Yesterday’s decision by Florida prosecutors to put George Zimmerman on trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin may serve to calm some of the racially charged anger about the incident in which an unarmed African-American youth was killed. Though some are already claiming the Zimmerman case will resemble the O.J. Simpson murder trial in the way it divides the public, it’s clear most Americans are content to let the justice system sift through the evidence and hope that justice will be done. Outside of the usual suspects seeking to inflame racial tensions (i.e., Al Sharpton, a veteran huckster whose efforts along these lines received the bizarre praise of Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday), there is another political agenda that is being pushed forward by the Martin killing: derailing efforts of the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups to enhance the right of self-defense via “Stand Your Ground” statutes or the “Castle Doctrine.”
Though we have yet to learn the full account of what happened between Zimmerman and Martin on the night of the latter’s death, it’s fairly clear that neither of those legal principles had much to do with the neighborhood watch volunteer’s shooting of the young man in the hoodie except in the most general sense, as the shooter asserted he was attacked first. But the effort to associate laws that back up citizens’ rights to defend themselves on their own property with Martin’s killing is becoming a touchstone of liberal rhetoric and reportage, as today’s New York Times feature on the subject illustrates. The conceit of the piece is to pin the nationwide drive to enact such legislation on the NRA and along with it the responsibility for any innocent blood shed because of these measures. Yet, what the Times and liberal critics of the laws fail to understand is that the popularity of such laws has to do with what most Americans believe is the defense of their liberty and safety and not race.