye on Trayvon, I just don’t know how you make the quantum leap between calling the cops to report a “suspicious person” and what ultimately happened in this case.
One of the reasons cited for the cops not arresting Trayvon’s killer is that Florida has an enacted a “Stand Your Ground” law which allows people to use deadly force in a public place when they feel there is an imminent threat of bodily harm. The “Stand Your Ground” law is a departure from the idea that you could have a duty to retreat when you’re in a confrontation. I’m a run and live to fight another day kind of girl, but I get that others might feel differently. But there’s a big difference between standing your ground and picking a fight. And when you’ve got a gun and your adversary has a bag of Skittles, that’s not a particularly fair fight.
With the facts we know, as a human being and as a lawyer, it just boggles my mind that Trayvon’s killer has not been arrested. If he can persuade a jury that he needed to shoot Trayvon to save himself, then so be it. At least he’ll have the chance to explain himself, which is a lot more than Trayvon got. Memo received.