Trayvon Martin, Stand-Your-Ground Cowards and Border-Town Murders

Oliver J. Semans

The George Zimmerman case is not just about stand your ground, or self-defense; it’s about the prejudice that exists to this day, it’s about a prejudicial justice system that makes the color of the victim’s skin predetermine the verdict of not guilty, with the message sent out to individuals like Zimmerman that you can get away with such a horrific act. Thanks to him, a child is dead. Here in Indian country, we understand that all too well.

After the not-guilty verdict was announced in the Zimmerman case, I believe most Indians felt the pain and sorrow Trayvon Martin’s family was going through. The verdict brought back memories of the tragic and in most cases unsolved deaths of Indians in border towns throughout Indian country. In my case, it was my uncle who was found dead on Main Street in Winner, South Dakota; no charges were ever filed. The families of the dozens of people whose deaths are unsolved, even uninvestigated, in Pine Ridge also understand the pain.

Renee Vaughan holds a sign during the Zimmerman trial (AP)As a former law enforcement officer and then chief public defender of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, I have observed that a person with a firearm develops “courage” they did not have without it, and that, in more cases than not, this leads to a person’s death. The law in most jurisdictions once required people to retreat from confrontational situations, rather than seek to escalate them. The new so-called stand-your-ground and self-defense laws create a different situation, exacerbated by the verdict in the Zimmerman case. The requirement is turned around, with the result that this newly “courageous” person understands he can provoke rather than retreat, ignore the advice of trained police officers and, if the situation escalates, kill if he wishes.

As a trained police officer, I know the kind of skills and practice it takes to defuse any confrontation. Chances are, an untrained young person confronted unexpectedly, perhaps on a dark street, does not have these skills. He or she will likely panic, fight back, or even just sass back, upon being threatened and be killed in “self-defense,” as young Trayvon was.

In most cases, tribal members dread going to border towns because of the well-known, well-documented prejudice of the local townspeople; they want our money, but not our presence. Now with the precedent of the Zimmerman case, homegrown vigilantes can think they can justifiably confront a tribal member for any reason and then STAND THEIR GROUND and call it self-defense. The end result? One fewer Indian.

Although we dread the drive to the border towns, in most cases tribal members have no choice but to go there. These border towns are where we are required to get our license plates, pay taxes on fee lands, register to vote and early vote, even shop for groceries, because on most reservations these are not available.

Although we have a name for areas that present danger for our people (border towns) other minorities know theirs as the suburbs. If you dare go where you are not wanted, you do so knowing that if problems arise justice will not be on your side or that of surviving family.

Case in point, Robert "Boo" Many Horses’s body was found stuffed head first in a garbage container in an alley in Mobridge, South Dakota, on June 30, 1999. In October 1999, the magistrate dismissed the state's charges against four white teenagers who had allegedly placed him there. No one ever answered for this death.

Over the last five years in Rapid City, South Dakota, eight bodies, six of them Lakota, have been pulled from a shallow stream called Rapid Creek, which runs through South Dakota's second largest city. As of this moment, there have been no arrests.

Tribal members have faced this forever, but because of our now-small population, our isolation and stereotyping, we are not heard. Thank the Creator, this is not the case for Trayvon; his family, friends and prominent black and white supporters will be heard. As a result, the license to kill will surely be removed from our laws.

Although his death is tragic and we as Indian people feel the pain of his family, it is our hope that changes for the better will come from this. As a Native, I can tell you the deaths of our family members have not brought about this change. However, we support justice for Trayvon in hopes that the situation for all minorities will improve throughout the United States.

Oliver J. Semans is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and executive director of Four Directions.

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Montana Vincent's picture
I appreciate your article. I wish our country and Nations could stop hating long enough to look for solutions. People commenting here say he "wasn't a boy" - and numerous quotes from TV liars, what a waste of the American mind. 7:15 is not too late for a kid to be returning from the store, but the haters don't know any more than was force fed them. I see a few talking about "not having the young men out after dark" HELLO???????????? That's what we are talking about! Why do Native Mother's have to give that "special" talk to their sons (very much like the one responsible black parents give their kids)? Why do your children get pointed out as criminals first, children second? So thnx, Oliver, keep trying to fight the good fight.
Montana Vincent
ohiolandman's picture
I am so glad to see eddiemac's posting putting our Mr. Seman in his place.. it is truly this type of Stupid Personal Attacks that the most Uneducated People of America keep SPEWING OUT OF his or her toilet mouths.. If someone had followed any of this case.. They would have agreed hands down with the Jury. Did you know that Skittles and ice tea mixed with Robutusin cough syrup is a buzz for today's youth? How about the STEP Mother who has filed for 21 patents on TM products? or the million dollars that the home owners association coughed up to protect their pansy asses.. keep sucking the black mans rod Oliver..it will never make up for any bad feelings from white , red, yellow or blue people.. So don't try to speak for anyone else but yourself and quit trying to make your self out as a Public Person with Correct views.. you just proved to me and everyone else that you don't know how to think for yourself or follow any real events to the truth.. YOu should not be a public figure because you .. evidently don't know right from wrong.. if some young man beats your head against the concrete.. and over powers you.. and you fear for your life.. hell yeah shoot his ass... Lessons are learned the hard way sometimes.. The truth in the matter is that his parents were negligent... bottom line. reminds me of a great line from a black comedian.. " I take care of my kids... Whattya want a cookie? Your supposed to take care of your kids nigga..". Chris Rock..
larrymoniz's picture
The writer is spouting emotion rather than facts. I closely watched and read about this case. It should never have been brought and was only done so because the black community wanted to put another notch on its "racial prejudice" counting stick. Unfortunately, they rather goofed. First, legally and morally George Zimmerman had an absolute right to carry the firearm and an assumed obligation to protect his community. This he had demonstrated on severall occasions. Secondly, apparently those claiming discrimination and civil rights violation failed to assess one item. George Zimmerman is himself a man of color-an Hispanic who's mother is from South America. He's a brown man. Of course, there's an outside chance it wasn't a mistake but an opening salvo in what i see as a future crisis in this nation as those with brown skins become the dominant population sector and wield more political power than the black sector. I was raised in a mixed community not many miles (perhaps two?) from where Frederick Douglass decided to settle after helping free Southern Slaves. The Irony is that, as a young journalist, I was at an event in the late 1960s when rioting was all the fashion and I had a carpetbagger black man tell me that my home town had always had the same anti-black prejudices as the south. I told him he didn't know what he as talking about. I was raised in a mixed section that was inhabited primarily by Cape Verdean Americans who had emmigrated from that African Island and by Portuguese (Hispanic/Latinos) and was Portuguese myself. Schools were fully integrated as were movie theaters, public buildings, beaches, restaurants and retail stores. I lived two doors away from the local Black Panther headquarters at the time. We were so "opposed" to each other than when my car became stuck at the entrance to a parking lot at Midnight, half a dozen of those young men came out and physically helped push me into a legal parking space. I thanked them profusely and have always remained grateful. It wasn't a black and white thing, it was a neighbor thing. After all, would Frederick Douglass have chosen to live in that community if it were racist? I think not. Today, political agitators continue to stir the pot of "racism" to further their own ends. After 45 years as an award-winning journalist, I say this: They are foolish and those who listen to them are being deceived.