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Last week when President Obama asked our nation if Trayvon Martin would have the right to stand his own ground against the man who shot him to death, it was, in short, the confirmation we needed to signify that these super-charged self-defense laws meant to protect our citizens are disproportionately geared away from minorities. The jury in the murder trial of George Zimmerman never had the chance to consider if Trayvon Martin had the right to stand his ground, because he was dead. One man’s words versus the silence of a dead teenager proved to be an impossible case for the prosecution to win.

Just months prior to the trial of Mr. Zimmerman, Marissa Alexander, the black Florida woman who shot her own ceiling to warn her abusive husband to stay back, was sentenced to twenty years in prison, as the jury didn’t believe that she had to right to stand her ground. Two times in just a matter of months, the interpretation of the so-called “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida failed to protect the true victims. Could it have been because they both were black?

In the 25 states that have similar “Stand Your Ground” type of laws, white people who kill black people are 354% more likely to be cleared than whites who kill other whites. If we are to ask the United States Department of Justice to investigate a potential civil rights violation against Trayvon, we should also ask them to investigate the racial disparity of how these laws are applied across the country. In the words of Attorney General Eric Holder last week at an NAACP convention, do we have the right to “stand our ground to insure that our laws reduce violence, and take a hard look at the laws that contribute to more violence than they prevent?”

Yes. Yes we do. And as pundits and political analysts argue that little will be done to tear down these beacons of violence in the wake of a hundred rallies meant to do just that…we’ve seen some victories. Since we’ve began to look at the brutal consequences of “Stand Your Ground” laws, most notably Trayvon Martin’s untimely death, not one new law has been passed. After an onslaught of twenty five states passing these laws in rapid secession, we have stopped the NRA and ALEC, the architects of these laws, in their tracks.

It’s a small victory, but nevertheless it is a victory. Let’s build upon the work that already has been done and fight to repeal each law in each state, starting with Florida. Stevie Wonder made a heroic commitment by pledging not to play any state that has a “Stand Your Ground” type law until they are repealed.  Every artist with a heartbeat should follow his lead. It is time that we get rid of legislation that has allowed gun-wielding lawmakers to declare “open-season” on black and brown America. In the memory of Trayvon Martin, let us never again fail to protect the freedom of any American child to walk home in peace.

~Russell Simmons

Artist Credit: Tes One 

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