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 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Mary Allen says because of new research and her own therapy, she no longer carries around the fear of her mother, which had turned into a generalized fear of everything
updated 3:59 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gilbert Gottfried says the comedian was most at home on the comedy club stage, where he was generous to his fellow stand-up performers
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Iris Baez, whose son was killed by an illegal police chokehold, says there must be zero tolerance for police who fatally shoot or otherwise kill unarmed people such as Michael Brown
updated 8:46 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Maria Cardona says as he seeks a path to the presidency, the Kentucky Senator is running from his past stated positions. But voters are not stupid--and they know how to use the internet
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gene Seymour says the shock at the actor and comedian's death comes from its utter implausibility. For many of us over the last 40 years or so, Robin Williams was an irresistible force of nature that nothing could stop.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Soledad O'Brien says the story of two veterans told in a documentary airing on CNN shows the challenges resulting from post-traumatic stress
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT