Steffanie Rivers

Steffanie Rivers

*As much as some people might disagree with the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial nobody can change it. As hard as it might be to accept, even the parents of 17-year old Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman’s victim, are doing their part to bring attention to selective prosecution and conviction rates under the Stand Your Ground Law. They are the personification of the Prayer of Serenity: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Although it’s the end of the trial, it doesn’t mean that’s the end of the story. Here’s the rest of the story:

Aside from Florida twenty-three other states have enacted their own version of the Stand Your Ground law. In Texas where I reside it’s called the Castle Doctrine. What most of these state laws have in common is the general principle that people have the right to defend themselves against intruders in their occupied homes, cars, places of business or when someone is committing or trying to commit a crime against them. So if I’m inside my home or car or place of business and someone enters uninvited and/or for a criminal purpose I don’t have to run away; it is within my rights to fight back with equal force to defend myself.

Here’s where the statute becomes questionable: If a person is in a common area and force is used against that person which was not provoked the person against whom the force is used, and is not engaged in criminal activity at the time the force is used, he is not required to retreat before using force to protect himself. So if you are standing in your front yard, a mall, a grocery store, or a common sidewalk in your neighborhood, the law states you don’t have to retreat but may defend yourself if attacked. The burden of proof under the law favors the intended victim. And if you kill someone and your version of what happened is the only version available because there are no witnesses or video of the incident it’s no wonder that someone like Zimmerman can get away with murder. And if getting away with murder isn’t bad enough, in Texas the law protects the killer from civil lawsuits filed by the dead person’s family if a jury decides the death occurred from the lawful use of force. Again, each state law might be different.

Even if the person left standing is arrested and prosecuted, most jurors make judgements based on the race of the defendant. Statistics show black defendants are convicted more often than white defendants who use the same Stand Your Ground defense.

So who are these people who support such an ambiguous law that could leave innocent people dead and allow modern-day gun slingers to get away with murder? Lawmakers in various states have teamed up with organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to push legislation on the state level they know won’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of passing on the federal level. How do they get away with it? Most people pay more attention to federal politics than their own state politics making it easier to pass questionable legislation. Some of that questionable legislation includes tougher nationwide voter identification.

The website says ALEC organizers draft bills to “promote conservative initiatives,” then it lobbies to get the bills passed, mostly into state law. Most of the state laws ALEC promotes wouldn’t pass the scrutiny of a U.S. legislative and executive vote. But if enough states pass their own version of these controversial laws a federal version becomes irrelevant. Its network of membership includes more than 2,000 state legislators representing every state, as well as at least 99 former and current governors and members of Congress. Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Mars, McDonalds, Pepsi and Wendy’s are a few of the 300 corporations linked to ALEC. In essence, these companies are using your money to fund the creation of legislation that oftentimes is to your detriment.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) also has strong ties to Stand Your Ground. SYG sells more guns. So it’s no wonder the NRA is for it. Some watchdog groups have challenged ALEC’s non-profit status, accusing it of spending most of its efforts on lobbying which is against regulations for organizations with a non-profit label.

The Center for Media and Democracy created a website that lists the more than 800 pieces of legislation created by ALEC (http://prwatch.org).The anti-collective bargaining laws in Wisconsin and Ohio that made it illegal for public sector employees to have union representation started as ALEC model bills.

So what should we do to change this? The first thing we should do is change our perception of jury duty. Instead of trying to dodge your jury summons consider it an opportunity to be a part of the judicial process. And if you are chosen to sit on a jury remember, your presence could be the difference between justice served or justice denied.

Secondly, if you live in a state that has a ‘Stand Your Ground’ law or a version of it, get organized and get a petition that tells your representative to amend or abolish the law. And since most politicians won’t pay attention until their positions or paychecks are in jeopardy, a peaceful protest (not a riot, juror B37) and boycott of key businesses in your state probably will be necessary. Also, I’ve decided against spending any more of my money in Florida, which makes billions of dollars a year on tourism. A petition called Boycott Florida tourism is on Move.org asking for everyone to participate until SYG is overturned. That means no vacations, or family reunions or business trips to Florida. Also music icon Stevie Wonder and gospel duo Mary Mary said they won’t perform in Florida until the law is overturned. If we stop coming, they have no choice but to listen.

Thirdly, make sure you’re a registered voter. Do your homework to find out which of your state legislators supports this law that allows people to kill innocent victims with impunity. So you’ll know who to vote for or against in the next election.

This means less time to watch television or play video games. But if there ever was a reason to turn off the TV this is it.  As we move closer to another election season remember it’s just as important to get involved with politics on the state level as it is on the federal level. If you don’t, it’s akin to guarding the front door while leaving the back door open.

Steffanie Rivers is a freelance journalist. Send your comments, questions and appearance inquiries to Steffanie at [email protected]