Skip to main content

What about Martin's right to 'stand his ground'?

By Miller Francis, CNN
updated 11:51 AM EDT, Fri July 12, 2013
George Zimmerman is congratulated by members of his defense team, Don West and Lorna Truett, after the not guilty verdict is read on Saturday, July 13, in Sanford, Florida. A jury of six women found him not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/13/justice/gallery/zimmerman-trial-reaction/index.html' target='_blank'>View photos of the public reaction to the verdict.</a> George Zimmerman is congratulated by members of his defense team, Don West and Lorna Truett, after the not guilty verdict is read on Saturday, July 13, in Sanford, Florida. A jury of six women found him not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. View photos of the public reaction to the verdict.
HIDE CAPTION
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
Key moments in the Zimmerman trial
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Miller Francis: George Zimmerman trial should be renamed the Trayvon Martin trial
  • He says question not raised: Wasn't Martin the one standing his ground, facing a stalker?
  • We're told that by defending himself, Martin justified his own execution, he says
  • Francis: Prosecution should use stand-your-ground on Martin's behalf; it's about race, justice

Editor's note: Miller Francis a selections archivist for the CNN Library. He is writing a novel.

(CNN) -- Like many people, I've been riveted by the George Zimmerman trial. I call it "the George Zimmerman trial" because that's what it is, but the more I watch, the more I wonder: Should it be renamed "the Trayvon Martin trial?"

I'm not just talking about some of the media's tabloid-like focus on Martin's background, his personal history, his school records and -- outside the courtroom -- the toxicology report. I'm talking about an aspect of the case that never comes up in the media coverage, one that I would argue is key.

This murder trial, in and out of the courtroom, has been boiled down to one question: Was Zimmerman in fear for his life and thus justified in defending himself by shooting and killing Martin?

It has been framed this way -- in terms of Zimmerman's mortal fear -- since the shooting in 2012.

Zimmerman's assumptions led to death, prosecutor argues

Some people have forgotten that Zimmerman was not even arrested initially. It took more than a month for the special prosecutor to bring the second-degree murder charge. And if not for mass protests across the country, he might not be the defendant in a murder trial at all.

Miller Francis
Miller Francis

The question that has not surfaced in the courtroom -- the elephant in the room -- is this: Did Martin fear for his life after being followed and confronted by a stranger while going to the store to buy candy and a soft drink? Was he, Martin, justified in standing his ground and defending himself when this stranger, an apparent stalker, approached him in a threatening manner?

Zimmerman didn't identify himself and never said he was part of the neighborhood watch group.

Think about it: We're told over and over that if Zimmerman was afraid of Martin, according to Florida law, he had the right to put a bullet in the chamber of his concealed handgun, get out of his car after being told not to by the 911 dispatcher and follow and confront Martin and shoot him to death.

At the same time, we are told that Martin, who had far greater reason to fear Zimmerman, practically and for reasons of American history, did not have the right to confront his stalker, stand his ground and defend himself, including by using his fists. We are told that this was entirely unjustified and by doing so, Martin justified his own execution.

Running updates from the Zimmerman trial

Zimmerman's attorneys steal spotlight
Judge denies acquittal motion
Does Zimmerman have hysterical amnesia?
Resting their case

The phrases "stand your ground" and "self-defense" have been repeated endlessly by anchors, pundits, analysts and experts, but rarely applied to Martin.

How could this be? Why is this other question ignored? Surely it will come up as we approach the trial, I thought. But it hasn't. What's going on here? How can the Florida law apply only to Zimmerman and not to Martin?

I remembered the sharp, sometimes bitter commentary provoked by Spike Lee's 1989 film "Do the Right Thing," particularly in reaction to its climactic scenes, when the police murder a black teenager and Lee's character throws a trash can through the window of the white-owned pizza place.

Years after the movie came out, Lee told an interviewer, "White people still ask me why Mookie threw the can through the window. ...Twenty years later, they're still asking me that."

"No black person ever, in 20 years, no person of color has ever asked me why," he said.

This speak volumes about race and power relations in this country.

Opinion: Zimmerman trial - it's about race

Here's what I think: Assuming Martin did engage Zimmerman physically, perhaps if the teen had hit back a little bit harder, perhaps if he had been able to prevent Zimmerman from grabbing his concealed and loaded gun and perhaps if witnesses had come to Martin's aid, then maybe he would be alive today. That's speculation.

One thing I feel sure of is that if Martin, in fear for his life, had used Zimmerman's own gun to shoot and possibly kill his attacker, when the police arrived on the scene, they would not have failed to charge him with murder.

Why hasn't the prosecution team used Florida law to argue strongly for Martin's right of self-defense, his right to stand his ground against a stalker? Why not turn the tables on Zimmerman's exclusive claim to that argument?

It will be interesting to see whether this question even gets posed for the jury at all. It certainly will be front and center as this case is tried by the jury of history. And future generations will likely puzzle over how the term "racial profiling" could have been banned by the judge before the trial even began.

This country's racial history, the list of names, like Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant and other victims of "deadly force" by the police—these represent an even bigger Elephant in the Room.

They may have been ruled irrelevant in the courtroom, but they are certainly relevant to those who seek justice in this society.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Miller Francis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT