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Did Zimmerman Really 'Stand His Ground?'

07/15/2013 01:24 pm 13:24:53 | Updated Sep 14, 2013

George Zimmerman's trial ended this week and -- as a Floridian, gun owner, one-time ambassador for UF's Institute of Black Culture, and anthropologist -- it hit me harder than any other televised trial.

Firstly, know that I'm not challenging anybody's satisfaction or outrage with the verdict. However, I've got to challenge some things about Floridian Stand Your Ground policy, Zimmerman's trial, and society's conflation of the two.

Around 2005, so-called Stand Your Ground (SYG) policy granted law-abiding Floridians the right to meet force with force, if attacked somewhere they have a right to be.

Previously, Floridians faced a "duty to retreat" when attacked, which entailed abandoning your own children when fleeing spousal violence. Indeed, during training for my first Concealed Weapon or Firearm License, I heard cautionary lore about women who defended themselves with firearms -- yet went to prison because they should've fled. Of course, that's not to say SYG policy fixed everything. Like other well-intentioned policies, SYG might get misapplied.

However, all of this remains beside the point at hand. Why? Because SYG has so little to do with Zimmerman's trial. Granted, journalists, policymakers, and educated colleagues of mine have drowned my news feed with criticism of SYG and Zimmerman alike. Yet:

• Apparently pinned to the ground and unable to retreat anyway, Zimmerman never
actually invoked Stand Your Ground policy in court
.

• Furthermore, although it may have taken over a month for the state to arrest Zimmerman, then-Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee doesn't attribute that to SYG policy.

• At most, SYG placed the burden of proof on the prosecution, but really, isn't the accused supposed to remain "innocent until proven guilty" in our society?

I wonder what social mechanism makes people conflate SYG with Zimmerman's trial? Anthropologically, we'd need more research to say. Perhaps it's confirmation bias against gun owners, from whom journalists expect "Wild-West type shootouts?" Or perhaps it's just the memetic value of "Stand Your Ground?" That is, it's a catchy phrase that's easily overused.

Or perhaps some people just like to assume you're guilty - and watch you scramble to prove your innocence?

Ashkuff is a university-educated and professionally-practicing anthropologist living in Florida. He has worked extensively with UF's Institute of Black Culture, and its Institute of Hispanic and Latino Cultures. Ashkuff has also written about the anthropology of race
and gun ownership.