BSLA Holds Panel to Discuss Trayvon Martin Case

On April 5, BSLA held a panel for students to discuss the issues of the Trayvon Martin case, a debate that has been the backbone of the “Hoodie Marches” across the country. This case has raised issues and questions on a national level. Were George Zimmerman’s actions justified? Was it suspicion or was it prejudice?

The panel gave students a chance to dissect the legal aspects of the case by speaking with Kent Borcherding, a warrant officer for the City of Norman Municipal Court, and OU Professor Cheryl Wattley, who teaches criminal law.

A big topic of the panel was Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which is what is being used in Zimmerman’s defense. Borcherding explained that this law allows use of deadly force to prevent “imminent death or great bodily harm,” which allows a person to use deadly force in self-defense when there is a reasonable belief of a threat and which does not require people to retreat.  As the investigation continues, the issue arises whether or not the statute is flawed.

“We need to understand and know what we will accept and what we will tolerate in our system,” Wattley said. “We need to decide what our laws should be.”

“It’s important, not only for us law students, but for everyone to pay attention to this case,” Courtney Hilliard, BLSA treasurer, said. ”"It not only affects minorities; it affects everyone.”

The image of Martin in a hoodie has become the “face” of the case. Many believe the stereotype of a 6’3’’ black male in a hoodie is what killed Martin. The case’s aspect of racial profiling has brought up a lot of issues dealing with race and stereotypes throughout the country -- issues that both Wattley and Hilliard agree have become huge problems.

Wattley explained that many are scared to have the sensitive conversation that racism is still around. “It would require us to confront injustice and oppression from the past.”

As of now, the only thing that everyone can agree on is that a 16-year-old boy was killed. Now, the debate continues about whether or not he was an innocent victim of racial profiling -- an ongoing debate to which we should all be paying attention.

UPDATE

On April 11, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin. Murder in the second degree, under Florida law, refers to a killing carried out without premeditation but with “a depraved mind regardless of human life.” If convicted, Zimmerman faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. His attorney, Mark O’Mara, said Zimmerman will plead not guilty.

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