What’s Left: Vigilante Justice?



Andy Philipson

Before another article falls into the chaos that is the media circus revolving around Trayvon Mar-tin, I’d love to make a few things clear. First of all, this media circus is unacceptable. Secondly, it is an absolute tragedy that anyone-let alone an unarmed 17-year-old-die early at the hands of another human being. Lastly, Florida law explicitly allows for the use of deadly force if an individual “reason-ably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself” in its “Stand Your Ground” law of self-defense. As far as the facts of the case, many remain to be seen. In a recorded 911 call, it is quite clear that the emergency dispatcher instructs George Zim-merman, the neighborhood watch coordinator, not to continue following Martin, who Zimmerman described as suspicious looking with a hoodie pulled over his head. And from Martin’s girlfriend, it can be assumed that there was some sort of confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin, the result of which was a fatal shooting. There have been unsubstantiated claims as to the instigator of the conflict, but the only meaningful account comes from Zimmerman himself, who claims that he was attacked by Martin and shot the teenager in self-defense.There are people who are much more intelligent and much better compensated than I to deal with issues of this matter. Instead, the important debate to come out of this tragedy is Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. While I do not inherently agree with the Republican interpretation of the Second Amendment, I do recognize the right of an individual to use whatever means necessary to protect his or her own life. That being said, I believe this right is lim-ited to the home, not the streets of a gated community. In this case in particular, self-defense is not the firing of a weapon as an individual is being attacked, it is contacting police and finding safety in one’s own home, a prospect easily attainable for Zimmerman, who was in his car at the time of the 911 call.

Instead, Zimmerman (and others in the same situation) can hide be-hind the ridiculous notion that the first line of defense is force, not retreat. The emergency dispatcher clearly told Zimmerman that his efforts were not needed any longer in tracking a suspicious teen around a gated neighbor-hood, to which Zimmerman responded with comprehension and under-standing. It is impossible for me to imagine the thoughts running through Zimmerman’s head during that fateful night, but one thing that I definitely can discern is that he was clearly told to stop pursuing Martin, but con-tinued to anyway. This act by itself should preclude Zimmerman’s right to claim self-defense in the same way that warning labels prevent lawsuits: Zim-merman had all the information at hand as well as clear instruction to cease his efforts, yet he continued. Regardless of Martin’s actions, it is safe to say that compliance with this command would have precluded this media circus that continues to this day and could possibly have saved an innocent life.

With dangerous legislation like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, our country is sliding ever rapidly down the slippery slope that is vigilante jus-tice. If we need more police to alleviate the presence of neighborhood watch coordinators carrying deadly weapons, so be it. Police officers are trained not only to use their gun effectively, but also to carry the weight of the law on them. I imagine the majority of Americans are more comfortable accepting a police officer’s claim of self-defense than that of a 28-year-old concerned neighbor with no required training. Changing the outcome of this case is relatively hopeless, and that’s just something we’re going to have to deal with. In the meantime, we need to pressure states like Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Montana and North Carolina that “shoot first” self-defense laws leave too much room for individuals to kill the innocent. Looking suspicious is not a crime. This isn’t about a teenager shot in Florida; this is about the many deceased individuals who didn’t have a chance to defend themselves against a bullet through the chest. Leave the policing to the police.

Contact Andy Philipson at [email protected].