Trayvon Martin, the Castle Doctrine, and Minnesota’s close call (5×8 – 3/20/12)

The Florida shooting examined, the picture of poverty, Duluth in a fog, the hockey team that must not be mentioned, and the lost art of locking the car.


It’s unlikely anybody on either side of the emotional “stand your ground” bill in Minnesota has been swayed by the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. A 28-year old “neighborhood watch” leader who called “911” because Martin looked suspicious and “we’ve had some break-ins” in the neighborhood killed him in “self defense,” he insists. Martin is black and he was found armed with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea when police viewed the body, the Washington Post reports. The U.S. Justice Department is pursuing an investigation.

Police haven’t charged George Zimmerman because it hasn’t been proven he did anything wrong under the law, a version of which Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a couple of weeks ago.

Slate takes a deeper look at the law today, which springs from attempts to provide more protection for victims of domestic violence:

Now someone under attack could “repel force by force” if he was attacked “in a place where he has a right to be.” That’s how the Supreme Court put it in 1895. This is amazingly called the “true man” doctrine, from a line in an 1876 case: “A true man, who is without fault, is not obliged to fly from an assailant, who by violence or surprise, maliciously seeks to take his life or do him enormous bodily harm.”

Not all the states adopted the true man doctrine. And 100 years later, courts and legislatures faced a new problem: What to do with women who said they were victims of domestic violence and had killed their husbands to save themselves? Did you have a right not to retreat if the person coming after you lived under the same roof? At first, the answer was no, to the fury of feminists. Then in 1999, the Florida Supreme Court said a woman who shot and killed her husband during a violent fight at home could successfully call on the Castle Doctrine to argue self-defense. “It is now widely recognized that domestic violence attacks are often repeated over time, and escape from the home is rarely possible without the threat of great personal violence or death,” the court wrote.

The article says prosecutors aren’t even bothering to charge people because of the law. That’s not the way it was intended, at least not in the Minnesota version that Gov. Dayton vetoed. Someone who killed another person could use the doctrine in a self-defense claim in a court case. But the unintended consequences — or perhaps they’re intended — of the law is that it rarely gets to that point.

NPR examined the law in 2007, after a man in Texas told police he was going to shoot men breaking into a neighbor’s home. “Property isn’t worth killing over,” a 911 operator told him.


You know what story isn’t made up? Poverty in our backyard. Last evening, CBS profiled one of the journalists who founded “In Our Own Backyard,” which encourages people to document poverty in their own backyard. It spoke to the art of telling the stories of the poor while giving them dignity.

Steve Liss, the photographer, was interviewed last fall on NPR. His group,, is planning a Mother’s Day Project this year in which photojournalists will highlight “the struggles and dreams of impoverished mothers.”


David Cowardin’s outstanding time-lapse video of the evening fog Saturday on Lake Superior proves, again, that Duluth is the most fascinating part of Minnesota when it comes to weather.

Foggy Night from David Cowardin on Vimeo.

(h/t: Chris Julin)


A few years ago, the Star Tribune newspaper vowed to stop using the names and logos of sports teams using race-based mascots, names, and logos. It made for some awkward writing when the Twins played “the team from Cleveland,” and shortly thereafter it dropped the effort.

What’s happening in Saint Paul this week recalls the noble and rational effort as the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux hockey team begins the NCAA hockey tournament as “the team from UND.” The logo has been scrubbed from the program, there’ll be no mention of the Fighting Sioux in public address announcements and the team will wear new hockey sweaters without its infamous logo, Chuck Haga of the Grand Forks Herald writes today.

North Dakota law prohibits the team from dumping the Fighting Sioux nickname, and NCAA rules prohibit the team from using it in postseason play.

More sports rules: In Duluth, an 18-year-old junior basketball player won’t be able to play in the state high school tournament because he was caught smoking on a street corner. That violates the rules of the Minnesota State High School Sports League. He was denied the chance to prove his innocence through chemical testing, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

“Regardless of the decision they make, we’re not just going to forget about it,” assistant coach Will Starks told the newspaper “There’s going to be a firestorm no matter what after all of this, because people have stepped way over their bounds in the way they’ve handled this entire situation.”

Even more sports: Remember: The NHL does not condone fighting. Last night in Boston:


I’m a big fan of reading the police reports in the local newspaper. Every week there are at least three break-ins of cars in which a purse was left on the front seat and the car left unlocked.

Last week, WCCO reports, a thief stole a $40,000 cello from inside 26-year-old Scott Lykins’ unlocked SUV.

Lykins told the TV station he “accidentally” left the car unlocked.

Bonus I: Today would have been Mr. Rogers’ 84th birthday. Here’s everything you didn’t know about him.

Bonus II: A new study finds states are increasingly at risk of corruption. New Jersey — New Jersey? — is considered the most transparent of the states. Minnesota gets a D+ in the survey:

Government observers say decision-making in the state is usually done in public and citizens have ample opportunity to have their voices heard. But last summer’s state government shutdown and budget deal provided a troubling example of how legislation gets passed with no public input at the end of a legislative session.

Weeks of closed-door negotiations between Republican legislative leaders and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party led by Governor Dayton preceded the budget compromise on July 19th. Twenty days after the shutdown began, a special legislative session was called and the budget bills were signed into law.


It’s the first day of spring, but that’s only going by the calendar. The season came early in Minnesota and other parts of the country. Saturday’s high, for example, was the earliest 80-degree temperature ever recorded in the Twin Cities. Today’s Question: How has Minnesota’s early spring affected your life?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: What — if anything — should be done about Iran’s development of nuclear capability?

Second hour: Jonathan Odell, author of the acclaimed novel, “The View from Delphi,” which deals with the struggle for equality in pre-civil-rights Mississippi, his home state. His new novel, “The Healing,” explores the subversive nature story plays in the healing of an oppressed people.

Third hour: Singer-songwriter Mike Doughty.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Georgetown University law professor David Cole , who spoke recently at the U of M Humphrey School about civil liberties and human rights.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Rob Gifford talks about the future of China. Plus, actor Wendell Pierce on his venture into the grocery business.

Second hour: The military and mental health. Plus, the Iditarod winner, who beat out his dad and grandfather

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – From NPR: For spectators, rodeo is thrilling. The riders and ropers live for the rush. But the danger of severe injury in the sport exceeds professional football. Inside the thrilling and dangerous world of the rodeo.

  • kennedy

    Re: Bonus II – An example of MN government running amok:

    In Minneapolis, they are seeking to override a constitution that requires a public vote on funding the proposed new Viking stadium. Officials are pretty sure that the majority of voters would elect not to fund the stadium. So officials want to take the matter into their own hands. This is contrary to the will of the people and against the law (though lawyers will argue the latter).

  • boB from WA

    Re bonus #2: That fight was nothing compared to the beginning of the Devils-Rangers game last night. 3-5 min misconducts and a 10 min major, all for fighting before 1 sec had ticked off the clock. It was a very ugly, disgusting display.

  • MikeB

    “and he was found armed with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea”

    The Trayvon Martin tragedy, and the response of law enforcement so far, is all too familiar to one group of people and mostly invisible to another. A man allowed his fears to override his judgment and a young boy’s life is ended. That twisted interpretation of a law prevented an immediate arrest shows the perversion of common sense.

    Something tells me the Sandford police department is not ready for the spotlight coming its way.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Welcome back, Bob.

    Re The Florida Murder – Isn’t there something in the 2nd amendment that says you can kill somebody in your neighborhood if they have darker skin?

    Re The Picture of Poverty – Yeah, poverty is a reality. Here’s another reality: the rich get richer and the poor have children. Here’s a great idea – Let’s make contraception more difficult to get!

    Re The Fighting Sioux – good thing the forefathers of many of us did the genocide and concentration camp thing with the native americans, and that native americans in our own time are so well off – permitting us good liberals to be focused on important things like the political correctness of the names of sports teams.

    Re The lost art of locking the car: (See “serves ’em right”)

    The “so sad” part of the story is that the local media and police are disproportionately focusing their energies on an air-head who will get another quality instrument anyway, and help the rest of the community pay just a little more in property insurance rates.

    I guess it’s a good thing that there’s nothing else in the Twin Cities that’s more worthy of police and media attention.

    ( Did you TRY to piss me off today? 🙂

  • David G

    re: Florida’s “Stand your ground”

    MSNBC and numerous other outlets have been looking, and reporting that in the 5 years since Florida passed their law, Justifiable homicide claims have tripled.

    In one case a kid was killed in the cross fire of a shootout between two street gangs. A judge dismissed all charges after claims of self defense were raised.

  • Laura

    Welcome back, Bob!

  • Jim Macklin

    Nobody seems able to actually find the kaw that actually matters, it isn’t Castle Doctrine or Stand Your Ground, it is simple. Not many years ago any poor man and any black man or woman who was forced to defend their life would be arrested ON THE SPOT and it did not matter whether they were innocent or a cold blooded killer, they were “all liars” in tyhe eyes of racist poloice departments.

    Florida law protects the minority, the Black or Mexican, the working poor or middle class.

    If Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft had been in Florida and shot Trayvon in exactly the same way and he was arrested to satisfy the rising mob, what wold happen?

    Mr. Gates could be arraigned and bail set at $100 million and he could just write a check for that amount, which he would get back in full in a few weeks when the Grand Jury ruled one way or the other. If it went to trial, the check would just remain in the court and if he was found guilty, he would still get his $100 million back from the court.

    But a poor man, black, white, red or yellow is protected from having to pay a non-refundable $5,000 to post a $50,000 bail using a bondsman. O course the bondsman gives no money to the court, only a promise that he will see to it he shows up for each hearing. To pay your mortgage you have to work, so if you stay in jail your house will be foreclosed. etc. etc.

    So here is what the law says.

    The 2011 Florida Statutes

    Title XLVI

    CRIMES Chapter 776

    JUSTIFIABLE USE OF FORCE View Entire Chapter

     776.032 Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.—

     (1)A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031 is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who was acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer. As used in this subsection, the term “criminal prosecution” includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant.

     (2)A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force as described in subsection (1), but the agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.

     (3)The court shall award reasonable attorney’s fees, court costs, compensation for loss of income, and all expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of any civil action brought by a plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant is immune from prosecution as provided in subsection (1).

    History.—s. 4, ch. 2005-27.