What if Zimmerman were black? ‘Stand Your Ground’ double standards exposed

OPINION - What if the races of the defendant and the victim were reversed in the George Zimmerman murder trial?...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

What if the races of the defendant and the victim were reversed in the George Zimmerman murder trial?

Jurors in the Trayvon Martin murder case will tell you that race had nothing to do with their verdict acquitting George Zimmerman of second-degree murder in the shooting death of the unarmed black teen in Sanford, Florida.  Zimmerman—who is biracial and of white and Afro-Latino heritage, yet has played the role of white victim acting in self- defense against a black teen thug—was found not guilty by a nearly all-white jury of six women in the killing of Martin.

Some people are asking, what if the roles were reversed? What if Zimmerman was the shooting victim? Better yet, what if George Zimmerman had been a black man accused of shooting a white teen to death?

The John White case

And yet, such a case exists—but with an entirely different outcome.  Meet John White.  In 2007, White, 54, who is black, was convicted of the 2006 killing of Daniel Cicciaro, Jr., a white teen, in Miller Place, New York, a community of Suffolk County in Long Island.  He was sentenced to 2 to 4 years for manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon.  White faced a maximum of 5 to 15 years behind bars.  The incident took place outside White’s home, when White was confronted by Cicciaro and his friends.

The White trial, not unlike that of Zimmerman, had racial overtones from the start.  White’s 19-year-old son Aaron awoke him to tell him that a group of kids was coming over to come to kill him.  A teenage girl, a friend of Cicciaro, had received a threatening message from Aaron’s MySpace account as an online prank.  It turned out to be a hoax. Michael Longo, Aaron’s friend, admitted he logged on as Aaron and sent the message to the girl.

Cicciaro, who was reportedly drunk,  and four of his friends came to the White house, reportedly shouting racial epithets at the White family and threatening to rape Aaron’s mother— in an apparent attempt to defend the honor of the white girl.

According to White— who had heard stories of the Klan terrorizing his family in Alabama years ago—he was descended upon by a white lynch mob.  He and his son each took a gun.  Mr. White said he wanted to scare off the mob, and also claimed he was protecting his family.  He told the boys to leave, and claimed his gun accidentally discharged.  Police claimed Cicciaro was shot at point-blank range, and died in the hospital.

John White was released after serving only five months of his sentence—a pardon from New York Governor David Paterson on the way out of office.

White, not unlike, claimed self-defense against the threat of Daniel Cicciaro.  Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who was in his car at the time of the incident, claimed Trayvon confronted him, knocked him to the ground, punched Zimmerman and slammed his head into the pavement.  As a defense, Zimmerman argued he discharged his weapon to protect himself.

But the two cases differ in one important way: Florida has a stand your ground law, while New York does not.   In New York, there is a duty to retreat anywhere outside one’s home, meaning, and the person must first retreat from an attack if it is possible to do so safely.

Meanwhile, inside one’s home, a person can use deadly force, provided he or she did not provoke the incident.

‘Stand Your Ground’

But in Florida, conservative groups including the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council lobbied for a “Stand Your Ground” law, which gives immunity to those who use deadly force due to a reasonable fear of harm—whether in the home or in public places, and without a duty to retreat.  The law was introduced in Florida in 2005, and as John Nichols of The Nation notes, the state lawmakers who passed the legislation were ALEC members. The NRA lobbyist who pushed for the Florida law worked with ALEC-affilated legislators on a model Stand Your Ground law.

Since ALEC devised the model, 26 states have adopted identical or similar versions of it, according to the Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch.

The law, which applies in civil and criminal cases, has led to an increase in homicide rates, according to a study from Texas A&M University.  Further, based on an analysis by the Tampa Bay Times of nearly 200 cases, the law has disproportionately impacted black victims.  Critics had warned of a “Wild West,” “shoot ‘em up,” vigilante mentality that such legislation would produce.  In a speech to the NAACP, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Stand Your Ground laws encourage violence and “undermine public safety” and encourage violence.