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Conflict & Tragedy

Is Stand Your Ground law a mask for hate crime vigilantism in Trayvon Martin killing?

The death of Trayvon Martin has done more than raise questions about racism in America; it has sparked controversy about whether Stand Your Ground laws have made murder and vigilantism legal.

After the Stand Your Ground law was passed in Florida, “justifiable” homicides have tripled.

“When the Legislature passed this in 2005, I don’t think they planned for people who would go out and become vigilantes or be like some weird Batman who would go out and kill little kids like Trayvon," Florida Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, told CBS News Miami.

However, people have used Stand Your Ground to kill, and only two individuals have actually been charged with a crime for operating outside the scope of the law since enacted.

Stand Your Ground laws have been pushed through legislatures in 21 states with pressure from the National Rifle Association and support from Republicans.

In Pennsylvania, former Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, vetoed a Stand Your Ground bill, only to have it passed in 2011 when Republican Tom Corbett took office. And if not for the veto of Minnesota's Democratic Governor Mark Dayton, another Stand Your Ground law would not have been stopped this year.

While Stand Your Ground laws may be sold to the public as an extension of their right to self-defense, it is not much of a stretch to imagination how these laws could be used as a mask for widespread vigilantism. Why bother with due process when you can just shoot and kill without question in 21 states?

George Zimmerman, the Sanford, Florida, man who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, was never questioned by police about the deadly shooting when it happened 26 days ago.And despite protests from thousands across America claiming that Martin's death was racially motivated, Zimmerman is still a free man.

Was Zimmerman acting as a vigilante against the color of Trayvon Martin's skin when he shot and killed him? Was it really a hate crime? Or will George Zimmerman get away with "murder" because Stand Your Ground laws in Florida will protect him?

The answer may inevitably reside with the amount of public pressure is brought to bare on Florida officials. The Sanford Police Chief has already temporarily resigned over the Trayvon Martin case, and public pressure from protests is still growing.