Today I released a short PSA video called “Who Will Be Next?” featuring profiles of eleven unarmed victims (including Trayvon Martin) killed, not only with guns – but with scissors, and knives as well – in Florida, each by someone who at some point invoked the state’s Stand Your Ground laws.
These are only a few. There are dozens more. Some are thugs, but there are many good people who can and do become victimized by someone claiming they were only “standing their ground”.
A few sleepless nights ago, the images of some of these people kept haunting me, urging me to show their faces, and give voices to the impact of their lost lives.
The music in the video was not what was originally planned (I tested using the theme from “Escape from New York”) but YouTube won’t let me due to copyright laws, yet the resulting alternative is not bad. I hope you can get a feel for the movement, learn a little about victims, and thank you for sharing the video with everyone you know!
It was a hot, humid southern night in 2003 and air conditioning felt so good during one of those long middle-of-the-night chat sessions on one of those heavy, bulky cordless phones. As the conversation got hotter, for some reason I moved closer to a dining room window. Maybe I didn’t feel the cool air inside, or I subconsciously thought about my snack food truck parked in the drive right outside that window; or maybe the introvert in me was looking for an escape from the heat on the other end of the phone.
Something made me glance out that window. Maybe it was a feeling, or divine intervention. Or maybe it would have been the movement of trees shadowing the apartment building I was in. Only there were no trees out front. I blinked as the revelation hit me and blinked again as the shadow under the street lamp over the truck in the drive moved again.
Whispering to my phone party to hold, I quickly but stealthily creeped out the front door to get a closer look at the shadow that was now inside the truck. I couldn’t turn back now, didn’t think of a duty to retreat or self-defense, following a gut reaction to do a cat-like sneak up on the hooded shadow. I wasn’t holding the heavy weapon to my ear now. It was now an unintentional weapon of necessity. Now, I could hear the shadow moving around inside my truck. I creeped closer, until the slightly opened door of the truck was within my reach.
As I flung the door open with my left hand, I landed a hard right bang against human brains with the heavy phone that was now a weapon of mass destruction. My left hand grabbed the hood of the black hoodie, I pulled, and two legs on the steps of the truck came crashing to the ground as the WMD in my right hand exploded into pieces with every discharge to the head inside the hoodie, while my feet synchronously slammed into Hoodie Head like sledgehammers.
His screaming just as soon could have been coming from the phone, as the blood began to splash onto my hands and face, and I found myself holding only the spent shell of what had been a heavy, bulky cordless phone. His screaming and lack of more ammo made me pause. What if he had a weapon? Suddenly, Hoodie Head stopped moving.
1-1-9…1-1-9…I had destroyed my only way to dial 911, and was dialing it backwards from the shell. The irrational rage inside me continued to burn. I started dragging the limp body across the drive with my left hand, still banging Hoodie Head with my right. I already wasn’t thinking clear from the start, but wanted to finish it somehow. What better way to make the kill easier than to take it inside?
Kicking, banging, and pulling Hoodie Head over the threshold of the door, I kept repeating, “I’m gonna kill you”, imperious to his cries of “I’m sorry, mister”, and pleas of “please don’t kill me”. I deliberately slammed his hands in the door as he tried to avoid inevitable death by holding on to the doorsill. He pleaded repeatedly, “please don’t kill me” as my awakened family ran downstairs, staring at us in shock. “If you kill him, you’re going to jail…he’s just a boy” were sobering words.
In the living room light, with any resistance now eliminated, the bloodied hoodie, sledgehammered legs, and disabled fingers revealed I had just committed a crime. I pulled the hoodie off to discover Hoodie Head was indeed young. Too young, in fact, for me to have attempted to murder. I asked him how young and he shakily replied, “I’m f-f-four-teen, m-m-mis-ter”.
Something made me open the door. Still holding on to Hoodie Head, I pulled him back outside and found several neighbors gathering across the street. One couple calmly approached me. The lady had tears in her eyes as she said, “he’s my son…what did he do?”.
Both parents listened as I explained I had caught their son inside my snack truck. The dad asked me what he had taken, and offered to pay for any losses. We walked together, mother holding her bloodied son, and examined the stash. A bulging garbage bag of potato chips & ice cream – less than $100 worth – was sitting inside the open door of the truck.
I said I’d call the cops and have him arrested. His mom asked me not to make the call, since he was suspected of burglarizing cars and homes in the area. His dad claimed this would teach Hoodie Head a lesson. They both apologized, made the tearful 14-year old apologize, and thanked me for not killing him. I’m thankful I didn’t, because as I told them, he would be lying there dead, and I would be apologizing to them for standing my ground.
Stand Your Ground laws started because of a hurricane. Or actually because of what happened after a hurricane. You see, after a hurricane, human emotions, rationale, or analytic skills don’t always gel. Confusion, miscommunication, and lack of basic needs can sometimes cause an environment of anxiety, fear, and apprehension for even veteran hurricane survivors and can blur a clear comprehension of complex situations.
After any hurricane, scores of recovery workers arrive, but also looters and itinerants, who sometimes take shelter in damaged houses.
What happened after one hurricane started a movement to enact stand your ground laws. What happened after this hurricane was that 77 year-old James Workman and his wife Kathryn encountered a perhaps disoriented, 35 year-old temporary FEMA contract worker from North Carolina named Rodney Cox, who had wandered onto their waterfront property in Pensacola, Florida. It was about 2AM on November 3, 2004.
Hurricane Ivan had damaged the couple’s house so they left for a few weeks, and had just returned, sleeping inside a FEMA trailer in their driveway.
Kathryn awoke to the sound of a stranger at the door of their vacant home, and woke James up. In a news interview, Mr. Workman said they hollered through a window at the stranger, then James went outside to confront him. During the confrontation, Workman reportedly fired a warning shot. He said Cox appeared to leave, but instead headed for their trailer as Kathryn was inside calling 911.
A few hours before he made it about the mile and a half to the Workmans’ place, Rodney Cox had called police, reporting some type of “domestic” incident on private property he had settled into, after arriving that day. An autopsy later discovered Cox had a skull fracture, and it’s unclear if he had been injured at that time, which could possibly have caused him to appear disoriented to the Workmans.
“After I saw him enter that trailer, then I naturally went in there behind him. And so he was between Kathy and me. And we got into a scuffle, and I could tell it wasn’t going to be easy. And so I just had to shoot him”, Workman is quoted as saying.
During the scuffle, Cox had wrapped Workman in a bear hug. In fear for his safety, Workman pulled the trigger of his .38 caliber on the father of two, setting off a firestorm of controversy.
The FEMA contractor was dead on arrival. A shot to Cox’s abdomen traveled through his left kidney and intestine, lodging in his pelvis; another shot went through an artery and lodged in his right thigh. Workman said he fired in self-defense.
But to the police and the state attorney, the circumstances were unclear. It took almost three months for the state to decide whether Workman would face charges. In the end, he didn’t. Yet, the waiting period was unacceptable to some Florida lawmakers.
Just weeks after that decision, Dennis Baxley & Durell Peaden co-sponsored the Stand Your Ground bill in the Florida House of Representatives.
By the time Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast months later, with evacuees from other Gulf Coast states rolling in, Florida was all set to handle anyone who had thoughts of looting or breaking the law on other people’s property.
The Workmans reportedly were keeping up with their case status through the media, and were never called to testify in the legislature considering the stand your ground law, which was signed into effect about a month after Katrina, on October 1, 2005 by then-Governor Jeb Bush.
It initiated a wave of legislation in other states, spearheaded by the National Rifle Association (NRA), relieving the duty to retreat inherent in the Castle Doctrine. And stand your ground laws were born.
At first glance, a new, controversial PSA by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) seems like just another PSA. But at it’s core, it cuts to the heart. This video in support of the movement to end stand your ground laws goes through the heart and chills to the bone.
Using audio from calls to police on the Trayvon Martin shooting as shock value, this video also offers stark, creepy images to powerfully reenact the tragic incident. As haunting music plays, we begin to visualize a hoodie-wearing body count multiplying, each signifying a state with stand your ground laws. Some are saying the video goes to far.
A Tampa Bay Times investigation last year found that Florida’s “stand your ground” law is being used in ways never imagined — to free violent attackers whose self-defense claims seem questionable at best: gang members involved in shootouts, drug dealers beefing with clients and people who shot their victims in the back.
When I was 17 I went to stay at my uncle’s house. He lived in a mostly black neighborhood but people were friendly enough and I felt pretty at ease there as a white teenager. One night I went to the shop to get a drink and on my way back this black dude started following me. I looked over at him, he was creeping me out and then I just had this gut instinct and decided to run.
I thought I’d managed to lose him, but this guy suddenly reappeared. I realized I’d have to stand my ground (as my Dad had taught me) and so I punched him in the face (always get that first punch in). That stunned him but this black guy came back at me and a full-on fight started.
After grappling on the wet ground (it was raining) I managed
Ever wonder what some folks in Canada think about our stand your ground laws? Chris the Canadian linked us up with this down-home, real-talk (check out the lyrics), rockabilly, bluesy, straight-up, whack, gotta-see-it tune: