A news parody site published an article in which the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, claims that status updates referencing the George Zimmerman verdict prompted more unfriendings than the site had ever seen.
I read the blurb and laughed, but with sadness. Initially, because after removing more than 25 people myself, I saw some truth in the fake story. But I also laughed because to me, the verdict brought to mind a thought I shudder to admit I was unable to dismiss. Between tears and dismayed head shaking, I kept thinking about the crude and scathing cartoon, “South Park.”
In the first season of the Comedy Central show, the children are taken on a hunting trip by one boy’s Uncle Jimbo, and Jimbo’s friend Ned. On seeing a Rocky Mountain black bear, Jimbo prompts the boys to look at the animal which is one of the last remaining of its kind. “Dear God!” he screams, “It’s coming right for us!” Then he shoots the bear. The nephew protests, “Hey! It wasn’t ‘coming right for us!’ It was just sitting there.”
Jimbo launches into a tirade about how the laws make it such that only in cases of imminent danger can animals be shot. He explains to his nephew and the other boys that screaming as though genuinely threatened, “Is just a technicality.”
In a country with a long history of humor being used as both political weapon and salve for injustice, this cartoon, first aired when Trayvon Martin was probably still teething and just beginning to toddle, is sadly appropriate to this conversation.
The power of humor and satire to disarm can be a tremendous thing. Particularly here, as people are trying to make sense of the Zimmerman verdict, which has divided Americans since it was delivered. And while it is clear that there is nothing remotely funny about the fact that a young boy was shot dead and his shooter was found not guilty, the laws that permit such a happening are so egregious as to be laughable.
While the Stand Your Ground law wasn’t used in the Zimmerman court proceedings, the Florida law permits an aggressor to decide in the midst of a confrontation or altercation that he feels threatened and is justified in using deadly force. And invoking the Stand Your Ground justification doesn’t consider how the altercation came to be.
There are cases in Florida, Zimmerman’s included, in which the confrontation began not because the party using lethal force didn’t retreat, but because that party sought out the target of the force and pursued him.
Where is the sense in that? How possibly, with a straight face, can Floridians expect reasonable people to believe that a pursuer first may not become entangled in a conflict with the subject of his pursuit, and furthermore that the pursuer who then uses lethal force may not have to serve any prison time for killing the person?
How can you not be joking?
So let me get this right, if I live in Florida and I hate the sight of men wearing socks with sandals, I can take my gun and go looking for socked male sandal-wearers and follow them. If one turns around to me and screams, “What’s your problem? Why are you bothering me? Your shoes are stupid!” I can become frightened and use lethal force. Why doesn’t the law include an exception if the fact exists that I instigated the conflict?
There’s no law called, “Stand Your Ground,”unless your ground is as long as a runway because you kept after someone and then they dared to challenge your right to come after them.
What if I feel frightened by people wearing parochial school plaid skirts? I graduated from Catholic high school and I assure you that those little girls can be vicious at times.
Unfortunately, these Stand Your Ground measures aren’t jokes. They are law.
And there is nothing funny about the fact that there are people who are likely emboldened by this verdict to wait for their very own chance to go and stand some ground.
There is nothing funny about the fact that someone who is armed can tip the balance of power so far in his favor as to remove any legal fighting chance from anyone he decides he’s suddenly “afraid” of.
That South Park episode, “Volcano” showed what happens when people go looking to thwart the law. “It’s coming right for us!” is the battle cry of over-armed hunters who shot a bear, a deer, and nearly a cute fluffy bunny.
Jamila Bey is a journalist based in Washington, D.C., where she hosts the weekly radio show The Sex, Politics And Religion Hour: SPAR With Jamila which airs on AM 1390 in Washington and AM 1430 in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @JBey.