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Human life is sacred. That is why society sets boundaries. That’s also why, no matter how great a hunter is, he cannot compare himself to the government, the ultimate hunter, which exercises the power of life and death on behalf of the people.
For centuries, humanity has wrestled with the question: at what stage can the life of a fellow human being be terminated? The question has always been resolved in favour of a system of checks and balances where every angle of the matter in question is rigorously considered. That was the understanding of earthlings like us until ‘outer space’ societies like the USA invented the right to execute a fellow citizen privately under the guise of self-defence.
In Florida, it is called the Stand Your Ground law.
How many dirges shall we chant for our 35-year-old daughter, Ajike AJ Shantrell Owens, the African American mother of four shot through a closed front door by her white neighbour while she was trying to recover an iPad taken from her child in front of their home in a housing complex, in Ocala, Florida, USA? AJ was killed in the presence of her 9-year-old son by her 58-year-old female neighbour who had complained several times about Owens’ children playing outdoors and had allegedly been hurling racial abuses at them. Neighbours say that the white woman had a history of harassing children.
Will this end up as just another statistic?
One distraught commentator says Christians of the evangelical hue are now being called upon to speak up whether the God they serve excludes black people from his reassurance in the Psalms which they quote with relish:
“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. “(Ps. 39:13-16)
It took the whole of four days and massive outcry from the public for the authorities to arrest the killer, 58-year-old Susan Louise Lorincz. Protesters chanted, “No justice, no peace”. They carried signs saying: “Say her name Ajike Owens” and “It’s about us.”
As usual in America, the NRA gun lobby see nothing wrong in what Susan Lorincz has done. Although many of them describe themselves as Christians, they serve a white god who discriminates among his creatures. Their racist attitude is a carryover from the slavery days. Conservative whites felt they needed to be protected against their former slaves and therefore campaigned for the enactment of laws that permitted shooting under the guise of self defence. They owned the gun industry anyway; the more guns sold the better the business.
The Stand Your Ground Law has no greater defender than the NRA and conservative politicians.
The Florida Stand Your Ground Law is based on the “castle doctrine.” The idea is that an individual who is legally occupying a place — their home or car, for instance — has the right to use force if faced by an intruder or a threat in order to protect themselves. It’s an old idea that has been around for over 2000 years. When the early settlers crossed the Atlantic, they brought the idea with them.
In Florida, the Stand Your Ground law was enacted in 2005. State legislators felt that Florida’s self-defense laws weren’t doing enough to shield citizens who shoot others in self defence from prosecution. The law aims to protect individuals who discharge a firearm or otherwise harm another individual in their attempt to protect themselves when they believe they are under threat. Under the law, there is no duty to retreat.
Before the law was enacted, when a person was under threat and even afraid for their life, they had to take reasonable measures to remove themselves from the situation. This is called a “duty to retreat.” If the threat didn’t abate after that, then they could use force if necessary to protect themselves. It is claimed by protagonists that, by removing the duty to retreat, the Florida Stand Your Ground law would make it easier for Florida residents to protect themselves and their families. More than 30 states have now joined Florida in enacting their own version of Stand Your Ground law.
Some knowledgeable people had spoken out against the law even when it was in its formative stage. “It turns 250 years of jurisprudence on its head,” said Andrew Warren, a Florida State attorney. “The preliminary hearing already gave this additional protection to defendants claiming ‘stand your ground.’ Now we’re going several steps past that. It’s going to be much harder. There will be cases where the state cannot make the initial burden.”
The law has been linked to increases in homicide and violent behaviour. Notably, it has negatively impacted the ability to successfully prosecute cases in Florida. In 2012, a Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed that almost 70 percent of defendants who invoked the statute went free. A law professor at the University of Miami, Mary Anne Franks, described the law as “essentially stacking the deck repeatedly in favour of people shooting other people”.
The cold blooded murder of AJ brought to national recollection the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin in Miami at the hands of a zealous neighbourhood watchman. The killing ignited a national outcry on issues of race and justice, inspiring social activism that paved the way for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Trayvon Benjamin Martin was a 17-year-old African-American from Miami Gardens, Florida. He was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic American. Martin had accompanied his father to visit his father’s fiancée at her townhouse in Sanford. On the evening of February 26, Martin was walking back to the fiancée’s house from a nearby convenience store when Zimmerman, a member of the community watch, reported him to the Sanford Police as suspicious. An altercation ensued and Zimmerman fatally shot Martin in the chest.
Zimmerman was injured during the altercation. He said he shot Martin in self-defense. The police said there was no evidence to refute his claim of self-defense, and Florida’s stand-your-ground law prohibited them from arresting or charging him. After national media focused on the incident, Zimmerman was eventually charged and tried, but a jury acquitted him of second-degree murder and manslaughter in July 2013.
Rallies, marches, and protests were held across the United States to protest Martin’s murder. An online petition calling for a full investigation and prosecution of Zimmerman garnered 2.2 million signatures. The media coverage surrounding Martin’s death became the first story of 2012 to be featured more than the presidential race, which was underway at the time. A national debate about racial profiling and stand-your-ground laws ensued. The governor of Florida appointed a task force to examine the state’s self-defense laws. The name Trayvon was tweeted more than two million times in the 30 days following the shooting. He was buried in Dade-Memorial Park (North), in Miami. A memorial was dedicated to him at the Goldsboro Westside Historical Museum, a Black history museum in Sanford, in July 2013.
Trayvon’s death cast national scrutiny on Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” self-defense law which has since become more robust and expanded by Republican lawmakers with support from gun rights advocates who argue that it makes the streets safer and over the objections of critics who say it only encourages “shoot first” vigilantism.
Many of us Africans viewing the American tragedy from thousands of miles away tend to agree with Democratic lawmakers and gun control activists who have spoken out against the Stand Your Ground Law (understandably because our children are the usual victims). The lives of African Americans shouldn’t be reduced to two-a-cent.
“Shoot-first laws”, argues Shannon Watts, the founder of a gun-control advocacy group, “aren’t about standing your ground when threatened.” In her view, “They are about making murder legal, empowering people with racist or vigilante views to shoot first and ask questions later.” In terms of homicide rate per state, Florida with 2,087 deaths (9.7, per 100k) ranks number 19 in the US.
I pray for you, America. May the Nigerian-American, Ajike AJ Shantrell Owens, find peace in paradise where the colour of her skin will not make her legit game in the cross hairs of a racist’s target shooting.
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