What does Walmart have to do with the tragic death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin? The answer starts with Florida’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law, promoted across the country as “model legislation” by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC — “a corporate-backed organization that has managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence,” as Paul Krugman of The New York Times explains:
Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators.
The citizen’s advocacy group Common Cause has an explanation as to why it believes ALEC, which mostly promotes corporate interests, has campaigned for Stand Your Ground laws nationwide. The National Rifle Association is a longtime funder of ALEC. The NRA pushed for the Florida bill’s passage and one of its lobbyists then asked a closed-door meeting of ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force to use the law as a template for other state legislatures. At the time, that task force was co-chaired by Walmart, America’s largest seller of guns and ammunition. In September 2005, the bill was adopted by ALEC’s board of directors.
Since then, more than two dozen states have passed laws based on Stand Your Ground (also known as the Castle Doctrine). In Wisconsin, The Nation reports, an unarmed 20 year old named Bo Morrison was shot and killed while hiding on a neighbor’s porch after fleeing an underage drinking party broken up by the police. Last week, the district attorney announced that the shooter was protected from prosecution by the state’s new Castle Doctrine law.
Bo Morrison and Trayvon Martin aren’t the only victims — according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the number of “justifiable homicides” has nearly tripled since the Stand Your Ground law went into effect.
An online petition posted by Martin’s parents demanding further investigation and prosecution of his murder has gathered more than 2 million signatures. Color of Change, a group working to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans, has a related petition protesting another ALEC campaign, this one for what critics say are discriminatory voter ID laws.
Krugman writes, “If there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society — and our democracy.”