ADA — During the year-long controversy and eventual acquittal of George Zimmerman, many citizens found themselves questioning their legal rights of self-defense.
Dr. C. Antoinette Clarke, Ohio Northern University (ONU) criminal law and juvenile justice professor, presented “Shoot First, Ask Questions Later: Self Defense, Stand Your Ground, and the Trayvon Martin Tragedy” at the university’s College of Law Tuesday afternoon.
Clarke took her audience of more than 100 students and community members through the Zimmerman case step-by-step, stating the importance for everyone to get a complete background of what happened the night George Zimmerman fatally shot the 17-year-old, black high school student Trayvon Martin out of self-defense.
“We all have to understand what happened,” Clarke said. “I thought today we could have a conversation about the law that essentially set the stage for this tragedy.”
Clarke addressed a few of the most controversial details of the case, including how Zimmerman may
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have been influenced by the dispatcher to “keep an eye” on Trayvon.
Clarke also said there is controversy over the question of whether Trayvon was running from Zimmerman because he was “up to no good” or because an unknown man was following him. She explained this leads people to wonder “who threw the first punch?” and was Zimmerman a “wannabe cop” or a concerned citizen?
Clarke did not disagree with the jury who acquitted Zimmerman, but she said they followed the law exactly as it is laid out.
“Given those instructions, I cannot find fault with the jury for reaching the conclusion they did,” Clarke said. “It’s the law that is wrong.”
Clarke said protecting oneself from harm is an indisputable right, noting that self-defense is in the U.S. Constitution.
She also pointed out the citizens have a duty to retreat, a law that states anyone in harm’s way should retreat to a safe place before using deadly force.
Clarke said once a person retreats to that place of safety, such as a residence, “Castle Doctrine” allows a person to use force in self-defense. The issue is that these “Stand Your Ground” laws have extended to any location a person has a lawful right to be.
“If we apply Stand Your Ground laws to Zimmerman, he has committed no crime,” Clarke said.
Stand Your Ground laws have been adopted in 30 states, including Ohio.
Clarke said homicide and gun violence rates are higher in Stand Your Ground states, despite the overall decline in crime across the nation.
“Stand Your Ground laws are inherently flawed,” Clarke said, noting that misconceptions and stereotypes play a huge role in a person’s decision making process. “Perception is everything when it comes to self-defense. Stand Your Ground laws have been used successfully in situations you wouldn’t believe.”
Clarke gave multiple examples of cases where Stand Your Ground laws have been applied, including a scenario where a man was acquitted after fatally shooting his neighbor after a dispute because he put out eight trash bags instead of the legal six before trash pick-up the next day.
Clarke said these laws “make a mockery” of the legal system and that the laws themselves are unclear.
Clarke said she hopes more people will come to understand the law and work together to make the change necessary to prevent tragedies like Trayvon’s death.
“Vote at every opportunity,” Clarke said. “Let your voice be heard.”
Dr. Kelly Anspaugh, ONU freshman composition instructor, said he recommended his students attend the lecture because the class is covering second amendment issues. He said he wanted them to consider the ways Stand Your Ground laws are linked to the second amendment.
Anspaugh described Clarke’s lecture as “illuminating” on the legality issues with the racial and perception implications of Stand Your Ground laws.
“It was courageous of her to stand up and say, ‘Yes, race is an issue with the Trayvon case.’ It takes nerve for her to make that claim,” Anspaugh said.
First-year ONU law student Desirae Bedford, of Cincinnati, said she attended the lecture because she is a member of the Black Law Student Association, but also because she is interested in the legal status behind the case. She appreciated how Clarke stayed away from the racial issue while she focused on the legal aspect of the case.
“She broke down the law and how it’s applied,” Bedford said. “She pointed out the obvious holes in it.”
Beford said she had a particular interest because, while representing someone in the court of law, she must follow the law as it is stated, regardless of any other feelings or obligations.
Bedford said she is looking forward to the next discussion, which will cover racial perceptions.
Multicultural Development Director LaShonda Gurley said the lecture was meant to give students and the community a “safe place” to learn and voice their own opinions about the law involved in the Zimmerman case.
She said she hoped for a change.
“It could be as small as a change in your own perception, or as large as changing the law,” Gurley said. “Maybe this spurred a student in this room to make a change.”
Gurley said the lecture allows students to see what action steps they need to take to be “well-informed and positive contributing citizens.”