After discussing the Trayvon Martin tragedy in class this week, I felt very emotional and downright angry at how the case developed and was handled. How is it possible that George Zimmerman was able to kill an unarmed teenager and walk away a free man? While I do feel that many factors led to a jury finding Zimmerman not guilty, one detail of the case has stood out to me – the Stand Your Ground law. Florida’s version of the law is similar to that of other states – it allows a person to use deadly force when they feel their life is threatened, without attempting to flee the situation first. This law prevented Zimmerman from being immediately arrested and contributed to the not guilty verdict in his trial. In other words, Stand Your Ground worked for George Zimmerman. But does it work for everyone?
When we look at the news and other cases, it becomes clear that Stand Your Ground does not apply to everyone equally. In 2010, Marissa Alexander, a black woman from Florida, fired warning shots into a wall when her husband threatened her. Unlike George Zimmerman, Alexander was arrested right away and in 2012, she was sentenced to 20 years in prison. When Alexander tried to use Stand Your Ground as her defense, she was denied. How is it possible that Zimmerman, who shot and killed an unarmed teenager, was able to utilize Stand Your Ground while Alexander, who simply fired warning shots, was not?
For me, the answer lies in the concept of social power. Social power involves anything from the ability to pay for school to the ability to walk into a store and not be followed by suspicious salespeople. It is made up of the opportunities given to us due to our race, age, sexual orientation, religion, gender and sex, disability, national identity, socioeconomic status, and heritage. Some groups of people possess more social power than others. White males, for example, possess an immense amount of social power. Other groups, such as minorities and women, do not possess much power at all.
George Zimmerman has a great deal of social power. He is a man. He is Hispanic, but he is light-skinned and his last name does not indicate his ethnicity. He had much more social power than Trayvon Martin, a black teenager. He also has a lot more social power than Marissa Alexander. As a black woman, Alexander possesses very little social power. Perhaps this is why a judge interpreted her warning shots as unnecessary, and that there was insufficient evidence that she feared for her life.
George Zimmerman walked free after murdering an unarmed black teenager, while Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years behind bars for a warning shot. The inequality and injustice here are obvious and disturbing. Alexander has been granted a retrial, and officials have acknowledged that race was a factor in her original verdict. In this case, it seems hopeful that an injustice will be undone. However, not everyone is this lucky. Injustices and double standards have infiltrated our legal system, all thanks to racism and social power.
How can we eliminate these double standards? Will social power ever stop having such a powerful pull on the legal system?