Murder and politics: Trayvon Martin and ALEC’s “Stand Your Ground” legislation

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The killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford Florida has lit up legacy and new media as the cause of the month. Speculation from afar about violent last moments on this earth are immoral and indecent, so you will not get that here. A young life was ended with a bullet, and that is a tragedy. Period.

Florida’s history of racially motivated outbursts of violence reverberates through this tragedy. The lack of investigation fits easily into the stories from the bad old days when there was more or less an open season on black people and justice was not even a dream.  Where that becomes more than hot rhetoric is the realization that, under current Florida law, there is a good chance that this murder was, in fact, legal.

How did that happen? The story of the “Stand Your Ground” law which fuels the nightmares from a dark past takes many people to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the apparent source. The Left has long wanted to bring this group to light, and through Martin’s sanctioned murder they may have their chance.

It may seem trivial to reduce the Martin murder to politics, but the search for some sense of justice is absolutely vital in Florida. Any small victory will be necessary to calm the very real fears that racial violence might explode once again. Years of riots and constant violence have created an entire culture in Florida with the flashes of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder running hot in their blood. The law in question allows deadly force in response to a “reasonable threat to safety,” something that people boiling with fear grasp as if their own lives depend on it – as they sincerely believe they do.

What needs to be questioned are those who feed into that fear and fire the adrenaline in place of the cool ways of genuine justice.

The “Stand Your Ground” law was passed by the Florida Legislature in 2006, a few months after a nearly identical piece of “model legislation” was crafted by ALEC. There is little doubt that this organization is the point of origin of this law, although to be fair they do deny it. The killing of Trayvon Martin is far from the first time this law allowed open murder, too. It has been called “The bane of prosecutors” who often have far too much to do and very few tools to do their job. As the origin of what has become a government sanction for several murders, it is vitally important that we understand ALEC and what it does.

ALEC was founded in 1973 by our old friends the Koch Brothers. It is officially non-partisan and not a lobbying organization, but instead models itself as a think-tank and training center for 2,000 legislators around the nation:

For more than 35 years, ALEC has been the ideal means of creating and delivering public policy ideas aimed at protecting and expanding our free society. Thanks to ALEC’s membership, the duly elected leaders of their state legislatures, Jeffersonian principles advise and inform legislative action across the country. Literally hundreds of dedicated ALEC members have worked together to create, develop, introduce and guide to enactment many of the cutting-edge, conservative policies that have now become the law in the states. The strategic knowledge and training ALEC members have received over the years has been integral to these victories.

Who is ALEC? It started out as a corporate policy group funded heavily by the Kochs and fellow oil companies like Exxon-Mobil. It picked up the other pieces of the Republican coalition, such as the NRA, over the years as its influence spread. The public knew little about it before The Nation and others published leaked documents in July 2011. It has created a furor in some circles, but in truth the concept of educating legislators and providing model bills has been around for decades. What is new is how long this group escaped public scrutiny despite its influence. Bills requiring groups like them to simply register as lobbyists are being introduced in many legislatures now.

This brings us back to the murder of a young man and what can be done to bring justice to his death with some sense of closure. The Florida Legislature is very likely to at least modify, if not repeal, the “Stand Your Ground” Law very shortly. But the lingering politics will almost certainly raise the profile of ALEC and their connection to a series of recent laws that span the breadth of the Republican coalition. That is a good thing.

What remains to be seen is how the influence of the Koch Brothers turns ALEC into the great Bogeymen that the left needs. Trayvon Martin’s death could become the polarizing moment that makes this happen. Whether or not you see this is a good thing or not will almost certainly depend on your political perspective, but it will be attempted.

The caveat for the left going down this path is the same as for the right that got this bill made into law – always be very careful what you wish for. There are places like Florida that are ready to explode when the temperature gets too hot – which it does all the damned time.