Tamara F. Lawson, A Fresh Cut In An Old Wound–A Critical Analysis of the Trayvon Martin Killing: the Public Outcry, the Prosecutors’ Discretion, and The Stand Your Ground Law, 23 U. Fla. J. L. & Pub. Pol'y 271 (2012), https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/faculty-articles/804
prosecutorial discretion, police brutality, stand your ground
If the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case is to have value beyond its immediate facts, it is important to consider the case through a broad lens that encompasses law, politics, and culture and the relevant intersectionality of each. This essay gives a contextualized historical perspective with which to view the Black community’s reaction to the initial lack of criminal charges in the case. It explains why the circumstances surrounding Trayvon’s death were experienced as a fresh cut in an old, but deep, collective wound, for many Blacks. It addresses the exacerbation African Americans felt regarding law enforcement’s perceived indifference towards Trayvon, a victim of a dark(er) hue. It acknowledges the implanted counter-narrative that dehumanized “Trayvon the victim” and, instead, labeled him, “Trayvon the thug,” even though he was not a criminal, and unarmed when he was shot. The mixture of these specific facts in the case represented a shared trigger point in the Black community that generated a visceral reaction based on its relation-back to past and systematic injustices.
This essay identifies both the race-neutral as well as the racialized factors that may have influenced the Sanford prosecutor’s initial decision not to file criminal charges in this case. Based on the breadth, intensity, and duration of the local, national, and international outcry, the atmosphere surrounding the case became increasingly tense and, as a result, a special prosecutor was appointed to re-evaluate the charging decision. By applying Derrick Bell’s “interest convergence theory” to the analysis, this essay provides a reasoned explanation for the special prosecutor’s decision to charge George Zimmerman with murder and identifies the combined role that law and politics play in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. Further, this essay analyzes the unique contours of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law as it applies to the Martin killing and how the law may have influenced the initial decision not to charge Zimmerman. Also, the broader policy ramifications of the law will be addressed. This essay will query whether The Stand Your Ground Law wrongly condones lethal force by prematurely bestowing immunity from prosecution upon otherwise suspect criminal conduct.