Social Power and Stand Your Ground

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?

2 thoughts on “Social Power and Stand Your Ground”

  1. I also agree that social power infiltrates the legal system, and often has awful consequences. These issues with social power mentioned above derive from the faults of people, who unknowingly made decisions based of off social power. I also think that the way the legal system has been created allow for these injustices to occur. For example, when a person is on trial they are supposed to get a jury of their peers. Is a black man on trial, with a jury of mostly white females really getting a jury of their peers? While we hope that people wouldn’t take race into consideration, we have read about the implicit racism and stereotypes that occur, especially regarding African American men and crime. These decisions based off of social power happen, often times without the person realizing it, and the way the system is set up allows for these injustices to be made.

  2. Brianna, I remember when i first watched on the news about the Marissa Alexander case right after the Zimmerman trial and being completely appalled at how everything was handled. It is disturbing to think that a women who did not even harm anyone is sitting in jail for 20 years while Zimmerman is walking free after killing an innocent black teenager boy. I could not agree more that this all revolves around the concept of social power. It is interesting to think how the trial could have gone differently if Zimmerman had a last name that closer symbolized his ethnicity or had darker skin. In my opinion, I do not think that social power will ever not having a pull on the legal system. I think this is something that people are not willing to admit is a factor that plays a role in trials and without people owning up to this fact, how can anything ever be stopped?

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