I am Trayvon Martin
Dr. Maya Rockeymoore is president and CEO of Global Policy Solutions, a social change strategy firm in Washington, D.C., and the Center for Global Policy Solutions, a social change nonprofit dedicated to making policy work for people and their environments. She is also the co-chair of the Commission to Modernize Social Security. A regular guest on radio and television shows, Dr. Rockeymoore has appeared on NPR, CNN, Black Entertainment Television, ABC World News Tonight, Fox News, Al Jazeera and C-SPAN.
I am Trayvon Martin. If a kid minding his own business on the way home from the store can be confronted and killed with impunity just because he looked suspicious—based on the stereotypical beliefs of an overzealous volunteer neighborhood watchman—then no one is safe in this country and no one can be guaranteed justice. We are all Trayvon Martin.
This is just one example of how we are not living in a post-racial America and that racial bias continues to be a significant issue in our society. But, this is also a policy issue. It’s critical that we examine the laws and policies that allow people like George Zimmerman to carry out acts of violence and then face very few consequences.
“Stand your ground” laws, like the one passed in Florida in 2005, shift the law of self-defense away from the principle of “duty to retreat” to allowing people to use deadly force if they feel threatened virtually anywhere. As we’ve seen with this case, these laws make proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant did NOT act in self-defense extremely difficult.
A recent study by Texas A&M University found that there was an 8 percent increase in rates of murder and non-negligent manslaughter in states with stand-your-ground laws. This amounts to an average of 600 more homicides each year. Another study, commissioned by PBS’s Frontline, found that whites who kill blacks in stand-your-ground states are 354 percent more likely to be found justified in their killings. I am glad that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights announced last month that it would investigate concerns about racial bias in the law’s application.
In this case, justice was not served and it is appropriate for the federal government to seek justice where the state of Florida has failed. I applaud Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement announcing the U.S. Department of Justice’s intent to investigate whether Trayvon Martin’s civil rights were violated.
We must not let Trayvon Martin’s death be in vain. In response to this tragedy, we must work even harder to ensure that more innocent young men and women don’t become victims of unwarranted, violent crime because of their race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.