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From lynchings to 'Stand Your Ground' killing

Laws and LegislationHomicideHate CrimesUnited States Naval AcademyBarack Obama

I am a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, a retired Marine Corps major general and the progeny of veterans of World War I and World War II who proudly served our country, not only so that America might remain strong and free but so that our sons and daughters should have not one inkling of confusion as to what it really means to be free.

Born in Norfolk, Va. during segregation, I grew up seeing and believing that we were slowly and surely moving America toward the land of freedom and equality that is America's promise. And on that November night in 2008 when the presidential victory of Barack Obama was announced, I knew that my grandson, Leo V. Williams 5th, would never have to ask or wonder whether someone who looked like him could be president of these United States. That seemed to be about as much as any black man in America could ask for.

Sadly, at a time when I should be reveling in the conversations with my grandchildren about the limitless possibilities that await them in America, I now have to precede that conversation with one that warns them to be exceedingly cautious because somewhere in America, juries have the moral authority to find that taking the life of a human being who has not committed a crime to be not merely excusable but free of guilt, by law ("Trayvon and Brandon," July 23).

This new reality brings tears to my eyes for my beloved country.

When I was a child, I learned about the troubling times when innocent black men and women in the South were hanged routinely although they had committed no crime. They were murdered because someone suspected them or didn't like them or killed them to take their property. Often their killers were not brought to court, and if they were, there was no justice for the black men and women. Their killers remained forever free because those lynchings, as heinous as they were, occurred within a system that placed no positive value on their lives.

But even then, in our country of laws, although the legal authorities chose to look the other way, the act of lynching was, in fact, unlawful.

Today, we set ourselves on a pedestal as the world's foremost example of a country of laws. But in Florida, and other states with "Stand Your Ground" laws, the legal system can give cover to an armed man who murders a boy he "thought" was "up to no good." Sound familiar and retrograde?

I urge someone to help me understand how our "land of the free and home of the brave" has devolved to this reprehensible condition where a mere suspicion can lead to murder, and though the suspicion is proved unfounded, the murderer walks free.

The jury in the Trayvon Martin trial showed us that such an abomination was indeed possible. While it is highly unlikely that those six women thought through this revelation as a consequence, it is toweringly more important than the fate of one troubled man named George Zimmerman.

It's up to all of us now to change the system and ensure that no such killers again walk Scott-free.

Leo V. Williams, III, Baltimore

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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