Tag Archives: Florida

Lack of Info Re Other SYG Incidents Puzzling

You figure they’re probably happening elsewhere in places other than Florida and across more than one pair of demographics yet when all is said and done, it seems that the only ones we hear about are the incidents that happen between blacks and whites.  Maybe it’s not true but it sure feels like it.

I say this because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of media coverage of other SYG shootings.  And there have been others, least of which is the shooting of Chad Oulson in a Florida movie theater earlier this year.

71 year-old retired police captain, Curtis Reeves, Jr. shot Oulson after the two got into an argument during a matinee showing of the film, Lone Survivor, when Oulson began texting his daughter.

Both Reeves and Oulson are white.

On February 7th, a judge ruled that Reeves will remain in jail until his trial and that second-degree murder charges were appropriately filed.  There will be another pretrial hearing sometime this month.

I didn’t hear anything about this, did you?  I could have missed it, truth be told.

It’s a shame though because it’s important that the public receives as much information as it can about this dangerous law in order to make a reasonable judgment concerning it.  It’s especially imperative that the African American community see and hear of these other SYG shootings, especially when they cross different racial lines, in order to get a better idea of the scope of the statute’s effect on all people.

The media’s reluctance, so far, to vet the Reeves/Oulson second-degree murder trial, or any of the others, makes it’s somewhat easy to feed into the belief that there’s a SYG conspiracy in the works that targets young black males.  It’s easy because the only incidents we hear or read about are the ones that leave a young black man dead at the hands of an older white man.

I ask myself, couldn’t the coverage of the Michael Dunn/Jordan Davis murder trial happen alongside coverage of the pretrial motions for Curtis Reeves?  Had that been so, it could’ve been a teaching moment for the masses; one that showed the hazardous ambiguity of the law and how it effects everyone and not just African Americans.

On the other hand, if the media covers the Reeves/Oulson murder trial and Curtis Reeves is found guilty, cries will go up in protest shouting racism.  People will question whether or not justice recognizes equally the worth of a young black man and the value of a young white man. Such a happening could be the knob that turns public opinion, demanding a change to the statute.

Equally so, if Curtis Reeves is found innocent, such an unlawful slaughter of a suburban family man could as well be a turning point that bulwarks opponent’s attempts to amend or shoot down entirely Florida’s stand your ground law.  Maybe it’s me but I get the impression that those are two outcomes that some don’t want.

A Few Other SYG Shootings

http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/bail-hearing-resumes-this-morning-in-movie-theater-shooting/2164575

http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/criminal/autopsy-report-indicates-movie-theater-shooting-victim-raised-his-hand/2165334

http://www.guns.com/2014/03/10/judge-rules-fl-mans-use-stand-ground-defense-deputys-shooting/

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2014-03-03/news/os-bar-fight-shooting-stand-your-ground-20140303_1_ground-hearing-ground-immunity-bar-fight

http://www.weartv.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/monclair-shooting-uses-stand-your-ground-defense-41929.shtml

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Invisible chains are still chains

There exists all types of slavery.

We have the easily, identifiable and historical sorts of human bondage.  We know it when we see it; it’s apparent in the inhumanity and the degree in which such systematic brutality is served upon a particular people.  Other times, folks are being repressed and they aren’t even aware of it.  That’s where we are now.  The trappings from years past may have changed- no chains, no whips, no Jim Crow-but the overall outcome is still the same; black men are dying, their life and existence in every day society, suspect.  That’s the lesson I took from the Jordan Davis murder trial.

Watching Michael Dunn during the proceedings, I couldn’t help but notice the level of smugness he brought into the courtroom.  I asked myself if he knew or had contemplated what could possibly lie ahead of him.  I mean, nobody is assured of an acquittal even when truly innocent so I was at a loss for his, what I thought was, cavalier attitude about the events that went down.

Maybe it was me but it seemed he was comfortable with the deed, showing no remorse.  Even more frightening, his demeanor spoke volumes that he would do it all over again, if given the chance not so much because he had to-I’m not buying the “he had a gun” claim-but more so because he wanted to.  In my opinion, he liked what he had done and it’s that underlying glee that speaks to privilege and expectations of another time; a period when the courts refused to provide blacks with equal protection under the law.

Today, these expectations of privilege and the following judgments and thought processes in lock step behind them, are slowly insinuating themselves into all aspects of our society again, as if they’d never left.

So while we battle the courts in 2014-let that date sink in for a minute-for equal protection under the law in SYG states, elsewhere the inequities continue, flourish even.  There are still disparities in healthcare, inconsistencies in incarceration, biases in employment pay, working conditions and hiring as well as discrimination in housing. You can’t consider any one without the other and must continue to look at the big picture.

We see them and yet, we don’t see them, these new chains of bondage.   They’re not as heavy as the ones of old nor do they rattle or make it hard for us to move around but they’re no less damaging-to any and every man-than their very real predecessors.   We’re simply getting used to wearing them and that’s a big problem.

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Guns: the new age tool of conflict resolution

“If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

Abraham Maslow

Before SYG statutes were initiated, people drew guns as something of a last resort; to protect themselves, their family or property.  I’d like to think that it was also because of our intuitive appreciation of human life.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Today the ordinary, private citizen is given carte blanche to pull a weapon and blaze away with questionable or little regard for the consequences knowing that the slant of the statute has their proverbial back.

In this manner, more times than not these days it’s as if we’re swatting flies with bazookas.  Channeling Maslow, it becomes if they have a weapon, they will use it, under any and all possible circumstances.  Judgment and restraint will no longer matter as we tread into dangerous territory where everyone is touchy, irritable and packing.

And that’s the dark side in all of this.  Are we prepared for the people who will eagerly seek those chance encounters, possibly even manipulating them to a violent, one-sided conclusion?  The sad and horrible truth is that some folks want to kill somebody and welcome the opportunity to do so under justice’s blind eye.

Guns, along with SYG, are becoming a definitive tool of conflict resolution.  Forget talking out your differences or simply walking away.  And you dare not get into a fistfight with someone.  It could cost you your life.

It used to be that people settled their differences in a safe and relatively harmless way.  Even if the disagreement or argument became heated and a fight broke out, more times than not the individuals involved would live to see another day.

It’s a memory we all need to reflect on as more incidents occur and go to trial.  If we allow SYG to ignore the total human condition-things such as intent, temperament or rationale-before rendering judgment, guns will slowly, but ultimately, become the only tool in our arsenal of negotiation and the way we settle even the pettiest of squabbles.

We should ask ourselves, do we really want to become like that?

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Places and Spaces I’ll never see

Like any other couple closing in on their retirement, my wife and I have contemplated travel in our later years.  But for a while at my house, we’ve thought long and hard not so much about faraway safaris and adventures on global or American lands but rather about states and countries whose soil we’ll never step foot on.

The idea first took hold with the disappearance of Natalie Holloway.  The subsequent non-investigation that followed made up our minds that we wouldn’t be going to Aruba any damn time soon and the years-later prosecution and conviction of Joran Van der Sloot for another murder did nothing to calm our fears of traveling there.

Next is Texas because, as Tater Salad (Ron White) once proclaimed, they have an express lane to the death penalty.  My problem is that as final as the death penalty is I don’t see them making a lot of strides in ensuring they execute the correct person.  Even when faced with evidence of innocence years later, Texas is still reluctant to recognize a mistake.  Besides that, Texas is a “packing” stand your ground state.

Another thing, if you do find yourself in Texas, don’t drive.

Colorado gets honorable mention on this short list.  It seems even doobies aren’t enough to calm those folks down.  Again, they too are a stand your ground state.  In addition, they’re the state that gave us AOL and if there’s anyone out there who’s tried in the past to unsubscribe from that service, they know what I’m talking about.

Matter of fact, all stand your ground states are honorable mention on my list; peeps being too quick to draw on someone for any and every perceived indignity.

Which brings me to my A number one selection of places and spaces I’ll never see: Florida.

I knew something was askew in Florida when they acquitted George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin.  You know it’s bad where you are when a grown man can stalk and kill an unarmed teen and get away with it.  That these types of killings seem able to crisscross all sorts of demographics doesn’t make me feel any more secure or regret my decision to stay the hell away from there.  And this latest movie house shooting is very, very troubling.

Maybe it’s me but the fact that a retired policeman would do such a thing boggles the mind.  It not only bears the question of how he performed his job while on active duty-the decisions he made as well as his temperament- but it also calls into question the choices the state has made and is continuing to make where it concerns those citizens it chooses to enforce its laws and carry guns while doing so.

Does it surprise anyone that the defense attorney will attempt to turn a bag of popcorn into a deadly weapon?

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Is SYG applied equitably for all Floridians, black and white?

I’ve often thought of laws as not only rules to maintain an orderly society, they’re also the tools used to first discern accountability and then to dispense justice.   On their face, they are aesthetically neutral and will point wherever such accountability lies without regard for gender, race, age or creed.  That they apply to all men goes without saying.  If that be the case then the answer to the question posed above should be a resounding and loud, yes!

However, if the case of Marissa Alexander or Michael Giles is any indication then all I’d be able to gather would be a soft and tentative, I don’t know.

Many of you have probably already heard of Marissa Alexander; battered housewife who received a sentence of 20 years for firing a warning shot in the air to get her estranged and abusive husband out of her house.  She has since been released from prison on bond, pending a new trial, in time to spend Thanksgiving with her family.  Her new trial begins in March 2014.

On the other hand, I wonder how many of you, if any, are aware of the case of Michael Giles.  Airman Michael Giles is currently serving a sentence for shooting his assailant in the leg after being attacked and knocked to the ground in a club melee.  Giles was not involved in the fighting, did not start it nor participate in it in any way, even according to witnesses and the testimony of his attacker.  On the ground he pulled his weapon, one that he had a concealed carry permit for, and fired one shot into the leg of his assailant.  Unfortunately, bullet fragments from that single shot also injured two other men.   But despite claiming a stand your ground defense, Giles was sentenced to 25 years.

Both Alexander and Giles were sentenced under another dubious Florida statute known as 10-20-life.  Initiated in 1999, it’s a statute that enforces mandatory sentencing; 10 years for brandishing a weapon in the commission of a crime, 20 years for discharging that weapon during that crime and life for the killing of an individual with said weapon during that crime.

As always, the main problem with mandatory sentences is that they do not allow judges to adjudicate.  Decisions are already made for them without any thought or speculation or debate.  Nowhere does the human condition come into play; that bit of compassion or wisdom that needs to be present when making a judgment governing a person’s life.

The other aspects of the case are obvious.  First and foremost, both Alexander and Giles are African-American.  The other is despite a stand your ground defense claimed by both parties with them in fear for their own safety, no one was killed.  Giles did not kill his attacker, he wounded him and Alexander did not shoot to kill her battering husband, she fired a warning shot in the air to get him to leave.  For both of these individuals, their discretion was the better part of valor.  At least, it should’ve been viewed as such.

So the question becomes, why was their stand your ground defense denied and are we looking at the beginning of a trend?

In spite of all we know about battered women, the judge did not feel that Alexander behaved as a woman who feared for her life.  The jury apparently agreed and took only 15 minutes to render its verdict.  The irony here is that if there’s any class that SYG should benefit its battered women.  Yet, it was the same old song in Florida that day for Marissa Alexander’s trial.  Even in 2013, a woman has to damn near die and become a statistic before the courts even begin to think that she has the right to protect herself.

Michael Giles was sentenced under the 10-20-life mandatory statute because he fired unlawfully into a crowd, the prosecutor dismissing his claim that he was in fear of losing his life when he did so.  His military service was not considered-an active duty airman fresh from two tours in the Middle East-nor was it a factor in his sentencing that he had no police record and was a father from a law-abiding career military family.

Now these aren’t the only two SYG cases involving African-Americans going on across the country, I’m sure and they’re probably not the only ones happening in the state of Florida either.  So decisions about fairness or racism can’t be made relying solely on the facts of these two alone.  The other thing to keep in mind is that the law can be ruthlessly unreliable when attempting to second guess it, even on its best days.

But these two cases, coming so close on the heels of the botched George Zimmerman trial, speak to the continued unfairness in a judicial system that’s seen its share of prosecutorial abuse or neglect when it comes to people of color.  Is it then any wonder that folks feel something more is going on?  Is the state erroneously using its 10-20-life statute to unfairly prosecute blacks who evoke their right to self defense?  These are the questions that need to be answered, and answered quickly.

The state of Florida recognized its mistake in the case of Marissa Alexander and is issuing her a new trial.  One can only hope it does so for Michael Giles, sooner rather than later.  It’s the only way to restore confidence in a judicial system and statute that’s already beset with charges of racism.

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