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The Law and Unintended Consequences

D.L. Hughley – Actor and stand-up comedian Posted: 12/05/2012 3:06 pm

Last week, Florida made headlines once again in the worst possible way. The backstory was not an altogether surprising one: A group of five black teenagers were sitting in their SUV, blasting their music far too loudly. If I had to guess, I’d bet they were probably using foul language as well and generally acting the fool. I have no doubt that it was a complete nuisance to everyone around them.

This time, the story played out a touch differently from the usual outcome. Michael Dunn, a middle-aged white male, decided to approach them and confront them about their noise. An argument ensued. That an argument would ensue is obvious to anyone: Kids who behave in a rude and obnoxious manner are generally not receptive to constructive criticism. The argument escalated, as these absurd street-arguments always do. That’s when Michael Dunn took out his gun and shot up the SUV, killing one of the teens in the process.

There is one big reason that this tragedy occurred: Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which gained notoriety when George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in the very same state. How the law works, theoretically, is that if you are being aggressed against, you do not have a legal obligation to flee. You can “stand your ground.” But even theoretically, that does not apply if you approach someone else on their ground, looking for trouble — and clearly and obviously, that is exactly what Michael Dunn was looking for. It’s something he would never have dared to do, but for that law.

No one likes kids blasting their crappy music. No one likes babies crying on airplanes either. But you don’t get to kill them. If that were the case, Ice Cube would have signed my death certificate many years ago — and for many of my childhood friends as well. So let’s identify this law for what it is: a hunting license for young black men.

Frankly, a hunting license would be an improvement over the Stand Your Ground law. Hunting is a very heavily-regulated sport. There are only certain times of the year where hunting is permitted, and the animals you kill have to be of a certain minimum size. Juveniles are not, generally, considered fair game (it’s where the term “fair game” comes from). You can’t bait your prey, either: they have to be given a fair shot.

I was at a Florida golf course once where there was a different kind of nuisance: A fourteen-foot alligator had swam nearby. Clearly, this was a danger to the golfers and could not be allowed to stand. But that alligator — a species not even close to endangered — was captured and released elsewhere. Shooting it, which would have made us all safer, was still not legally permissible. But if it were a young black man hissed at a Florida citizen, his life would be possibly moot — and legally so.

Very frequently, laws have unintended consequences — and because of that, they are repealed or revised. The Fourteenth Amendment gave citizenship to anyone born in the United States, and anti-immigrant activists wanted it repealed for fear of “anchor babies” being used as a back-door to residency. Senator Orrin Hatch publicly mused about amending the Constitution to allow foreign-born Americans (like then-Governor Schwarzenegger) to become president — and that requirement has been there since the beginning.

I will assume that the men and women who passed this law meant well. But after two black teenagers are dead in the street, why is the law not being reexamined? California recently repealed their three-strikes law — and one of the law’s very champions was on the front lines fighting for repeal, because the law didn’t work like it should have.

I’m not saying that we should let kids act stupid (though I doubt the day will come when that will ever change). In this case, for example, Michael Dunn could have called the police on the loud teens. If the cops didn’t help him with his noise complaint, the law could be changed to force cops to be more receptive to noise complaints. But when kids are dead in the street and politicians aren’t going back to the drawing board, that tells me, a black parent, one thing: Maybe this law is working exactly as intended.

Hunting season is on in Florida, and no one is very interested in stopping it.

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