Friday, March 23, 2012

I killed Trayvon Martin

I helped kill Trayvon Martin. You might have too.

And he isn't the only person we killed. The Tampa Bay Times reports that "stand your ground" has been used as a defense for at least 91 murders since 2005 and "justifiable homocides" have tripled in that timeframe.

I don't know the details in all of those cases and we still don't know the details in Trayvon's case. We do know the details of how Trevor Dooley murdered David James. Dooley was angry that James defended a skateboarder riding near a public park. He decided to go to his house, get a gun and flash it at James to intimidate him. James, a 20 year veteran of the Air Force, wasn't happy about it so he (reports vary on the exact wording) said he wanted to have a word with Dooley. Dooley responded by shooting James.

While we know the stand your ground law is being used as a defense for murder in 91 cases, we can't be certain how many murders would have been deterred if the stand your ground law didn't exist. In Zimmerman's case it appears he acted in cold blood and may have been deterred if he thought he might go to jail (or face the death penalty). In Dooley's case it appears he fired due to irrational panic and deterrence was unlikely. In at least some of the 91 cases the death was a result of self-defense. But I suspect that in at least a handful of cases the stand your ground law led someone to shoot first and ask questions later. In 2005, I didn't believe that would happen.

In 2005, back when I still lived in Florida, I didn't understand the uproar. As I understood things, it had always been legal to defend yourself with deadly force if necessary. If you found yourself in that situation you would always go to trial and someone--a judge or jury--would have to arbitrate if your claim was reasonable. The law didn't change the language and common interpretation that it all hinged on what was reasonable. I supported the stand your ground legislation.

I was wrong. The reading of the law that I had was a reasonable belief about how it would be interpreted and used by law enforcement, judges and juries, but it was wrong. The fact is that law enforcement officers who said it could amount to a license to kill were right. And when you give people a license to kill, more people will be murdered. People respond to incentives.

Not everyone believes that people respond to incentives. I believe in the death penalty. I think it deters murders. I don't base that belief on any data because no data is up to task, so I'm going on my gut. My brother, going on his gut, thinks that no one who murders thinks about costs and benefits, implicitly or explicitly. My brother shouldn't believe he killed Trayvon Martin. But I think I helped. I no longer support stand your ground and now that I've seen evidence to make me believe stand your ground is causing more people to die than it saves (my guess is that it has saved no one) and causing more harm than good.

I live in Massachusetts now. A state senator introduced stand your ground legislation here a few days ago. I e-mailed my state senator to let him know I oppose it and why. I don't want another young man and another father to die when we can change the rules--that will change people's beliefs that will change their actions--and prevent it from happening.

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