This phrasing has been reused throughout the centuries as part of the foundation for what we understand as “civil society.”
Civil society is supposed to comprise a community of citizens linked by common interests and collective activity. There was a time when neighbors looked out for one another—whether it was to keep an eye on a child, deliver a package, share a friendly greeting, or tend to their community together. In some pockets of the country that reality still exists. But there has been a concerted effort over the course of decades to turn neighbor against neighbor, one piece of hateful and dangerous legislation at a time.
In 2005, Florida became the first state in the country to enact a “stand your ground” law. The law states that a person has the right to meet force with force if they believe their life is at risk. The “I feared for my life” mantra would become the consistent refrain.
But what happens though when the act of self-protection is simply a veil for racism and hatred? What happens when just the appearance of Black or Brown skin is seen as a threat? This is the same law that helped George Zimmerman walk free after killing teenager Trayvon Martin in February 2012. Martin’s murder and Zimmerman’s acquittal sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. It also contributed to the spread of “stand your ground” laws across the country.
In the “stand your ground” era you can’t make mistakes in this Wild Wild West of America, where a U-turn into a driveway can lead to death, a simple request for quiet can lead to mass murder, and, just recently, wanting to talk with your neighbor and reason with an adult who has been harassing and physically assaulting your young Black children leads to cold-blooded murder on their doorstep.
KILLING A MOTHER OF FOUR
The tragedy of Ajike “AJ” Owens is the latest in a string of shootings predicated on racism and veiled by “stand your ground.”
Owens, a Black mother of four, went to confront her white neighbor, Susan Louise Lorincz, who was allegedly harassing her children with racist slurs for playing in a field by her house. Police say Lorincz threw a roller skate at Owens’ 10-year-old son, and menaced him with a swinging umbrella.
Owens did what any parent would—she went over to talk to her neighbor. But instead of conversation she was met with a bullet that took her life.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office said, “Detectives were able to establish that Lorincz’s actions were not justifiable under Florida law”—meaning even the cops consider this murder and not self-defense protected by “stand your ground.”
But should we really be surprised that this kind of atrocity happened in Florida?
What do you expect from a state that passed legislation to preserve the comfort of its white residents at the expense of everyone else? This is a state where guns are everywhere, gun laws are consistently rolled back, and anti-Black, anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigrant, anti-abortion laws have turned neighbors into vigilantes and make boogeymen out of people that aren’t white, cis, straight, citizen, or Christian. What did we think the results would be?
For far too long the media has failed to connect the dots between the rise in fascist laws and gun violence. Since the enactment of a series of anti-drag laws, threats of violence against drag performers has risen dramatically. Similarly, since the killing of George Floyd three years ago, acts of violence against the Black community by police and vigilante groups have risen as well.
All of this is happening as we gear up for the 2024 presidential elections where the entire Republican field is dominated by Trump, a man that told police to rough up suspects a little, and exclaimed that he could kill someone and his poll number would rise.
Not to be outdone, Gov. DeSantis—who has turned the state of Florida into a hate state and hellscape for trans Americans and BIPOC Americans alike—would now like the authority to model the country after his state.
Imagine an entire nation under “stand your ground”—a place where, like Florida, it isn’t safe to go anywhere because concealed weapons are the norm and anti-Black sentiments are cheered.
Think this is hyperbolic? Ron DeSantis used his platform to raise millions for Daniel Penny, the ex-Marine that choked a Black man to death on the New York City subway.
It cannot be stressed enough that it isn’t drag queens, trans kids, or Black folks undermining civility in our country–it’s the Republican Party and right-wing media. For these faux Christians that selectively use Bible verses to justify their cruelty, it isn’t “love thy neighbor”—it’s shoot them first and ask questions later.
The question for 2024 is, is this the America we want?