Trayvon Martin

I imagine you’ve heard by now of the horrendous case of Trayvon Martin, killed for the “suspicious” behaviour of walking down the street while black and male. There’s an awesome post on the topic over at NewAPPS:

There is no doubt in my mind that, if Trayvon had pulled the trigger, he would have been arrested immediately, and the full force of the law would have been brought down upon him. And I agree that Zimmerman should be arrested, and the whole situation should be investigated. But at the same time, I keep thinking: What would justice look like for Trayvon? Would a murder charge for Zimmerman amount to justice?

A lot more would have to happen, and some of it is starting to happen. We would need a nation-wide recognition of the degree to which young black men are perceived as predators and as “out of place,” even in their own neighborhoods. We would need to wake up to the fact that black men are so often victims of violence and not just perpetrators of violence. We would need to recognize all the work that black men do to set the rest of us at ease in social situations, in order to convince us that we have nothing to fear from them. We would need to confront our complicity as a nation with the over-incarceration of black and Latino men — and with the over-incarceration of Americans more generally. We would need to repeal laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law and others that enshrine the right to self-defense, even to the point of using lethal force, if you feel like your life or the life of others are threatened. We would need to pass laws restricting the use and availability of handguns. We would need to recognize structural racism at work, whether or not any “racist slurs” are uttered.

What else would we have to do to find justice for Trayvon Martin?

Head over to NewAPPS for all the links and to join in the discussion.

69 thoughts on “Trayvon Martin

  1. This is a horrible tragedy, but I don’t see how it militates in favor of repealing Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law – although if the law ends up protecting Zimmerman’s outrageous conduct then it needs some amending. (The law’s drafters have publicly taken the position that it does not, and is not intended to, protect conduct like Zimmerman’s.) The NewAPPS post’s suggestion about repealing laws “that enshrine the right to self-defense” is just plain scary and, in my view, a completely misguided reaction to this tragedy.

  2. “The NewAPPS post’s suggestion about repealing laws ‘that enshrine the right to self-defense’ is just plain scary….”

    Consider yourself fortunate that you’re the type of person who can find “plain scary” a philosophy blog post critical of a “Stand Your Ground” statute permitting the use of deadly force if a person feels threatened (whereas, previously, people were required to retreat in the face of perceived danger).

    I’m trying to imagine: someone like you, carrying a gun, experiencing mortal fear as someone like me walks toward the university building where I work; the notion that it would be “a horrible tragedy” if you shot me instead of backing away, gun in hand; and you not being driven more by stereotypical prejudices and anxieties than by credible concerns about your immediate safety. I’m trying to imagine the thought ever crossing my mind that I could utilize the same law as grounds for shooting you–and the police wouldn’t arrest or even seriously investigate me.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have that much imagination.

  3. Hm, that long sentence is not very clear to me. It apparently says, among other things, that you do not have enough imagination to imagine Nemo “not being driven more by stereotypical prejudices and anxieties than by credible concerns about your immediate safety.” I am probably misunderstanding you, but that’s what it seems to me to be saying. Nor can I quite interpret “someone like you” and “someone like me” except as some veiled remark about Nemo’s race; but maybe you can clarify what you meant by that.

  4. @ 4: If what I wrote is so unclear, my efforts to clarify won’t matter much, wherever the fault lies. But maybe I should have written, “…gun in hand, not being driven….”

  5. Anon “sr” philosopher,

    I didn’t say I found the criticism of the “Stand Your Ground” (SYG) statute “plain scary”, did I? (Although I said I thought the tragedy did not provide grounds for repealing it outright.) What I found “plain scary” was the poster’s apparently general extension of that criticism to advocate the repeal of “other[ laws] that enshrine the right to self defense”. Perhaps you will respond that you think the New APPS poster was referring there to the repeal only of only other laws similar or equivalent to SYG. That’s not how I read it, though.

  6. Firstly, it is doubtful that the law even applies to the Martin case. Secondly, writing legislation is a tricky business, and it is unfortunately often that well-intended laws produce perverse effects. Some prosecutors are of the opinion that this has happened in Florida with the “stand your ground” law. Perhaps they are correct; I’m not familiar enough with the specifics to render judgment.

    But certainly there is such a thing as a right to self-defense, even if we might reasonably disagree about where the edge of that right lies. What Lisa Guenther wrote was:

    We would need to repeal laws… that enshrine the right to self-defense, even to the point of using lethal force, if you feel like your life or the life of others are threatened.

    How exactly “feel like” gets interpreted by legislatures and courts is an important question to get right, and it’s not difficult to imagine bad, overly permissive legislation that goes to far. Perhaps the Florida law is one such piece. We wouldn’t want to say, though, that there is no such right to self-defense if your life or the lives of others are threatened, would we? That would enshrine pure, Tolstoyesque pacifism as law.

    As an aside, I don’t see what people hope to achieve with remarks in the vein of “well, if you were black you wouldn’t feel that way!” Taking the racism of the US criminal justice system for granted, couldn’t people of any race reasonably disagree about whether there exists a duty to retreat?

  7. @ 6: It is obvious–on any straightforward, let alone charitable, reading–that the New APPS post proposed no “apparently general extension” to rule out self-defense altogether. To suggest otherwise is absurd, as can be seen by looking at the full sentence in question (even apart from the entire post):

    “We would need to repeal laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law and others that enshrine the right to self-defense, even to the point of using lethal force, if you feel like your life or the life of others are threatened [and prefer not to retreat].” The article linked in the sentence makes explicit the bracketed addition.

    Nor, obviously, was I suggesting that you found criticism itself of the “Stand Your Ground” law “plain scary.” I was stating that you found repeal of this law–which might be fueled by such criticism, and which no reasonable person would take to threaten an ordinary, basic right to self-defense–“plain scary.” Apparently, I was being too charitable in assuming that you weren’t afraid of self-defense being ruled out altogether by critics of this particular law.

  8. There’s a fairly dramatic livestream of the Trayvon Martin protest in NYC (right now), with Trayvon’s parents, available here:

    Protesters are chanting “no justice, no peace, no racist beliefs.” Police don’t seem to have much control at the moment. The crowd just took down the barricades around the sacred bull on Wall Street, and grabbed its testicles…

  9. Anon,

    Just as a data point, I think Nemo’s reading of the piece of the post I quoted in #7 is pretty fair. Whether that reading is the intended one is another question, but it’s not exactly a hostile interpretation, especially in light of the other proposed remedies for the Trayvon Martin tragedy, like “abolishing capitalism”.

  10. Anon sr,
    “If what I wrote is so unclear, my efforts to clarify won’t matter much, wherever the fault lies. ”

    Why is that? You wrote a very long, tortuous sentence with a very obscure logical structure. You could just try saying the relevant part again in simpler language.

    I’m just looking for a straight answer to a straight question. For some reason you prefer to cast vague aspersions on Nemo’s motives. That’s very, very unusual on this blog, so I had assumed I was mistaken. But obviously not.

  11. The bracketed addition “[and prefer not to retreat]” doesn’t seem to me to make a great deal of sense in the context of “the life of others” (i.e. other than the force-user) being threatened, so I think it’s reasonable not to retrofit it into the sentence even if not doing so makes the sentence read as an unreasonable proposition.

  12. Traditionally (and in most states still) the right to self defense is qualified by the duty to retreat if one may safely do so. This makes sense. We want less violent interactions. Sometimes they cannot be avoided, and if not, the person who is not at fault should not have to bear the cost, and so should be able to defend her or his self, if this is necessary. But if the conflict can be avoided by leaving, this better suits the over-all societal goal. This was the standard rule for a long time and is still in most cases. One common (but not universal) exception is known as the “castle” rule- that one didn’t have to flee from one’s own home, even if one could avoid the danger this way. There’s also some sense to this, though the merits can be debated. The Florida law, essentially, generalizes the “castle” rule, but revoking any duty to retreat. This no longer serves the original societal purpose, it seems to me, but puts in place another one. According to what I’ve read, there was significant evidence invoked at the time the bill was put in place (2005, I believe) that it would predictably lead to more violence and especially to more shootings. Again, according to what I’ve read, this has been born out. Even if the drafters didn’t intend the bill to cover cases like this, what’s more important is that it predictably would, and that in cases like this it becomes quite difficult for prosecutors to bring cases, as was predicted at the time. From the publicly available facts it’s not at all clear to me that the law should apply in this case, but it might.

    (As to the sentence from New APPS, it wasn’t the most artful thing in the world, but it does seem that the most plausible reading was that laws that treat self-defense as the Florida law does- that is, in this new, expansive, and unusual way- should be repealed, not that all laws, including the traditional and still more common kind, should be repealed.)

  13. Matt, do you think the explicit reference in the New APPS sentence to repealing legal defenses to the use of force in the face of threats to others – where the duty-to-retreat vs. stand-your-ground distinction has never applied – causes problems for that reading?

  14. No, I don’t think so. I think that’s a not very well written sentence, written by someone who doesn’t know the law extremely well, but that the most plausible reading of it is as a reference to the Florida law, and the claim that it and others that are both outliers from even the strongest traditional views (ones accepting the “castle” rule) and are quite new, should be repealed. We might read it (though I don’t think this is the most natural way) as saying that the use of lethal force in defense of others should not be allowed. That might be going beyond the traditional rule, depending on how broadly we read it (you can’t always use lethal force in defense of others on the traditional rule) but it might not. At the very least, the more extreme readings of the remark are quite clearly not required readings or the only possible ones. A small amount of charity in interpretation seems to rule out the stronger readings to me.

  15. The death of Trayvon Martin is an absolute tragedy. I don’t know what justice will or should look like, but the arrest of George Zimmerman for murder would be a start. Even if this were to happen it most certainly wouldn’t be enough for the family and understandably so. What needs to happen is for the attitude of Americans, especially white Americans, to change. If we would stop stereotyping people based on race, creed, or color, we would truly be on the way to becoming a great country where everyone is created equal.

  16. An interesting history of the “duty to retreat” in US law appears in the first part of this article:

    Click to access 119767.PDF

    It suggests that US law has generally disfavored the duty to retreat in public for quite some time.

    In my view, even the old English common law duty to retreat to the wall in public may be overstated, since my understanding is that such a duty did not apply in favor of an assailant engaged in the commission of a felony such as robbery or attempted murder (who, I believe, could lawfully be killed instantly), but rather to people engaged in an “affray” or brawl initiated without a separate criminal purpose.

    It’s surprising to me (and apparently to the law’s authors) that the Florida SYG statute could be construed as protecting Zimmerman’s conduct here – after all, he was not standing his ground against an attacker, but actively chasing someone who had not attacked him. And I’m skeptical that Zimmerman’s decision to pursue Martin with violent intent was made in reliance on such an interpretation. Matt, do you think that the existence of the SYG statute was a causal factor in this shooting, and if so in what sense?

  17. “We would need to repeal laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law and others that enshrine the right to self-defense, even to the point of using lethal force, if you feel like your life or the life of others are threatened”

    While some of the clauses should be re-arranged, the plain meaning of the sentence seems clear enough to me.

    What laws would need to be repealed?

    “Florida’s “Stand your Ground Law and others.”

    What others?

    Others which, “if you feel like your life or the life of others are threatened,” “enshrine the right to self defense, even to the point of using lethal force.”

    So no, this is not a call to repeal the right of self defense in all conditions. It is a repeal of the right of self defense, and especially the right of defensive killing, when the only precondition is feeling threatened or feeling that others are threatened.

  18. synapseandsyntax:

    “…but it’s not exactly a hostile interpretation, especially in light of the other proposed remedies for the Trayvon Martin tragedy, like ‘abolishing capitalism’.”

    I was the one who recommended that we abolish capitalism, horror of horrors. If you have a problem with my recommendation, or fail to understand what capitalism has to do with racism, perhaps you should respond to me directly on NewAPPS.

  19. [EDITED BY MONKEY: It’s my birthday, I’m slightly drunk, and this comment sure as hell looked suspiciously like despicable racism to me. Commenters are reminded that that kind of sh*t doesn’t go down well here. Anything else in this vein will be similarly deleted.]

  20. [GiT wrote:] So no, this is not a call to repeal the right of self defense in all conditions. It is a repeal of the right of self defense, and especially the right of defensive killing, when the only precondition is feeling threatened or feeling that others are threatened.

    If that were true, I think it would be a call for repealing no laws at all. Are there any such laws where the only precondition is feeling threatened or feeling that others are threatened? Even the Florida law imposes an objective reasonableness condition.

  21. I don’t see how nitpicking over the inclusion of ‘reasonable’ or not is appropriate to the level of discussion. I don’t think it’s very relevant for what we’re considering. The sentiment behind the initial quote seems pretty clear to me – there should be a high threshold for being justified in using physical force, and especially lethal force, against others; and mere suspicion, or one’s own provocations, reasonable or otherwise, don’t meet that threshold.

  22. Matt, do you think that the existence of the SYG statute was a causal factor in this shooting, and if so in what sense?

    I don’t know, and I’m not sure how I would know. I’d need to know more about the shooter and the events than I’ve seen. But, I also don’t think it’s that important to the two questions that interest me: first, is this law a good idea? If the law was a causal factor in this shooting, it would be a bit of evidence that the law is a bad idea, but I think that’s so over-determined that it’s not really necessary. Second, should the shooter be charged and tired? It’s also only marginally relevant to this question, though it might be of some interest in deciding what to charger him with, if he is charged. Right now, I’m glad to see that a grand jury has been charged to investigate the case. I hope they will do a good job, and if there are grounds to think that the shooter’s actions were not in accord with the law, I hope he’ll be charged and given a fair trial. But all of that is only slightly relevant to whether the law is a good one or not, and we didn’t need this tragic case to know that it wasn’t. (We also didn’t need this tragic case to know that random people carrying guns around is much more likely to lead to harm, to themselves or others, than good, but this is a nice example of that, too.)

  23. GiT, the difference between including or not including an objective reasonableness standard is not the stuff of nitpicking; it can be the difference between night and day.

    Also, “reasonable suspicion” isn’t the criterion in question; it’s reasonable belief of necessity. That’s a big difference too.

    I think it might be useful to reproduce in this thread some relevant sections of the Florida statutes. It would be interesting to know what parts of the text, if any, commenters would add, delete, or otherwise modify.


    776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:
    (1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or
    (2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.

    776.013 Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.—(1) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:
    (a) The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person’s will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and
    (b) The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.
    (2) The presumption set forth in subsection (1) does not apply if:
    (a) The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner, lessee, or titleholder, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person; or
    (b) The person or persons sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used; or
    (c) The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity; or
    (d) The person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who enters or attempts to enter a dwelling, residence, or vehicle in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person entering or attempting to enter was a law enforcement officer.
    (3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
    (4) A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.
    (5) As used in this section, the term:
    (a) “Dwelling” means a building or conveyance of any kind, including any attached porch, whether the building or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, which has a roof over it, including a tent, and is designed to be occupied by people lodging therein at night.
    (b) “Residence” means a dwelling in which a person resides either temporarily or permanently or is visiting as an invited guest.
    (c) “Vehicle” means a conveyance of any kind, whether or not motorized, which is designed to transport people or property.

    776.041 Use of force by aggressor.—The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:
    (1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or
    (2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:
    (a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
    (b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.

    776.06 Deadly force.—(1) The term “deadly force” means force that is likely to cause death or great bodily harm and includes, but is not limited to:
    (a) The firing of a firearm in the direction of the person to be arrested, even though no intent exists to kill or inflict great bodily harm; and
    (b) The firing of a firearm at a vehicle in which the person to be arrested is riding.
    (2)(a) The term “deadly force” does not include the discharge of a firearm by a law enforcement officer or correctional officer during and within the scope of his or her official duties which is loaded with a less-lethal munition. As used in this subsection, the term “less-lethal munition” means a projectile that is designed to stun, temporarily incapacitate, or cause temporary discomfort to a person without penetrating the person’s body.
    (b) A law enforcement officer or a correctional officer is not liable in any civil or criminal action arising out of the use of any less-lethal munition in good faith during and within the scope of his or her official duties.

    776.08 Forcible felony.—“Forcible felony” means treason; murder; manslaughter; sexual battery; carjacking; home-invasion robbery; robbery; burglary; arson; kidnapping; aggravated assault; aggravated battery; aggravated stalking; aircraft piracy; unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb; and any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.

  24. Matt, on what basis do we know that the current law is not a good one, and in what ways (i.e. is there any change that would turn it from not good to good)?

    Also, I’m inclined to think that random people are not generally allowed to carry guns around, but it depends on what you mean by “random people”.

  25. I cannot believe that a discission about this case has taken the turned it has. The US has a long tradition of white men happily killing black men, women and children. I am very unhappy that we have lost focus here on this and other closely related issues.

    Nemo, please stop and take your concerns, if you wish to pursue them, elsewhere. Self- defense is an appropriate concern in some contexts, but not this one.

  26. For those trying to figure out what is going on, I have removed two posts on self-defense

  27. Anne,

    It’s hard to deny that the legal issue of self-defense is closely related to Martin’s killing and the ultimate judicial fate of Zimmerman. Detractors of the statute think that such a case illustrates precisely what is wrong with the law. Whether or not they’re correct, that’s the issue they hope to raise in the wake of the killing, because justice requires it: it’s right there in the excerpt from the newAPPS post.

    If the author writes, with all evident sincerity, that Martin’s killing should move us to repeal the current law, isn’t that in invitation to take it seriously and consider whether the law should be repealed? Doesn’t that involve talking about the law? Many people in this thread, including regular commenters on this blog, seem to think so. The difference with Nemo’s comments, as far as I can tell, is that they demur from the view that the law should be stricken. The greatest offence in those comments was perhaps pasting a long quote from the text of the statute, which at worst merited a reformatted link.

    In light of the unpredictable deletion of two totally civil comments, it’s difficult to maintain the presumption that the aim of moderation is content-neutral decency. I’ve much enjoyed taking part in discussions on this site, but it’s hard to see any point in continuing if that’s how it’s going to be.

    Take care and be well.

  28. Please see Ta-Nehisi Coates’ pieces on the Martin case, and in particular todays post about Stand Your Ground and vigilante justice. Martin is not the only one whose murder has been made lawful under stand your ground. I dont know what those who designed the legislation intended it to do, but insofar as this is the effect, it must be stopped. As anon sr philosopher pointed out (before the whole ‘hmm, your logic is complicated, what could you mean’ round robin, which I found both disingenuous and cruel, a frustratingly frequent game we play here), the extrajudicial killing of men of color being made essentially legal is FAR scarier than loose talk about repealing some laws. for real.

  29. bummer. that was meant to come from sk, herself. maybe the almighty mods can fix it?

  30. S&S: I was carefuuly specfic about what we need to focus on. We are seeing a modern form of lynching. It is offensive in this context to defend a law that IN PRACTICE will help whites kill blacks. Blacks may invoke it, but the legal system has not been synpathetic in genneral to blacks killing whites.

    Sorry that I’m in the middle of a day of difficult meeting. Don’t mean to snap at you.

  31. I pretty much second the points made by S&S. For the record, I didn’t reach a substantive conclusion about the merits of repealing the SYG law, just questioned the basis for some of the things said or speculated about it. (And I noted that I do not think this law shields – or should be interpreted as shielding – Zimmerman’s conduct. It is devoutly to be wished that the Florida courts will concur.)

    This is part of arriving at a well-founded understanding of the status quo. That strikes me as only prudent intellectually; it’s not “defending” the law in any partisan sense. And of course S&S is correct that the subject matter, and quite specifically the opening post, absolutely invite an analysis of the law and of the juridical context in which it has arisen. Many of the things that are being said and proposed about this situation depend to a greater or lesser degree on premises about what the law is and does. The warrant for devoting at least some, and probably a fair bit, of discussion to this flows from the very nature of the facts and ideas in question and the assertions that have been made.

  32. I think it’s all horrible. Self defense?!? If I saw a boy I didn’t know, with such a sweet face, walking through my neighbourhood late at night, I’d ask him if he was lost and offer him directions.

    Zimmerman fired a lethal shot at an unarmed kid from point-blank range! Even in a case where an unarmed assailant is pounding somebody who can’t fight back, it’s barely justifiable to shoot the person in the leg or whatever. I can’t see any law justifying this. Zimmerman committed a cold-blooded act of murder! The fact that he was able to escape being arrested, and was able to pack up his things and move out is disgusting beyond words!

    Yes folks, I am angry now.

  33. Happy birthday, Monkey. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, and eat something starchy to prevent a hangover :-)

  34. Huh? Is #35 another response to a deleted comment? The gravatar is the same one used by Xxxx in#20 above, deleted by Monkey. Has Thinker Belle’s comment been deleted too?

  35. Anne,

    Sorry to hear about your meeting, and I didn’t think you snapped at me.

    As many people have pointed out already, it is highly doubtful that the law even applies. But as long as opponents of the statute want to assert that it does (let alone that it will “help whites kill blacks [in practice]”), why is it offensive to ask whether that’s actually true?

    Hard cases make bad law, and wherever the line is drawn with self-defense, there will be cases in which justice would appear to lie on the other side of it. Would repealing the law be better for people living under a racist state? Suppose the SYG law were repealed and a black man in Florida finds himself about to be beaten or killed by white racists, and resorts to deadly force. Wouldn’t it seem perverse to haul that man into court and suggest that he didn’t try hard enough to flee his attackers before shooting back? Doesn’t that sound a lot like, well, victim-blaming?

    These scenarios are not hypothetical, either. Many civil rights activist groups in the South (unaffilliated with SNCC, of course) and the West coast during the 1960s brandished firearms in order to demonstrate that they would not be intimidated into retreating from a place where they had a right to be. Similar efforts were common in the AIM as well as in the Reconstruction-era South (before white legislatures responded by criminalizing black gun ownership). Those strategies seem legally precarious if one is required to flee from one’s assailants.

    You don’t have to agree with these tactics, but I don’t think it’s fair to assume that all good, decent people share your view of this issue, or that asking why the law is bad is totally beyond the pale.

    This blog does a lot of good work, but I have deep reservations about sticking around when civil, topical comments get deleted for disagreeing with the moderators. Best of luck with your work in the future, and I hope at some point you’ll reconsider the mod policy, or at least observe the current one.

  36. S&S, I have unhappily received very strongly worded complaints about your substituting your concerns for the discussion of racism and vigilantism that are the focus in this case of the majority of our readers. I have registered your view that you are not being treated fairly, and I can only applaud your decision that this blog does not suit you.

    I do note that the blog tolerates vigorous disagreement. However, our priorities do seem genuinely different from yours. There are many blogs that will take the Martin case to raise questions about the right to self-defense, and I would expect that they will find your observations very congenial.

  37. Just a final clarifying point: I don’t think I’m being treated unfairly, and my own substantive opinion is probably closer to your own than to that of the deleted comments. Begging your pardon, I just think that you’re treating other people’s (pertinent and respectful) comments in a way that’s corrupting to the healthy disagreement you want to foster, and formally at odds with the stated moderation policy.

    I really don’t mean to perseverate here, but since you’ve maintained that the points raised in the deleted comments are not appropriate concerns, what can one say? The quotation in the original post explicitly calls for the repeal of a law which the author thinks relevant to the terrible issue at hand. It is then hardly irrelevant to discuss that call.

    As I tried to briefly sketch in #36, the questions of self-defense and the duty to retreat from places where one has a right to be are actually quite apposite to the broader issues of racism and activism in the US, where many people closest to the struggle have historically found merit in an expansive interpretation of that right. Hence, I find it troubling that we have not actually heard why it is improper to discuss the law (in fact, just improper to argue that it is good), but are rather given reports of “very strongly worded complaints [??]” about it. What else can one conclude except that the comments were deleted because you substantively disagreed with them? The whole affair leaves one feeling a bit like Josef K.

  38. Is there a way to delete comments while keeping the numbering intact? I find it very confusing to follow threads which refer to comments by number — which is ordinarily a convenient way to do so — when the numberings are changed by deletion….

    For example, is it possible to edit a comment that you want to delete by replacing texts with blanks or something? Just to keep the numbering preserved?

    Based on Xena’s *current #35* I assume I’m not the only one who finds the deletions a little confusing. (To be clear: I’m not complaining at all about the reasons for deletions or the moderation policies, just politely inquiring whether there is a way to implement them without throwing off the readers in this way….)

  39. S AND S: a young black man with a box of skittles and a can of ice tea was shot dead. You want to discuss the justification for the decision that discussions of the right to self defense are inappropriate?
    I am initially tempted to try to get you to see what’s going on. I’m very concerned about not shutting off people who are neuro-atypical, and who might see a post about, e.g., a funeral as a good occasion to discuss something most of us would regard as irrelevant. But your case seems to me not like that. The distractions,derailings seem much more intentional.

    So in fact I am feeding a troll. You do need to be on the moderated list.

  40. Anne,

    I have to support Synapse here. Practically every major news source, including the New York Times, the Guardian and–as Synapse points out–the very NewAPPS post that you cite on this blog, has discussed the role of the “Stand Your Ground” law in the Martin shooting. So I’m incredulous that you apparently find such discussions not only irrelevant, but offensive. At the risk of seeming overly cynical, it is hard not to view your reaction as evidence that you are only interested in simplistic railing against white racism. And while Synapse has been respectful and sincere in responding to your objections, your own remarks (“So in fact I am feeding a troll”) reek of condescension.

  41. I’d just like to make an appeal for patience and tolerance from our readers here. Moderating is hard, and we do the best we can. Disagreements are inevitable, and it’s especially hard with topics as emotionally charged as this one. But we’re trying, in good faith.

  42. Jender, I attempted to post something earlier, and it did not show up. But now I don’t know whether it’s been barred by the moderators or there was some technical glitch.

    I’m sure you’re all trying hard, but something has gone wrong here. Whatever is being done (and we readers don’t really know), it’s having a kind of chilling effect.

  43. Lois, our spam detector is not perfect. I’ll look to see if I can find your comment, but I can say in advance that it often does not like posts with links in them.

  44. Mine had no links. (But there are sometimes glitches at my end — I have a funny ISP that sometimes either has or looks like it has a firewall, and this does not always interact well with WordPress.)

  45. Thanks for your observation, Andy.. I am happy to create a separate post for people who want to defend the right to self defense. However, to take a young black man’s death and turn it into a defense of a major component apparently enabling the death is unfortunate.

    Let me suggest an analogy: suppose we find a rape/murder of a young girl was made possible because the rapist’s health insurance provided free viagra. It is very likely that that fact would make the news. That does not mean that a feminist blog should be happy about a post regarding the rape being taken to provide a platform for the defense of free viagra.

    There is a bit more to the analogy. Just as viagra is used principally by men, so self-defense laws are principally beneficial for whites. Notoriously, juries are much more prone to find blacks in black on white cases guilty that whites in white on black cases. What happens, then, is that the killing of a young black man is taken as an opportunity to defend in effect white privilege. Similarly, taking the rape/murder of a child and focusing on the need for free viagra really is at least questionable. When a moderator points this out, to respond by arguing the relevance of defending a privilege whites enjoy is to fail to continue an appropriate discussion.

  46. Lois, I found your post. Clearly another moderator removed it. I think the objection was to your language. Let me try to state your point differently. You think that some people have implied that others are liars, that another person is a racist, and so on. You also take the appearance of such comments to show that the application of the “be nice” is done inconsistently and in bad faith.

    On reading my version of your comment, I do think the best response has already been given by Jender. Her comment is a couple of comments above this.

  47. Perhaps part of the debate here concerns disagreement on why the law may be unjustifiable.

    It could be unjustifiable because it increases unjustified killings (by emboldening
    would-be shooters).

    . . . . or because it helps maintain white privilege, since racist police and prosecutors will not apply the law appropriately.

    . . . . or because it helps maintain white privilege, since given that we’re a racist society, even a proper application of the law results in maintaining white privilege.

    . . . . or because there is no such right to self-defense that this law is attempting to codify.

    Or, it could be justified because it does codify a legitimate right to self-defense, and that right outweighs any issues of white privilege that may result.

    I’m sure there are other questions, but these all seem reasonable (and within bounds). Perhaps given the nature of the board, some should be given more focus than others.

  48. I see.
    Well, that is disappointing. Someone (obviously I am not allowed to say who) said that *I* was lying and had posted in bad faith. That was not considered a violation of ‘be nice’. But my response, to which there is some objection but I will never know what it is, has been removed.

    It does seem very clear that the moderators are removing comments that are not nice to favored posters and leaving comments that are not nice to unfavored posters. But if I try to give examples of this, you are going to remove my comment. Very frustrating.

  49. Lois, I don’t doubt that there are various patterns that the complex activity of a blog gives rise to, but some may well be much less intended than they seem. I’d be surprised if there were the systematic favoring you describe. If nothing else, I think all of us want to be seen as better than that. I’d hope there are deeper and more praiseworthy motives operating, but I’d take the desire to keep up appearances as pretty undeniable.

    This isn’t a club, by the way. I haven’t met a lot of the bloggers, and I expect most of us are like that.

  50. What really bothers me about this whole Trayvon Martin thing isn’t just that a young, and presumably innocent life was lost, but that the media chose to sensationalize this story instead of discussing the real issue. This would’ve been a perfect platform to discuss the failings of the Black community. Namely the High School drop out rates, the lack of education, the insane crime rates, the gangs, everything and how blacks perpetuate their own stereotypes. Instead it has devolved into the same old “blame the white man” game, which is tiresome. That isn’t to say that we should simply forget about George Zimmerman. He should have done as instructed and stayed away from Trayvon, but instead he engaged him and in the end a teenager lay dead. George Zimmerman has to face the consequences of his actions. However, we do not know what happened in the moments prior to the gun being shot, so everybody who is calling for Zimmerman’s head (and they were even prior to the 911 call being released, which shows their eagerness for a race based argument) is still out of line.

  51. Hi all. Let me just back Anne up here, and go a step further. It’s not just that we’re not a club. We’re a group blog, we have lots of different views, and in fact I disagree with some of the moderating decisions that have been made on this post. However, we’re all doing the best we can, way too busy, and dealing with many competing pressures. We get complaints from readers both for moderating too harshly and for being too permissive. And we all have different views on what balance to strike. You disagree with the decisions of some of the moderators sometimes and so do I. We all do.

  52. Good points, Jender. Readers may also be surprised to find that I also don’t agree with all the moderating decisions on this post. I really don’t know who else has been removing remarks.

    One thing that has seemed remarkable to me is that we manage to work together really civilly.

  53. I’m glad I don’t believe in an afterlife. I might be pushed into some real rage reactions over the thought of what Trayvon would think of this squabble if he could hear (read) it. He seemed like a talented kid, who lived a full life in the few short years he was here. He left family and friends behind who cared about him. I would urge any commenters who want to point fingers to have some respect for them in their time of grief.

    Besides, while Trayvon’s family stopping by to read this blog is about as likely as Sarah Palin’s press advisors stopping by to read this blog, Sarah Palin’s press advisors actually did stop by once. Check the archives if you’d like. I am often amazed by just how influential these bloggers are.

    Those of you who are racist, or full of vitriole, or are just too short-sighted to look past your stereotypes, those of you who are too cowardly to say this stuff to real people, who hide behind the internet, might want to consider the fact that real people often do stop by this blog to comment on the posts written about them.

    This is why I put up with being deleted, tho I don’t always agree with the moderators’ decisions myself. Sometimes I do post flip, Onion-y comments that may be misread, and I am grateful that the moderators have the foresight to protect me from putting my foot in my mouth. I believe they’re trying to empathize with the people that these stories are about, that they’re trying to moderate as if those people were part of the discussion.

    Because you just never know who will drop by.

  54. Anne, I appreciate your clear and forceful interventions in these comments. After initial dismay and embarrassment at seeing this post and this blog being used as a platform for typically diversionary nonsense, I have come to think that letting examples of such nonsense stand is revealing — particularly in juxtaposition to the range of rebuttals presented.

  55. Anon”sr” philosopher, thank you. I’m wondering what you think is revealed. It would be comforting to think the rebuttals do neutralize some of the problems by revealing how problematic they are.

    There still were a fair number of comments removed, and so the problem of having the discussion agenda set by views that don’t come from a feminist perspective may remain.

    I think I may well just be reiterating concerns you have raised over the last weeks/months.

  56. Letting them stand!
    Look, I understand that readers of these comments have no way of knowing that my comments are removed, and now actually blocked. But it comes across as almost painfully ironic when someone says it is revealing to let my comments stand. They haven’t been allowed to stand at all.

  57. Oh, it looks like I’m allowed to comment from my (brand new) wordpress account, at least for now.
    It’s obviously inflammatory to call my comments “diversionary nonsense”. But apparently it does not violate the ‘be nice’ policy. I think this makes my point very nicely.

  58. Lois, i honestly have no idea what has been going on with your comments. However, let me urge you not to take cooments like “sr”‘s personally. Further, it is standing because, among other things, it isn’t about any one person.

    Finally, in terms of epithets turning up in debates, diversionary nonsense” is pretty mild, at least in philosophy circles.

  59. Well, one of my lost comments was deleted, as you (Anne) put it, because of an objection to my “language” (and possibly more, but that is the only one for which I’ve heard any kind of reason). But I certainly wrote nothing any less mild than “diversionary nonsense”.
    I believe you when you say you don’t know what’s happened to my comments. I will try not to take it personally when my comments are called ‘nonsense’ or ‘disingenuous’, and when my comments are deleted or blocked. You are absolutely right about that. I will take it to heart.

  60. [edited] I have mainly had in mind relatively sophisticated and/or absurd versions of diversionary nonsense — as compared to mere venting and shallow pretensions of rigor, neutrality, and civility.

    Anne, I would say, in general, the lengths to which people will go to deny, deflect, or reserve judgment about even obvious cases of anti-black bias, exclusion, or abuse. I don’t think you are simply reiterating concerns I have raised: your rape/Viagra analogy (@ 50), for instance, is illuminating and a classic.

  61. Hi all,

    The moderation on this post has been a bit confused. We’re not even sure who did what or where all the comments went– and we have looked, because of substantial disagreements amongst us. I think we’ve put in place procedures to improve things in the future. But can I ask that we stop discussing the moderation of this post now? From now on, *only* comments actually related to the subject matter, OK?

  62. In fact, pretty much all we’re doing in these comments is discussing the moderation. Hence, I’m closing comments.

Comments are closed.