For the past three weeks I've been following reporting from the USA of the killing in Florida of Trayvon Martin. It's hard for an observer in the UK to believe that this can really be happening in a country we see as much like ourselves, only younger and brasher.
The undisputed facts are that a little after 7pm on the evening a 28-year-old Neighborhood Watch volunteer called George Zimmerman phoned the police to report a suspicious character within a 'gated community' in Sanford, Florida. Disregarding the operator's advice, he left his car to follow his suspect, who was the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Five minutes later, there was a struggle between the two in which Zimmerman, who carried a licensed semi-automatic handgun, shot Martin dead. Martin was unarmed - he had been to a convenience store to buy sweets and a drink, and was walking back to his father's fiancee's house, where he had been watching a basketball game.
Zimmerman claims that Martin attacked him, and he acted in self defence for fear of his life. Under Florida's 'stand your ground' law, this defence allows the use of lethal force, and the burden of proof to overcome it is on the prosecution. Zimmerman was released without charge the same night, apparently at the instigation of the State Attorney. It has been widely alleged that police accepted Zimmerman's story without serious investigation, and that they would have proceeded differently had Martin not been black. It's not clear to me to what extent the police may have been constrained not to release full details of what they've done, but a good deal of evidence has emerged to support the allegation against them, including a CCTV recording of Zimmerman arriving at the police station with no obvious injuries or blood on him, and an account by Martin's girlfriend of her telephone conversation with him while Zimmerman was following him: she says that she has not been interviewed by police despite their having been in possession of Martin's cellphone.
I find it utterly incredible that a legislature could pass a law that seems to give freedom to murder anyone capable of posing a physical threat provided one can shoot them unobserved - how could a claim of self-defence be disproved? And nearly as incredible that the police seemed not even to attempt a thorough investigation of the claim of self-defence, in a case where there was a great deal of evidence potentially available.
I am reminded of the case in the UK of Tony Martin, presumably no relation, who was convicted of murder, reduced on appeal to manslaughter, for shooting two burglars at his farm, killing one of them. I will not be emigrating to Florida.