Are the ‘Stand your Ground’ Police Laws Justified?
The demise of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, faultless, and virtuous black teenager shot by self-appointed community watch captain George Zimmerman in Florida, sparked a turbulent nationwide dialogue on race and so-called “stand your ground” laws, which authorise and legalise the use of lethal force in cases of self-defense. Deborah Ramirez, a professor in the School of Law, spoke and expressed his hypothesis at a panel convened by Congressional Democrats at Northeastern University to address the case.
What issues arise from the magnification of private security forces and community watch groups that often take the place of patrols previously conducted by trained police officers? The answer is an easy picking. There are large numbers of private security officers in United States, and that does not include the many thousands of people who volunteer to provide security for their neighborhoods in the type of community patrols that George Zimmerman captained. As a result, much, perhaps most, of the patrolling function that we think is fulfilled by professional police officers is now being done by private security employees, volunteer community members, and neighborhood watch volunteers.
Given their pervasive patrol presence and their routine carrying of firearms, the police need to participate in the training of private and volunteer security patrol officers, especially regarding issues of racial profiling, de-escalating potentially violent situations and the use of force. Private security officers, community volunteers and community watch members also need to be informed of the limits of their authority; they may think they are police, even want to become police officers, but they are not police officers and they do not have police powers. And when they abuse their authority as private citizens and exercise authority that are reserved for police officers, their departments have to be vigilant in prosecuting them and, where appropriate, take steps to revoke their license to carry firearms.