I’ve been thinking a great deal about the verdict in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case and have concluded that one reason for the verdict is Florida law. I’ve read the jury instructions and while they were confusing, they had to follow the law which led to acquittal.
The best piece I’ve read on Florida gun laws is an OpEd by Farah Stockman in the Boston Globe. Stockman writes about Florida gun laws generally and cites 4 currently incarcerated people as examples: Marissa Alexander, Ronald Thompson, Orville Lee Wollard and Erik Weyant. All but Alexander are white men, all including Alexander fired a gun to frighten and not to kill. All are currently serving 20 year minimum sentences.
IF IT BOGGLES your mind that George Zimmerman, a 29-year-old with a gun, could be acquitted after pursuing — and killing — an unarmed 17-year-old, here’s another brain teaser: How could Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of three, receive a 20-year prison sentence for firing a bullet into a wall near her abusive ex-husband, even though no one was harmed?
It’s true. Florida is one of the worst places to fire a gun into the air, even as it appears to be one of the best places to actually shoot at a person.
She goes on to explain.
Alexander, whose ex-husband admitted that she was afraid of his abuse, is not the only one in prison for shooting at nothing.
Ronald Thompson, 62, a disabled veteran, fired two shots into the ground to protect an elderly woman from her violent 17-year-old grandson. State Attorney Angela Corey — the same prosecutor in the Zimmerman case — charged him with four counts of aggravated assault. Thompson was sentenced to 20 years in prison, a punishment that the judge in the case called a “crime in itself.” (He is currently awaiting a new trial.)
Orville Lee Wollard, a former auxiliary police force member, shot a bullet into the wall to scare away his daughter’s abusive boyfriend. Prosecutors offered him probation. But he wanted to be exonerated at trial. Now he’s serving 20 years.
Erik Weyant, 22, fired shots in the air to disperse a group of drunk men who accosted him in a parking lot outside a bar and blocked his car. No one was hurt. But he’s in for 20 years.
In many cases, the fact that they chose to fire a warning shot, instead of aiming to kill, was used as evidence against them at trial, said Greg Newburn of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. If you were truly in fear of your life, the logic goes, you would aim at the chest, not the wall.
Florida lawmakers, in their infinite wisdom, began to notice that a lot of people were getting severely punished simply for defending themselves. But instead of repealing the Draconian measure, they passed another one: the “stand your ground” law.
Somehow, both of the laws are not working. George Zimmerman who killed Trayvon Martin is free, the four named above are in prison.
…And had Alexander shot and killed her abusive ex-husband, would she have had a better chance of getting immunity with a “stand your ground” defense?
“I think so,” said her attorney Michael Dowd.
So in the sick logic of Florida’s gun laws, the message is clear: If you are going to shoot, shoot to kill. You stand a better chance of walking free.
What is happening in Florida is just another reason we need to take a careful look at all of our gun laws. Florida’s gun laws have little to do with race and as pressure mounts to help Alexander, let us not forget everyone else.
Photograph: Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union
- Abbreviated pundit roundup: Truth, justice and the American way (dailykos.com)
- MoveOn Calls For Florida Tourism Boycott Because Gun Law Makes State Unsafe to Visit (truthdig.com)
- Is It Fair That a Florida Mom Received a 20-Year Sentence for Firing ‘Warning Shot’? (theblaze.com)
- Florida Justice: Black Domestic Violence Victim Gets 20 Years For Firing Warning Shot, Hurting No One; Zimmerman Walks (addictinginfo.org)
- Taking Note: With Zimmerman, the Scandal Is What’s Legal (takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com)
- NEWS: Stevie Wonder Will No Longer Perform In Florida! [KingpinTV.net] (kingpintv.net)
- How Florida Law Encourages Gun Owners To Kill Instead Of Maim (businessinsider.com)
- Eddie Levert Joins Stevie Wonder In Boycott Of Florida Stages (tlcnaptown.com)