There has been a gratifying deluge of shocked commentary on the killing of Trayvon Martin by the Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman. The picture that is emerging is getting scarier and scarier, and we don’t seem to be at the end of the stream of revelations and explanations.
Columnist Paul Krugman filled in some pieces of the puzzle in his March 26 opinion piece in the Washington Post. Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is not unique but is from templates of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Krugman explained. ALEC’s billionaire backers have the same familiar names that support right wing Republican causes and candidates. “ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism.” ALEC doesn’t want small government but privatized government where taxpayers support, among other things, the outsourcing of criminal justice. Corporations such as the American Bail Coalition, for example, profit from a larger prison population.
The National Rifle Association works closely with ALEC. This is not surprising given NRA interests in keeping its millions in donations coming, even when, to the objective eye, all its extreme goals have not only been achieved but dangerously exceeded. Chris Tutko, Director of the Neighborhood Watch Programs in the National Sheriff’s Association, has been asked about the guidelines for Neighborhood Watch organizations and has responded that the guidelines prohibit the carrying of weapons. But what do the guidelines matter when a Neighborhood Watch volunteer has a legal permit to carry a concealed weapon? (Note: in Florida the body charged with overseeing the concealed weapons law is the Agriculture Commission!)
Connecting laws on concealed weapons and Stand Your Ground provisions, which require only that the individual taking action believes he is being threatened, creates a perfect storm. Under Stand Your Ground it would not be possible to prove that Trayvon Martin did not threaten George Zimmerman because there were no witnesses and one of the two protagonists is dead. One can make inferences from Zimmerman’s 911 call, when he was told not to follow the “suspicious” person, but enough to convict him? The conclusion is stark. Homicide is no longer prosecutable. States with Stand Your Ground laws have “legally” sanctioned lawlessness.
Rule of law is an essential element of democracy. How many individual states have to grind away the core of democracy before America succumbs.