Homo Sacer: The State of Exception in Violation of Trayvon Martin's Civil Rights

In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict everyone is being reminded that America is a nation of laws, the jury has spoken and that we should respect the verdict. Is it lawful to take the life of another when they were not doing anything unlawful?

In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict everyone is being reminded that America is a nation of laws, the jury has spoken and that we should respect the verdict. Is it lawful to take the life of another when they were not doing anything unlawful? I think we all know the answer to that, no!  George Zimmerman, the jury, a Florida law called stand your ground and countless Americans think that it is lawful.  Here’s how.

Under Carl Schmitt's state of exception concept, the “sovereign” has the ability to rise above or step outside of the rule of law all in the interest of the public good. In this instance, the “sovereign” is the state of Florida’s through its stand your ground law, courtesy of George Zimmerman. How is this possible? In short, by creating laws that allow exceptions. Normally, it is against the law to kill someone. The exception in the instant case is if you feel that your life is in imminent danger.  According to Juror B37, it was concluded that George Zimmerman felt his life was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, despite being told essentially to not put himself in harm’s way.  At that moment, the law against taking another life was suspended and George Zimmerman was allowed to kill Trayvon Martin with impunity.

Based on stand your ground, Trayvon Martin, too, should have had the right to defend himself against the imminent danger of death or great bodily harm he experienced. But, Martin did not have the right to stand his ground because in this new realm created by state of exception, Trayvon Martin became Homo Sacer.

Homo Sacer, Latin for “the sacred man” or “the accursed man” is a concept in ancient Roman law.  The individual imbued as Homo Sacer is devoid of the rights of citizenship and may be killed by anyone. The status of Homo Sacer is that of a criminal or fugitive. As such, Homo Sacer does not have the protection of the law and can be killed by anyone with no fear of legal retribution.  It is clear that Trayvon, from the moment he was observed by Zimmerman was considered stripped of his citizenship in the gated community to which he was legally and rightfully returning.  He was labeled by George Zimmerman as “a real suspicious guy”, “up to no good” and “on drugs or something.”

Citizenship is a status reserved for those who are deemed full members of a community or group.  All who are endowed with the status of citizenship are equal as it relates to the rights and privileges connected with that status.  Citizenship has at its core equality and enjoyment of civil rights.  Civil rights confer legal capacity to participate and to be full members in civic society.  The notion of a people of law is a prevailing requirement for civic membership.  Citizens are worthy of the protections of the law.  Sadly, Trayvon was not deemed worthy of the law’s protections.

How are individuals worthy of citizenship; how is worth determined and why was Trayvon stereotyped by George Zimmerman as Homo Sacer?  Worthiness of citizenship is determined by the consistency of ones values with those of the group.  Without even knowing anything about Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman determined that Trayvon’s values were questionable, lacking and infringed upon Trayvon’s Civil rights.  Civil rights include the right to be free from unprovoked intrusion, judgment and subjugation by the sovereign and private organizations, (i.e. Florida’s stand your ground law, George Zimmerman and the Neighborhood Watch Association).

Certainly, Trayvon should have been free to eat Skittles, drink Arizona Iced Tea and talk on his cell phone on his way home from the store.  He never made it home; he was not free to do so.  George Zimmerman and the State of Florida, through its stand your ground law violated Trayvon Martin’s Civil Rights.

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