WaPo Misrepresents Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law. Again. Still.

The Washington Post recently reported on the first meeting of the legislative task force reviewing Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, and the unchallenged lies start out in the first paragraph: “The parents of a 17-year-old teen killed by a neighborhood watch captain asked a task force reviewing Florida’s ‘stand your ground law’ Tuesday to recommend changing it so that defendants who initiate a confrontation can’t use it as part of their self-defense argument.” Traditionally one of the tasks of journalists is to check facts and verify information before presenting it to the public. They really aren’t supposed to act as a zero head loss bullshit pipe, passing falsehoods effortlessly from source to audience. But in this case . . .

Lie number 1: Florida statute already says that defendants who initiate a confrontation cannot argue justifiable use of force:

776.041 Use of force by aggressor — The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:

(1) … or

(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:

(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant;

So what this is saying is, if you provoke a fight you can’t use deadly force unless your opponent uses it first, and even then you have a duty to retreat (i.e. you can’t Stand Your Ground). Which is exactly what Trayvon’s parents say they are after.

Lie number 2: SYG had nothing to do with Section 776.041; in fact 1997 was the last time the Use of force by aggressor statute was changed.

The Post continues:

Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton asked the Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection to support a “Trayvon Martin amendment” to the law,

I have searched for the text of this amendment, but all I can find (besides a national version being bandied about in the House) is a verbal description from the parents’ lawyer:

[“T]he Trayvon Martin amendment to the Stand Your Ground law, and that is, you cannot be the pursuer, you cannot initiate the confrontation and then say that you were standing your ground,” Crump said.

In other words what they are asking for is a law to state:

The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:

(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself

Hmm, haven’t I seen that verbiage somewhere before? Oh, yeah, back in 776.041. But after this passing request for redundancy, the lies then continue:

support a “Trayvon Martin amendment” to the law, which currently gives defendants wide latitude in claiming self-defense. The 2005 legislation allows individuals to use deadly force provided they are doing nothing illegal

In fact the 2005 legislation, SB436, the bill which created SYG, changed nothing in the standards for the use of deadly force. Before SYG passed, someone was only allowed to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.

And the ‘wide latitude’ in effect after SYG passed? Someone is only allowed to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. What an earth-shattering change; no wonder they want to fix it.

But there actually was a definite change with the passage of SYG, as WaPo points out:

The 2005 legislation allows individuals to use deadly force provided they are doing nothing illegal and relieves them of a duty to retreat if they believe their lives are in jeopardy.

In other words, the law no longer demands detached reflection … in the presence of an uplifted knife[1]. Justice Holmes continued:

Therefore in this Court, at least, it is not a condition of immunity that one in that situation should pause to consider whether a reasonable man might not think it possible to fly with safety or to disable his assailant rather than to kill him.

Ah those stodgy, outdated Supreme Court judges with their antiquated rulings. How silly and outmoded they are when compared to modern progressive thinking. When victims have a duty to retreat before they can defend themselves it makes things so much easier for police and prosecutors. No longer are they hampered by that whole “presumption of innocence” thing – it’s up to the defendant to prove that he acted within the law.

This also provides the opportunity for anti-gun and anti-self-defense prosecutors to punish law-abiding citizens who have the temerity to defend themselves (as Sean McClanahan details in Stand Your Ground, Lose Everything) instead of being raped and strangled/beaten and robbed or what have you.

The Post then gives a précis of the Martin/Zimmerman case, finishing with:

Zimmerman claims he lost sight of Martin and was returning to his vehicle when he was attacked. Martin’s family blames Zimmerman for initiating the confrontation.

So let me get this straight; if I try to follow someone but lose them and they jump me as I am returning to my car, I initiated the confrontation? No, what we have here are grieving parents in denial, seeking to blame anyone other than their son.

“We need to review this law,” [Trayvon’s mother] told task force members. “I’m not saying take it away. Just review and amend it. I had to bury my son at 17. He was committing no crime. He was doing no wrong.”

And from a certain point of view I must agree that Trayvon wasn’t doing anything wrong; he just went to the Stop-n-Rob for some treats and was walking home. But that is where his “doing no wrong” ended. It ended when he went looking for Zimmerman, punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground, pounced on him and proceeded to bash his head on the sidewalk “MMA style”, making George believe that his life was in danger.

And it is true, if George hadn’t called the cops and followed Trayvon your son would still be alive. Likewise if Trayvon hadn’t had a chip on his shoulder leading him to seek out George, your son would still be alive.

But the review panel is looking beyond George and Trayvon:

Gov. Rick Scott appointed the task force to review the law following Martin’s death. But the group’s chairwoman, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, said the review wasn’t going to be limited to the confrontation between Martin and Zimmerman. The task force will hold five more hearings around the state before presenting its recommendations to the Florida Legislature next year.

“This is not about the Zimmerman case, and we don’t want to make it that because we want to stay unbiased and unfettered from any other case,” Carroll said.

This gives the opportunity for the WaPo to provide some “balance”. After nine paragraphs and almost 400 words bashing SYG, we see:

Frank Darden, 63, told task force members that without the law he wouldn’t have been able to draw his gun during a confrontation last year with a tenant he was trying to evict. The tenant threatened him with a fillet knife but then backed down when Darden drew his gun.

“Without that law, I would have been stabbed to death,” said Darden, a firearms instructor. “I believe I wouldn’t be here without that law.”

WaPo provides a whopping two paragraphs and 74 words before finishing up with:

But Barbara Standard said the law allowed the killer of her 46-year-old son to avoid charges.

“This law is a license to kill,” Standard said.

Unmentioned by the WaPo is the fact that Scott Standard had a long-running dispute with a neighbor, James Conner over property lines and easements. According to Conner’s lawyer, the evening of the shooting:

Conner went to check on a privacy fence he had built earlier that day between he and Standard’s property. As Conner was leaving to go home, Grantham said Standard jumped in front of Conner’s truck and threw a large rock into Conner’s windshield, landing right in front of where Conner’s wife, Traci, was seated.

Grantham said Standard then charged the truck and Conner fired a warning shot and verbally warned Standard he had a gun.

“Standard ignored this warning and continued his charge. Ignoring another shot, Standard continued his charge, getting near the open window, forcing the third shot, which was fatal,” Grantham’s letter stated.

After a five month investigation, the state attorney’s office concluded, based on forensic evidence and witness statements, that the shooting was justified. A couple of other things the WaPo fails to mention; 14 months before the shooting, Conner got a protection order against Standard and second, Standard was in Conner’s driveway when he was shot.

Someone needs to tell the guys at the WaPo that there is something called journalistic ethics which most certainly does not include opinions stated as facts, lies presented as truths, nor using your bully pulpit to press your political agenda and suppress those who disagree with you.



[1] Brown v. United States, 256 US 335 (1921), Justice Holmes writing for the court.

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About Bruce W. Krafft

I am a bit of a Johnny-come-lately to the civil rights (firearms flavor) movement, having not really gotten involved until after I hit 40. I am not really a "gun guy"; I can generally hit what I aim at, but I'm not a competitive shooter. I enjoy the craftsmanship of a fine pistol or rifle, but I am not particularly knowledgeable about firearms in general nor am I a Glock guy, or 1911 guy, I'm just a guy. What I am is passionate about civil rights, especially those of the firearm flavor.

39 Responses to WaPo Misrepresents Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law. Again. Still.

  1. avatarMatt H says:

    Bruce, great series of posts on the SYG topic! I wonder, have you seen this? http://slatest.slate.com/posts/2012/06/14/raul_rodriguez_convicted_in_texas_after_stand_your_ground_defense_under_the_case_doctrine_fails_.html

    Slate of course tries to frame it as a perfect example of SYG laws resulting in a death which would not otherwise have occurred. I see it another way, and suspect you would too: a bizarre case of lies about SYG laws resulting in a knucklehead thinking he had the key to a perfect murder. The case is so outlandish that I don’t claim it proves any general principle, but if it did, it would only be that the antis have blood on their hands for misrepresenting SYG as license to kill.

  2. avatarTotenglocke says:

    Come on Bruce, we all know journalists have no ethics – their objective is to try to force the public to think the way they believe they should.

  3. avatarSteve says:

    Overall a good article Bruce,
    but I have one criticism. You wrote:

    “And from a certain point of view I must agree that Trayvon wasn’t doing anything wrong; he just went to the Stop-n-Rob for some treats and was walking home. But that is where his “doing no wrong” ended. It ended when he went looking for Zimmerman, punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground, pounced on him and proceeded to bash his head on the sidewalk “MMA style”, making George believe that his life was in danger. ”

    Here you seem to be stating George Zimmerman’s account of the incident as fact. While it SEEMS that Zimmerman’s account tracks with the physical evidence, that does not mean that it is exactly accurate.

    You and I do not know if Martin “…went looking for Zimmerman, punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground, pounced on him and proceeded to bash his head on the sidewalk…”.

    Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. It could be that Martin came out from where ever he was and asked Zimmerman WTF his problem was and that then Zimmerman decided he didnt like being challenged that way and he then initiated the physical aspect of the altercation. The exact sequence of events remain to be seen and wont be known until a judge and jury have reviewed the All of the facts and sworn testimony of the witnesses.

    Point is, you should avoid making declarative statements (and passing them off as fact, whether or not this was done intentionally or not) about things where some of the details are subject to debate.

    • avatarVermin says:

      Obviously you’re right: no one will ever know for sure what happened. The issue here, though, is that the incident was investigated by the authorities who had jurisdiction over it. As more evidence has come to light in the case, the more it supports the findings of their investigation.

      On the other hand, those calling for Zimmerman’s blood have done so without a shred of credible evidence to support their conclusion. They’ve simply insisted that Zimmerman’s account must be false; the conclusion reached by investigators simply must be wrong, not because it is contradicted or unsupported by the evidence, but because it doesn’t fit their narrative. As a result, George Zimmerman is now the target of a political witch hunt so unapologetically racist in origin that its instigators went as far as lying about his race in order to subject him to it.

    • avatarMatt H says:

      You make a good point, Steve. But remember, it’s not like the trial will discover the absolute truth either. Its purpose is to decide whether, based on the facts they can prove, Zimmerman is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

      The job of a court is not to discover the truth. It’s not science. Instead, its job is to settle a dispute.

    • avatartdiinva says:

      Well Steve, maybe the reason that much of the evidence “seems” to support Zimmerman is that he is giving an accurate account of what happened. I suppose this could be all circumstantial evidence and something different happened but I would go with GZ’s account of the events.

      Posts like these may be an indication that Corey could put together a jury of guilty whites who would discard the evidence and go with their emotions instead. The good news for Zimmerman is that it will be hard not to have Hispanics and street smart African-Americans on the jury who hold no illusions about gang bangers like Martin. If you notice all the “people of color” who live in the development and were interviewed by various media outlets support George Zimmerman and not Trayvon Martin.

    • avatarDirk Diggler says:

      you forget that Zimmerman was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher and speaking freely when he said (1) he lost track of him and (2) here he comes and he is approaching me. He is coming towards my vehicle. This is an exception to the hearsay rule. It will get in and it will allow Zimmerman’s defense to show that Martin was the aggressor.

    • avatarBruce W. Krafft says:

      Steve, given that George had no injuries to his hands and Trayvon did, and that George’s injuries included a broken nose, two black eyes and lacerations to the back of his head, and that an eyewitness made the “MMA style” statement, I’m willing to stand behind George’s version on this.

  4. avatarRalph says:

    Journalistic ethics? Is that something like jumbo shrimp?

  5. avatarIdahoPete says:

    “Traditionally one of the tasks of journalists is to check facts and verify information before presenting it to the public. … Someone needs to tell the guys at the WaPo that there is something called journalistic ethics which most certainly does not include opinions stated as facts, lies presented as truths, nor using your bully pulpit to press your political agenda and suppress those who disagree with you.”

    You are about 50 years too late, Bruce. The entire antique media began to abandon any adherence to journalistic ethics in the 1960s, and for the last 20 years they have become nothing more than the left-wing Democrat Propagana Ministry. This would explain why the majority of Americans rank the media somewhere below used car salesmen on their standards of ethics. (My apologies to any used car salesmen in the forum – you folks have FAR higher standards of ethics than any one in the old media.)

    It would also explain why the antique media – newspapers and TV – are seeing their customer base disappear, to the point where the media corporations are firing large percentages of their employees and trying desperately to dump employee pensions and health care coverage. Some of us old farts remember what “investigative journalism” was like in the 1950s, and we miss it. We will not miss the antique media when it finally collapses.

  6. avatarMatt in FL says:

    “Trayvon Martin amendment”

    It’s a near-universally accepted statement that “law named for someone = bad law.” They are almost always borne out of knee-jerk “someone’s gotta do something,” frequently do not actually “fix” whatever was “broken” in the named situation, and also frequently end up having unintended effects that are far out of the original intended scope.

  7. avatarCarlosT says:

    I’ve had a series of arguments with a friend about SYG and they always leave me frustrated be because she’s so misinformed. The argument always goes the same way: she goes off on the whole “license to kill” and I try to bring her back to reality. What’s really outrageous is she compared SYG to Obama’s kill list, as if the two were equivalent. The utter absurdity of that statement is mindblowing.

  8. avatarChas says:

    Look, it’s pretty simple, actually – the only possibility for a conviction that the prosecution has in the Martin/Zimmerman case is to prove that GZ initiated the confrontation that led to Martin’s death. So far, there has been no preponderance of evidence to substantiate that theory. And if the prosecution can’t prove that, then the SYG law protects Zimmerman and the prosecution has no case.

    • avatarRalph says:

      Chas, that’s a misreading of SYG. The rules for self defense remain — a defender can meet force with force. This requires a proportionate response. Which means the defender can use equal force plus a little extra, because the defender has the greater right. If someone slaps you and you shoot them, you’re going to prison even though the other guy initiated the conflict, even in an SYG state.

      SYG provides that a defender who uses appropriate force — including deadly force — does not have to run away before defending himself and is immune from overzealous prosecution and civil suits by the attacker or his estate.

      • avatarVermin says:

        I had an extended exchange with a Youtuber who claimed that the fact that Zimmerman had not taken every possible effort to avoid Trayvon destroyed his claim to self defense. He claim, literally, that Zimmerman had a duty to hide in his vehicle to avoid being beaten by Trayvon.

      • avatarVermin says:

        Derp! “He claimed…”

        • avatarRalph says:

          Vermin, I can hardly blame anyone for getting all wonky about understanding self defense and SYG laws. Even some Florida judges have screwed up SYG cases. In one case, two dope dealers had a throwdown. Dealer A was the aggressor; dealer B the defender. Dealer A broke off the attack and high-tailed it down the block, trying to escape. Dealer B ran him down and shot him. The judge called it self-defense and claimed that Dealer B was just standing his ground! Insanity.

          The case will be reversed on appeal.

        • avatarParthenon says:

          @ralph does for Florida have a statute that allows you to use force against someone fleeing with stolen goods if the person has reason to believe the goods can’t be otherwise recovered?

        • avatarV.McCann says:

          I don’t blame people for misunderstanding the law. I blame them for what they’ve done with that misundertanding. But I think my real issue is that I don’t believe the person I’m talkng about had a good faith misunderstanding of the law. I think his position was typical of many of those out to get Zimmerman: It doesn’t matter what the law actully says; instead, all that matters is that Zimmerman is guilty, and the law has to be interpreted to support that foregone conclusion.

        • avatarRalph says:

          Parthenon, that’s a good question. Not being an FL attorney, I’ll have to look it up.

          In the meantime, check Tennessee v. Garner, a Supreme Court case from 1985. While it is not on point, it neatly sums up the Court’s feeling (at the time) about deadly force in cases where the user was not under the threat of the same.

        • avatarMatt in FL says:

          Parthenon: Texas statutes have the line about deadly force being justified “if the land or property cannot be recovered by any other means (Texas Penal Code 9.42). From my reading, Florida doesn’t have any justification for deadly force for removal of property except “to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.” Fl. Stat. § 776.031

          The jury instructions for justifiable use of non-deadly force in property crimes are as follows:

          The Defendant would be justified in using non-deadly force against (victim) if the following three facts are proved:
          1. The alleged victim must have been trespassing or otherwise wrongfully interfering with land or personal property.
          2. The land or personal property must have lawfully been in the defendant’s possession, or in the possession of a member of his immediate family or household, or in the possession of some person whose property he was under a legal duty to protect.
          3. The Defendant must have reasonably believed that his use of force was necessary to prevent or terminate the alleged victim’s wrongful behavior.

  9. avatarGS650G says:

    This case will determine how, not if, bad guys attack people.

    • avatarRalph says:

      GS6506, if you write a thousand more comments (and I hope you do), this might still end up being the best.

      • avatarrere says:

        and considering that the cbmeinod manority population in sanford is greater than whites (whites47%, blacks29.8%, and hispanics17.4%) I’m sure there are plenty people of color who are higher ups with in the department and governmeny as well. Don’t you think they would arrest this guy and get there police department out of the press associated with such a negative story if it were as clear cut a case as the press would have you believe. You gotta ask yourself one question to understand why I say this. Who the fuck is Zimmerman that the Sanford police department would saccrifice there reputation for him? He’s not the son of some rich mogul nor is he a mogul hiself. Trust me if this was as clear cut a case as you think they would throw his ass under the jail in order to get this shit out of national news. Especially in this day and age where the worst labele a public official can get is racist in a majority minority town. Think about it. I’ m just saying I rather put my trust in those on the groung in this case rather than mainstream media who has shown the have an agenda to sensationalize this story for rating’s purpose and God knows what other purpose. They purposely put up younger pics of him, why? Does the family not have any other more recent pics of him I’m sure they do in this age of camera phones. So why would the media want to coerse a particular emotional response out of the viewers if they didn’t have an agenda. So all I’m saying is take what they have to say with a grain of salt. I hope justice is served soon and without prejugdice I hope the right thing happens according to facts so that this story and Trayvon can be put to rest. It’s sad and unfortunate that this perfect storm of events took place and it ended with a young man dead and a nation already suffering from financial hardships is stirred up in a nonproductive way. People please look beyond your preconceived notions and be more objective. I’m not saying Zimmerman isn’t guilty I’m just saying I don’t know for sure.

  10. Did you realistically expect accurate and unbiased reporting on guns from the Washington Compost?

  11. avatarjwm says:

    trayvon was a 17 year old high school athlete. george was a 28 year old cream puff who couldn’t get accepted as a cop. no way george could have caught trayvon in the dark amongst the buildings and shrubs without backup unless trayvon wasn’t trying to get away. i know from experience how hard it is to hit a moving target in low light with a rifle, let alone a pocket pistol like george was using. and trayvon wasn’t shot in the back as he would have been trying to escape. just saying.

  12. avatarL.Y. says:

    Thank you for further educating me! I’m just so shocked by the media. They had me believing the most ridiculous things about the whole SYG law. I don’t usually believe what the news tells me. The problem is that what the media was saying jived with what I believed to be “right” at the time in complete ignorance of the law itself. Thank you for straightening me out over and over again. I pass on what I read here, and I do check it for facts as much as I can, but again, thanks! Ignorance is the greatest evil to ever roam the earth.

  13. avatarbruce says:

    so….it’s been concluded that TM assaulted GZ? we’re basing that on whose word? GZ’s? The same guy who lied about having hundred of thousands of dollars that he was not using to pay his pro bono atty, but to pay off his bills and profit from killing someone? that’s whose story your basing your assumptions on? hmm…

  14. avatarfrancielly says:

    Obviously the people on your page do not udnnrstaed how systemic racism works, nor how law enforcement works. Point 1 is Zimmerman’s parents are retired law professionals. His father a retired VA judge his mother a law clerk. I do not know alot of people who have been arrested 3 times for various infractions, including violent ones and NONE of them stick unless they are in the mafia OR they have close ties to people in the legal community. Point 2 these sweeping generalizations about what Black people don’t get mad about reek of detachment. People around the country protest injustice, violence, failing schools etc. So the question is not Why aren’t Black people protesting when The question is where were you Arnold when we were and where was the media that seems to be all over this now.Point 3 The number 1 rule about a lie is that you never admit it was lie. That is systemic dishonesty 101 people. Sanford PD didn’t not expect to get caught doing completely shoddy and negligent investigation,. When they did get caught, you really believe there were then going to say, Damn, you caught us. Our bad! We will arrest George right this minute! NO dears. That is not how it works. Humans when confronted with evidence of their guilt usually dug their spears further into the ground. That is how that works. There is nothing surprising about that.Here is the truth, yes black people have lots of healing to do in undoing the horrific impacts of CENTURIES of violent dehumanization perpetrated against us. Yes, we have issues and challenges we must address. YES MANY OF US ARE DOING THAT WORK! What is already a Herculean task becomes impossible when we are met with what is ABSOLUTELY old school racist violence. It is NOT unfair or whining to ask people not to trail our children, stalk them and shoot them. It is fair to not ask, people to say that the murder of our unarmed children is acceptable , even desirable because the got in trouble at school, or at home or where standard teenagers with standard teen behavior. It is hard to build your community a new house when you know that as soon as you turn your back to hammer a nail, someone from down the street will be setting it aflame.

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