It has rightly become the subject of outrage nationwide that George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., was not arrested last month after he allegedly stalked and killed a teenager, Trayvon Martin, whom Zimmerman apparently believed to be a neighborhood prowler.
Zimmerman is free because of a “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida that grants anyone who feels threatened with the right to hurt or kill anyone whom they perceive to be dangerous, regardless of whether the purportedly threatening person is armed. Trayvon Martin, for example, was carrying a package of Skittles and an iced tea.
USA Today reports that “Stand Your Ground” laws have been passed in 21 states:
The laws — in places such as Texas, Idaho and Alaska — allow everyday citizens to use deadly force against someone else if they fear for their life. They also say people do not have to retreat if threatened or attacked…
Police have said officers were prohibited from arresting Zimmerman because he claimed to have used “justifiable” force.
The case has triggered a wave of public outcry to change or repeal Florida’s “stand your ground” law.
“You want to know how you can kill somebody legally in Florida?” says Arthur Hayhoe, executive director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “Make sure you have no witnesses, hunt the person down and then say you feared for your life.”
Hayhoe says he has about a dozen cases on his desk now similar to Trayvon’s case. He says in those cases, gunmen say they were defending themselves and have not been charged, leaving grieving relatives to wonder why the shooters have not been charged.
It is not surprising that “Stand Your Ground” laws are promoted by the NRA. The NRA is pro-gun at any cost, and that’s just what they do. But, according to the watchdog group, Media Matters, these laws are also being promoted by an uber-right wing, corporatist front group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
ALEC drafts generic pro-business, anti-environmental, anti-reform, anti-working and middle-class legislative language into boilerplate documents that it provides to ideologically extreme Republican state legislators around the country. These legislators submit the generic ALEC documents as bills to their GOP-controlled state legislatures, where they usually pass on party-line votes.
Over the past few years, states across the country — but particularly in the South and Midwest — have become awash in hundreds of right-wing agenda-driven, copy-cat ALEC laws, a fact that hardly anyone in the corporate media or the general public has noticed, so far.
Media Matters compared the language of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law with the ALEC boilerplate:
Florida’s statute on the use of force in self-defense is virtually identical to Section 1 of ALEC’s Castle Doctrine Act [PDF] model legislation as posted on the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). According to CMD, the model bill was adopted by ALEC’s Civil Justice Task in August 2005 — just a few short months after it passed the Florida legislature — and approved by its board of directors the following month.
Just as it is not surprising that the NRA is behind the “Stand Your Ground” laws, the fact that the Koch brothers, funders of the tea party astroturf mobs, are major supporters of ALEC is also hardly a shock.
What is surprising is that among ALEC’s dozens and dozens of corporate sponsors are some of the biggest consumer brands in the United States — from Microsoft to American Express, from Dell to Sara Lee and from AT&T to Mary Kay Cosmetics.
You’ll find a complete list of ALEC’s sponsors at this link, but here are just a few of the corporations that are funding ALEC’s extreme corporatist agenda:
Bank of America
Fruit of the Loom
Kentucky Fried Chicken (Parent)
|Mary Kay Cosmetics
Outback Steak House
Pizza Hut (Parent)
ALEC’s success has bred imitators, of course. A case in point is Americans United for Life, which is responsible for drafting the boilerplate language for the the ultrasound “shaming wand” bills that were passed in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas and elsewhere recently, according to report from Addicting Info:
Currently seven states have enacted mandatory ultrasound laws and at least another eighteen states are considering similar bills. When one digs a little deeper, some interesting details emerge. In a report released by the Sunlight Foundation today, it was found that several of the bills share the same language. Using SuperFastMatch, an automated textual analysis program, it was found that there was an overlapping of text in several of the ultrasound bills and in some cases, entire passages were identical. Sometimes the wording is minutely changed, which causes the program to pass by those passages. However, a little human intervention reveals that the bills are identical except for those small differences. Here are two examples that were cited in the report:
MEDICAL EMERGENCY. A condition which, in reasonable medical judgment, so complicates the medical condition of the pregnant woman as to necessitate the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert her death or for which a delay will create serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including psychological or emotional conditions. No condition shall be deemed a medical emergency if based on a claim or diagnosis that the woman will engage in conduct which she intends to result in her death or in substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.
“Medical emergency” means a condition that, in reasonable medical judgment, so complicates the medical condition of the pregnant woman that it necessitates the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert her death or for which the delay will create serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including psychological or emotional conditions. No condition shall be deemed a medical emergency if based on a claim or diagnosis that the woman will engage in conduct which she intends to result in her death or in substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.
If this looks like boiler-plate language has been applied, that’s because it has. As reported by John Nichols in The Nation, the right-wing organization the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has assembled an entire catalog of model bills that are available to Republican legislators in a blatant effort to impose their right-wing agenda on the states. The model bills represent a wish list of the right-wing and they are hell-bent on making their wishes come true.
If you’re just finding out about ALEC, you should read Nichol’s groundbreaking report “ALEC exposed.” There is also a website that tracks ALEC’s activities, ALECexposed.org, but it was offline as of early Thursday morning.