No Bullying…and Don’t Stand Your Ground, Either?

Usually I blog when I’m convinced of something and want to share my opinion with the world—or, at least, that infinitesimal fraction of the world that reads my blog. (Thanks again, you two!)

But I’d like some help on something. (I risk opening the floodgates to bad comments here, but I’ll just monitor and delete them in due course as necessary.) I am told by various public voices that I’m supposed to feel terrible about the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case, and I’m supposed to feel even more terrible now because my black evangelical brothers and sisters in the US are much more upset about the verdict and its possible implications than white evangelicals are.

Let me make clear immediately that I hold no brief for Mr. Zimmerman. I haven’t followed the case closely, but I gather that neither of these individuals emerge from the trial looking like angels. Indeed, at least one of them seems to have had serious bodily harm, if not murder, in mind once they engaged each other. So please be sure that I am not discussing the case per se.

What I’m trying to figure out is how our society’s current zeal for anti-bullying legislation in public schools, online, and beyond squares with the widespread disdain for stand-your-ground laws. These sentiments seem to be contradictory. If bullying is so bad (and of course it is), then why should a person standing where he or she is entirely entitled to stand be under legal obligation to retreat?

I was bullied as a kid, and for several years. I was never big for my age, and I went through school very quickly to boot, so until I was well into high school, I was easy pickings for brutish classmates. (One year I gained four inches and thirty pounds and the big, brave guys who picked on me suddenly melted away.)

I have also lived on Chicago’s South Side as a white man, and I enjoyed that cosmopolitan experience in almost every way…except having to alter various patterns of basic living because of the fear of racially and economically motivated violence as the gangs around us (El Rukn especially) would prey on white people stupid enough to walk the borderlands of Hyde Park alone or at night.

So I am inclined to be sympathetic both with anti-bullying concerns and with “stand-your-ground” laws. They seem to me to spring from the same concerns.

I realize that police officers don’t like the idea of handguns being brandished at the first sign of conflict, and neither do I. I’m a Canadian, for pity’s sake, and I think handguns generally are a bad idea outside a target range. I also realize that stand-your-ground laws make it easier for people to commit murder in the name of self-defense, particularly when the only witnesses are the shooter and his or her victim.

Still, it isn’t obvious to me why we don’t work for better stand-your-ground laws that warrant people literally refusing to be bullied while making sure such legal defenses aren’t abused, at the same time as we advocate anti-bullying measures elsewhere in our society. What am I missing?

12 Responses to “No Bullying…and Don’t Stand Your Ground, Either?”

  1. pmcdc

    yes to all of the above. for succor, solace and bolstering of where you’re right, see some of the items on this case written by people at the hoover institution. victor davis hanson, in particular.

  2. Mike in Pennsylvania

    Maybe the first step would be to define how the two are related. Are the incidents of bullying and the incidents leading to stand-your-ground in the same category differing only by degree? Or are they separate categories altogether, though they share similar characteristics (both belonging to a higher category)? It sounds like our society is treating them as separate categories but you would see them as on a continuum in the same category.

    • John

      I’m arguing, of course, that they are of the same sort. People ought to be free of illegitimate infringement of their dignity and freedom. I’m confused as to why this point isn’t obvious.

  3. Jonathan Wilson

    When a society’s processing of and legislating to resolve its dilemmas is impelled and shaped primarily by sentiment, rather than consideration and reason, the outcome can only ever be an unhappy burden to that society and its future generations.

  4. Paul Sorrentino

    Anti-bullying efforts are primarily aimed at educating people as to why harming another is the way to address difference/dislike although there are some self-defense components.
    The problem with Stand Your Ground and similar laws is that it moves beyond self-defense. Rather, it amplifies the bases for claims to self-defense. The onus of proof shifts from a person who shoots someone proving they were defending themselves to law enforcement needing to prove that they were not defending themselves.
    In classic s/he said s/he said cases it is always difficult to prove who was right without witnesses. This is especially so when one of the people is dead. The Orlando Sentinel found that in 12 do 13 cases they investigated that the victim was unarmed.
    Use of firearms is essentially encouraged rather than discouraged.
    If I am seeing you for office hours and you refuse to change my grade from a B to an A I might shoot you. I, of course, claim to have felt threatened by your menacing looks and the books you were throwing at my head (easy enough to stage after the fact with no witnesses). Under Stand Your Ground I am presumed innocent. If the state does not find me guilty, Stand Your Ground also protects me from civil suits.
    In addition, Stand Your Ground has been found to be applied disproportionately along racial lines.
    Lastly, I vividly recall references to “the gorilla down under” and my Canadian friends fear of violence and everyone carrying guns in the States. Stand Your Ground promotes the image, and I would say reality, of violence in the US

  5. Paul

    The “anti-bullying” programs I am aware of are better called “bully enablement programs” intentions not withstanding. Paul, I’m curious why you don’t mention the fact that “stand your ground” laws were enacted to prevent victims from being doubly victimized by their attackers. It was common for a perpetrator to sue their victim if the victim attempted to defend themselves, and the perpetrator was injured in any way. I wish that Canadians had the “right” to self-defence which our American cousins do. Here in Canada “self-defence” is not a right, but a “defence” that can be used in the face of prosecution for one’s actions. While any “right” can be misused and abused, I much prefer a system that doesn’t enable perpetrators, the way the Canadian system too frequently does.

  6. Paul Sorrentino

    John, I won’t pretend to understand the Canadan system. My understanding of stand your ground and others like it is that it muddies the water in terms of just who the perpetrator is and may therefore have over reached in terms of protecting victims

  7. Martin B

    I believe that under the common law was killing someone is justified only in self defense. If I am threatened by X, but there is a way out without my killing X, then I am legally required to do this. (And I would say that here the law and Christianity seem to agree.)

    If Stand Your Ground laws mean anything, then they mean that I’m entitled to kill X even if there other options. I find it hard to see how such laws can be compatible with the OT (“you shall not kill”) let alone the New. (“If a man compels you to go one mile…”)

    I’m not a lawyer and so may completely misunderstand what Stand Your Ground laws actually say. But suppose they allow me to kill X if I feel threatened by him. (Yes, usually him). Imagine now that X and I get into an argument, say over a parking space. X starts yelling at me, and I yell back. I think “X is a decidedly irrational guy, and may well feel threatened by me – and if he feels threatened then he’s entitled to shoot me. So, my life is in danger, and I’m entitled to shoot him”. Bang! (Whoever draws first wins.)

    My conclusion – such laws are a really bad idea.

  8. Matt McCoy

    I am by no means a legal expert. In response to your question:

    “If bullying is so bad (and of course it is), then why should a person standing where he or she is entirely entitled to stand be under legal obligation to retreat?”

    The State needs to be able to preserve a monopoly of violence. In America this is, of course, a silly notion at this point, but this was an issue when the nation was being put together. The cultural gap between Canada and the US on the individual’s role in maintaining order and the monopoly of violence is, well, HUGE.

    So, the underlying assumptions in the concealed handgun permit for the state of Texas is the the rational mind does not want to kill anyone (John, I realize that I just used the words ‘handgun’, ‘Texas’, and ‘rational mind’ in the same sentence, but try to restrain yourself), and that you should retreat when possible and let the police do the job of policing. So in Texas (at least twenty years ago, I’m not sure if the laws have changed), you were allowed to shoot an intruder in your home who was attacking you, but it was against the law to shoot an intruder in the back, even if they were still inside, because it proves they were fleeing from you. You have to let the fight stop, if at all possible. Does this adequately explain the obligation to retreat?

    Where I find the anti-bullying and the stand-your-ground laws concerning is that it appears (though I don’t really know because I haven’t looked into it) that they are contradictory, in which case there is a legitimate danger of inequality in the courts. John, if you and I are in a conflict, and you win, then I can appeal to anti-bullying laws. If I win, I can appeal to stand your ground laws. And if I am from a demographic that is historically favored in the courts, and you are from a demographic that is historically dis-favored in the courts, then justice might become more difficult to come by. I AM NOT SAYING THIS HAPPENED IN THIS SPECIFIC CASE, AS I DO NOT KNOW THE SPECIFICS OF THE CASE THAT JUST HAPPENED.

    I am also not implying that the concern that I have is the right, or the best, concern to have, it’s just the initial impression I get.

  9. John

    Thanks for these comments. It has helped me think about these matters more carefully–and realistically, in particular. For it seems to me that Stand Your Ground laws enable the use of “the equalizer”–deadly force from a weapon–in cases in which a victim is otherwise going to be dominated by someone larger, more vicious, more skilled in combat, or with cooperative companions. In such a situation, yes, it becomes all-or-nothing: either yield or use the only equalizing resource you have, a potentially lethal weapon. And since killing is, indeed, all-or-nothing (in the view of a secular court, if not from a Christian point of view), then we must sadly advise the victim to withdraw as the lesser of the two evils.

    And that’s what it is, isn’t it? Letting bullies barge into traffic is a lesser evil than standing your ground, having your own car damaged, and going through the hassle of insurance, repair, and possible injury. So we let them in, perhaps swearing and gesticulating in impotent registration of the offense. In the case of deadly force, the situation is even simpler: the bully doesn’t deserve to die because he is merely (!) inconveniencing, frightening, or humiliating you. But it’s also revolting that he is either killed or allowed to victimize.

    What he does deserve, to be sure, will not be meted out by the police or likely anyone else–short of God. “Let the police do the job of policing” is scant comfort to victims of bullies, as I’m sure Brother Matt appreciates. But “‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ says the Lord” is of much greater comfort indeed.

    So okay: Stand Your Ground laws may well go too far. My initial query remains, however: Why is there not an acknowledgement from those aghast at the SYG laws that they are intended to deal with the same sort of injustice anti-bullying policies are meant to address?

    I don’t see that connection being made, and it puzzles me. Worse, I’d like to see the basic decency of SYG laws acknowledged and then whatever qualifying of them being made with realistic regret, rather than reading and hearing all the shock and horror so obviously on display as if these laws are barbaric (or racist, or classist, or whatever) injustices themselves.

    • Paul

      John, I agree with your query, but I think the reason the legitimate points you are raising are not addressed is because the level of intellectual honesty, your questions rightly demand is not a characteristic of many of the opponents of SYG laws, and the misguided apologists for Trayvon Martin. When individuals and certain groups center their identity on being victims, anything that in any way contradicts their victimhood narrative is at best ignored, if not denounced. You are well aware of the post-modernist epistemology issues at play here. For a discussion of some of the psychological issues at play you might want to have a look at “Destructive trends in mental health: the well intentioned path to harm”. The first chapter on political correctness speaks to some of these issues. If you like, I can lend you a copy. Forgive me if my comments sound too pessimistic, but they are a reflection of my own experience coming back to grad school after 25 some years. The lack of intellectual integrity I encountered was extremely disheartening. Back to the cult of victimhood at play here, when a person/group has victimhood at the center of their identity, they must also have a victimizer, and anything that contradicts the portrait of the oppressor their identity demands, must be denied and denounced. Since there is no “Truth” there is only that which is to my political advantage, and any means used, be it manipulation, intimidation, or coercion, is justified by their desired ends. I do hope you understand that I am attempting to describe the phenomenon, not defend it. Shelby Steele addresses some of the issues in: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303302504577323691134926300.html

  10. Linda Wightman

    I’m late to the party here, but as this case is literally close to home for me, I want to point out something that ties in with the bullying idea and which I don’t think gets enough attention in all the talk about gun control and SYG: having a gun and the right to use it in self-defense gives the weak and vulnerable a chance. Otherwise the bullies win. Much as I respect the forces of law and order, they cannot be everywhere at all times. Nor would I want to live in a society where they were.

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