Skip to content

It's Not Just Zimmerman: Race Matters a Lot in 'Stand Your Ground' Verdicts

The Trayvon Martin case and how the definition of justice differs across America.
relates to It's Not Just Zimmerman: Race Matters a Lot in 'Stand Your Ground' Verdicts

During his trial, George Zimmerman's lawyers opted to avoid invoking the controversial "Stand Your Ground" law that the state of Florida approved in 2005, which allows people to "meet force with force, including deadly force," rather than retreat from a confrontation when they are in fear for their lives. Still, the law has been at the center of the Trayvon Martin case since the teen's death on February 26, 2012. It ultimately gave Zimmerman the cover to pursue Martin and use deadly force that fateful night. Police initially waited 44 days after the shooting to arrest Zimmerman, in part based on his "right to use force" under this Florida law. Most of all, it created a reasonable doubt about the motives and circumstances surrounding Martin's death that led to a not guilty verdict. 

On one of the final days of the trial, jurors learned that Zimmerman had studied the law in a criminal litigation course. Though Zimmerman has publicly said he had never heard of the "Stand Your Ground" statute, his course instructor called him "one of the better students" in a class that often covered the very defense Zimmerman used. And as Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, the jury instructions were clearly informed by the existence of the Florida law.