• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

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?