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“Shoot First” Laws and Self-Mastery as a Way to Peaceful Interactions

Hello readers,

I received the following e-mail message today from ColorOfChange.org, a non-profit organization that works to promote equal rights for minorities in this country.

” Jordan Russell Davis didn’t have to die.

Last Friday, the 17 year-old Black teenager was shot in a Jacksonville convenience store parking lot after a dispute over loud music.1 He died in his friend’s arms. The shooter, Michael David Dunn, has pleaded “Not Guilty” and is expected to invoke Florida’s “Shoot First” law, claiming the killing was a justifiable homicide.2

Nearly 33,000 ColorOfChange members took action earlier this year and told their state government officials to fight back against “Shoot First” laws. Please add your voice today and when you do, ask your friends and family to do the same.

“Shoot First” laws, sometimes called “Stand Your Ground” laws, were thrust into the national spotlight following the killing of Trayvon Martin. Unless these laws are repealed, our communities will continue to lose our young people to avoidable tragedies.

“Stand Your Ground” laws have proliferated around the country thanks to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its deep-pocketed supporters at the National Rifle Association (NRA). Half of the members of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” task force, charged with reviewing the state’s law in the aftermath of the Martin killing, are ALEC members.3 Unsurprisingly, that task force recently found no problem with “Stand Your Ground” despite clear and compelling evidence that the law is racially discriminatory. “Homicides involving white shooters and Black victims are 11 times more likely to be deemed “justifiable” than those where the scenario is reversed.”4

Below is our original outreach calling on state government officials to oppose “Shoot First” laws where they are under consideration and repeal them where they are in place. Join nearly 33,000 ColorOfChange members and fight back today.

I personally did respond to the call for citizens to speak up and request that legislators reconsider this type of law which is highly undemocratic and inciteful of violence.  It seems to me that the purpose of society and laws is to promote peaceful relationships between people and maintain harmony within the group.  We cannot live peacefully if we promote fear and violence and give individuals permission to act out on their fears without reflection with full support of our governments.  All of those who have promoted and who continue to promote non-violence will agree that self-mastery and seeking out the higher self in the person facing us lead to peaceful resolution of conflicts.  When we choose to adopt and react to a violent attitude or anger in another person and make it our own, we are responsible for that choice.  There is no self-defense in that attitude.  The only truth is our own truth, and we can choose a peaceful attitude in every situation.  The pain that others feel and express is their own.

Reading about the tragic deaths of Treyvon Martin and Jordan Russell Smith caused me to recall a situation that happened to me many years ago, in Paris.  I was a student, and I worked weekends at the Musee des Arts d’Afrique et d’Oceanie, which at the time was located at the southeastern tip of the city, at the Porte Doree, near the Bois de Vincennes park.  I often took advantage of the long lunch breaks we were given to take a walk along the many paths around the lakes at the Bois de Vincennes.  I had brought my lunch to the park, and as I strolled searching for a good spot to sit down, a young man in his twenties asked me for money.  I told him that I didn’t have any, and he responded with anger and foul language, insulting me.  I didn’t really think at all, responding automatically to him with a flippant insult in turn.  Not expecting any further interaction, I moved to continue my walk.  The young man then threatened me with a box cutter knife, the blade exposed.  I looked around myself to survey my surroundings, and I saw an older balding heavy-set man seated on a nearby bench.  We were standing in a rounded sandy area.  The older man did not look up, despite the raised voices and tone of danger tinging the air.  I quickly realized that I was on my own.  The young man told me that he had very recently been released from prison. Obviously he was angry and hurt.  The view of the box cutter blade and the confession regarding the prison release caused me to quickly change my own attitude and tactic.  I started to talk with the young man.  I told him that he cannot really expect to have others help him and be kind to him if he is aggressive and verbally attacks the person from whom he wishes to receive an offer of help.  We talked for a while, and the anger and aggressivity quickly defused.  I offered the young man a banana from my lunch.  He accepted, and asked me if I was married.  I figured out some way to tactfully end the conversation on a positive note and returned to my workplace.  This incident made a significant impact on my life, because it clearly illustrated to me how I could defuse and transform anger and aggression through the simple power of the word.

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