Est. May 2008

19 July, 2013

Stand your Ground

There are a lot of folks bringing up the ‘stand your ground’ defense in regards to the George Zimmerman trial down in Florida.  Plenty of them hinge around the idea that these laws are unconstitutional and should be revoked; in fact, Eric Holder said as much in a speech at the NAACP’s annual convention.

Yet George Zimmerman didn’t use the stand your ground defense in his trial.  From his attorney, Mark O’Mara (hat tip Fox News):
Mark O'Mara, who is defending George Zimmerman against a second-degree murder charge in the fatal February shooting, said the traditional self-defense approach is appropriate because the facts suggest his client couldn't retreat from a beating Martin was giving him.
This apparently doesn’t satisfy the folks who seem to want Americans defenseless in the face of serious physical damage or death at the hands of another person.

Such is the case of an article written for the Washington Post by Rabbi Brad Hirshfield, who condemns our idea of stand your ground on biblical evidence.  He draws this evidence from the story of the burning bush and Moses (Exodus 3:1-6) and Exodus 22:2, which reads as follows: ‘If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him.’  The former, the rabbi tells us, means that:
In this story, the awareness that one stands in a holy place, invites openness and even increased vulnerability, as symbolized by the removal of one’s shoes, not the defensive posturing that is justified under current ‘stand your ground’ laws.

To stand ones ground in Exodus means to become increasingly aware of the need to stand up on behalf of others, not simply to defend the ground upon which one stands.  That’s a powerful alternative to the thinking which animates current stand your ground laws.
The latter, he says:
Unlike those states which have such laws, the Bible’s version of “standing your ground” is far more limited – both in its definition of what counts as one’s ground, and in terms of the circumstances in which it is understood to be violated.  Some may argue that even this highly constrained version of the law invites needless violence, but before making that case, I would invite them to ask how they would respond were someone actively breaking into their own home and prepared to harm those they loved.
How the burning bush story applies escapes me.  George Zimmerman wasn’t Moses, and Trayvon Martin certainly wasn’t God; the place where George Zimmerman was standing wasn’t ‘holy ground’.  Besides, it strikes me as a bit of exegetical contortionism to equate ‘the place where you’re standing is holy ground’ with stand your ground.

The second example is slightly better, however this wasn’t a case of breaking and entering – this was a face-to-face confrontation on the street.  There’s no mention of fear-for-your-life in Exodus 22:2 – in fact, this is burglary, which would then intimate that burglars could be struck and killed and there ought to be no punishment (castle-doctrine). 

The biggest problem I have with the rabbi’s ideas is that in my readings of the Bible (a dozen at this point) I have yet to see any indication that God expects His people to simply stand there and let someone beat them to death without trying to defend themselves; the only thing that comes close is in the New Testament, where believers are supposed to submit to persecution for their faith.  I could bring out the story of Jesus telling His disciples to arm themselves for self-defense, but most of us already know that story.  I also hardly think that Trayvon Martin knocked George Zimmerman down, straddled him, and proceeded to ‘MMA-style’ ‘ground-and-pound’ him over a matter of theology.

At the time George Zimmerman drew his pistol and fired, he was in immediate danger of being beaten to, at a minimum, a hospital stay – at the maximum, death.  Let me repeat that: George Zimmerman didn’t draw and fire until he was down and being beaten.  George Zimmerman waited to draw his gun – whether because of the shock and surprise of the attack on himself or whether he tried fighting hand-to-hand, then realized he wasn’t going to succeed – but the fact is he did not use lethal force until he deemed it necessary.

And I would have to say that being beaten to a pulp, fearing that I was going to be killed, would be the moment lethal force would be necessary.

But these arguments are, at the end of the day, meaningless: stand your ground wasn’t germane to the case, it was not used.  George Zimmerman was acquitted of the charges – charges that most every reputable lawyer I’ve read have condemned as serious overreaching by the prosecution and the state.

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