Like many in our country, my thoughts and prayers are with the parents, family and friends of Trayvon Martin who was shot and killed while walking back from a convenient store where he had just purchased a can of ice tea and a bag of skittles.
He was only 17. The shooter, George Zimmerman, was a self appointed neighborhood watchman who was armed with a gun. Zimmerman became suspicious of Trayvon telling police on the phone that "he didn't look right and might be on drugs." Although the 911 operator told Zimmerman that police would be sent out immediately and instructed him not to follow Trayvon, Zimmerman continued his pursuit, first by car, then on foot.
It is unclear as to what exactly happened next. Except that a confrontation occurred that resulted in the fatal shooting of the unarmed Trayvon. Zimmerman claimed self defense under the Florida "Stand Your Own Ground" statue, and thus was later charged.
Also like many in our country I have many questions regarding this case that need to be answered. Why was Trayvon tested for drugs and alcohol while Zimmerman was not? Why was Trayvon's cell phone unanswered contributing to his parents not knowing where their son was for three days? It would seem to me that if the police had any question that Trayvon might be involved in drugs, at the very least they might want to know who was calling him. Why did Zimmerman follow Trayvon even when instructed not to do so?
Yes, I have many questions, but I think they are best answered by the special prosecutor assigned to the case and the federal agents who have been sent in to investigate. I do not want to jump to any false conclusions, even when much of the evidence leans in that direction. I will continue to advocate for justice, which means a full and complete investigation into all the details of this case.
What concerns me more is the law that permitted Zimmerman to just walk away after shooting and killing an unarmed child. The statute is "Stand Your Own Ground," which allows citizens to use deadly force if they 'reasonably believe' their safety is threatened in a public place, such as a street or a park.
It is an extension of the Castle doctrine that allows one to defend one's self within their home. Under the "Stand Your Own Ground" law, people no longer are restrained by a duty to retreat from a threat when out in public. All you have to do is believe your life is in danger, then you can pull the trigger.
The Stand Your Own Ground Law was brought to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) by the NRA. If you are unfamiliar with ALEC I highly recommend that you Google it, as it has become a very powerful arm which threatens our democracy. ALEC is comprised of legislators and corporations who get together to write "model" bills and then vote on them. Once approved, they are given to state legislators who present them into their individual state congress rarely if ever stating where the bill originated. Instead, they present the bills as one that they have written, with the best interest of the constituents in mind. They fail to disclose that ALEC is really behind the bill.
ALEC is almost fully funded by corporations and it is corporate interests that they represent. They boast of having over 1,000 'model' bills ready to be presented to state legislations. Although ALEC claims to be nonpartisan, it has only one Democratic party legislator in the 104-member leadership role. Most of the members are very conservative Republicans. Most of the funding (98 percent) comes from corporations, such as the 1.4 million from Exxon Mobile from 1998-2009. It was an ALEC member, Florida senator Durell Peadon, who presented the Stand Your Own Ground bill in Florida in 2005.
The NRA also uses its power of money to influence our laws and our legislators' votes. From 2001 2010 the NRA spent between $1.5 million and $2.7 million on lobbying efforts at the federal level. During the 2010 election cycle the NRA spent more than $7.2 million at the federal level. A quick review of votes on any bills regarding gun laws clearly indicates a connection between campaign donations and voting records.
Is it not time we unite together in a bipartisan effort to get the money out of our democracy? "We the people" is no more. It is now " We the corporations who give the most money can get the laws that will benefit us the most passed."
This to me is one of the biggest concerns with the Trayvon Martin case. How a law like 'Stand Your Own Ground" could get passed in the first place. The most vocal opponents of this law came from law enforcement, such as police chiefs, sheriff associations and district attorneys. They feared that this law would promote people taking the law into their own hands, rather than relying on the police.
Seems their fears have come true. Since its passage in Florida, justifiable homicides have spiked from an average of 34 in 20005 to over 100 in 2007. In 2008 this law prevented prosecution of a gang member after he shot and killed a 15 year old. The law, thanks much to ALEC, has now been passed in 22 states, and is pending in five more.
And as we all sadly have seen, this law resulted in the shooting death of a 17-year-old boy who was doing nothing more than talking on his cell phone while walking back from the store with a can of ice tea and a bag of skittles. Is it not time we close down the influence of money ... the influence of lobbyists ... from our lawmaking and return it back to where it belongs ... with the people.
Note: Since I originally wrote this letter, Mr. Zimmerman has been arrested and charged with second degree murder. An arrest and full investigation is all that civil rights advocates have wanted. It is now up to our system of justice to determine the outcome. Under our system (which I think is one of the best in the world) a person is innocent until proven guilty.
Secondly, since writing this letter, under pressure from the public, several corporations, such as McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Co, Kraft and Mars, have withdrawn their membership in ALEC. I still encourage all the readers to look into ALEC and its heavy handed influence on our laws.
Judi Lutz Woods is a Fredonia resident.