Meet the other faces of Trayvon Martin.
They are young men of different races who died recently in situations where deadly force was avoidable. Their deaths occurred in states with ramped up versions of self-defense laws that permit shooting first, even when the person has the opportunity to retreat.
Like Martin, Brandon Zeth wore a hoodie the night he was shot. He was white.
Instead of waking up with hangover the next morning, as he should have, the 24-year-old Pennsylvania man never woke up at all. He stayed on life support for nearly four weeks before dying in February.
Drunk, he had pounded on a man’s front door and windows, mistakenly assuming it was his girlfriend’s house. The frightened homeowner shot him five times through a window.
Bo Morrison, 20, hid in an enclosed back porch of a house next door to where police had busted up a drinking party he’d attended in Slinger, Wis. He also was drunk. Police were still on the scene when the homeowner shot him in early March. Morrison was bi-racial, black and white.
Both young men were unarmed. Prosecutors will not charge in Morrison’s case. Zeth’s is still being investigated.
Their deaths raise questions about how state legislatures have been encouraged by gun advocates to pass laws that encourage everyday citizens to use deadly force in situations where it previously would not have been allowed.
Most states have “castle” laws, allowing people to use deadly force, without the expectation that they retreat, when they are threatened in their home.
As if those laws aren’t broad enough, state legislatures nationwide have felt compelled to pass new laws that stretch that standard to include a person’s car, their workplace, public locations and, in some cases, anywhere they legally find themselves. Unlike previous self-defense statutes, the so-called Stand Your Ground law’s like Florida’s also give the right to attack even when the option to retreat is present. At least 20 states have laws equal in scope to Florida’s, according to Legal Community Against Violence, a public-interest law center dedicated to preventing gun violence.
In many of these states, if a person invokes self-defense, police can be limited in their abilities to arrest. It ought to be clear by now the conflict that can cause.
Another seven states have less extreme versions of Stand Your Ground, and laws are pending in five states.
It’s not entirely clear why these laws are deemed necessary. Repeatedly, as the bills were being promoted in legislatures, gun advocates could not cite examples where people were unfairly charged and jailed after invoking self-defense. That ought to be a red flag.
What is the possible gain of encouraging people to shoot rather than fleeing, even when the latter is an option? It’s like goading the average citizen, encouraging them kill others, when they don’t have to and still can remain safe.
Ask the National Rifle Association and conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. They’ve pushed the bills.
We have laws against bullying, and criminal and civil suits over suicidal outcomes when people use the Internet to say terrible things about other people. All are efforts to make life in America sane, peaceful and calm. Laws usually have that goal. They should focus on keeping the peace by discouraging violence.
Yet these statutes have been enacted in state after state, the neatly pre-written text of each new bill mimicking that of the last. They are pitched as a means to fight crime — a laughable idea, considering how they encourage violence.
Somehow, the right to bear arms has morphed into a right to use them whenever we wish. And in a growing number of states, that notion is now legal.
Something is horribly wrong here.
Be clear about this, too: Each case has multiple victims. Obviously, the deceased person is one. But the shooters also can suffer. Instead of a memory of a scary situation where they felt some level of threat but thankfully walked away unscathed because that was what the law expected, they live with having taken another person’s life. Even if they are never charged, that is a burden.
The Stand Your Ground laws are requests for such deadly outcomes. And now we’re seeing the evidence, body by body, state by state.