Today in Madison, Wisconsin there was a rally with hoodie sweatshirts, the now-ubiquitous symbol for the loss of an innocent life to a warped sense of vigilante justice. But here it was not just about Trayvon Martin, the 17 year old killed by a community watchman in Florida. Here, we also honored the memory of Bo Morrison, a 20 year old killed by a man in Slinger, Wisconsin at the beginning of March.
Morrison had been at a party where some underage attendees were drinking. When the police broke it up kids ran in all directions. Morrison, trying to hide from the police, stepped onto the back porch of a nearby house. The owner of that house, Adam Kind, got his gun and unlocked the door to the porch when the police were only a block away, having been called by him to the party. When Morrison stepped out of the darkness and lifted his hand Kind shot and killed him. Nobody else was on the porch, so all we have is the homeowner’s words that he felt threatened. According to Wisconsin’s new Castle Doctrine law, that is all he needs as a defense. The law doesn’t require the homeowner to retreat if s/he can. Kind has not been arrested and the district attorney has indicated no charges will be filed against him. The law was only signed into law in December of last year.
Perhaps Kind felt threatened. Perhaps he will suffer the rest of his life in guilt for taking the life of a young man who was simply hiding from the police after running from a party, something thousands of youth have done. Perhaps he was itching to use his gun in self-defense after passage of the Castle Doctrine. We will never know. What we do know is that Wisconsin’s Castle Doctrine and Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws make it all too easy to shoot first and ask questions later. When Colorado passed a similar law back in 1985 they dubbed it the “Make My Day” law, a reference to the Clint Eastwood movie. It also implied a sense of vigilante justice–push me too far and I will kill you–“Go ahead, make my day.” That is the reality of what these laws are about. They aren’t designed to protect people. They are designed to kill people.
According to some recent Google research by Kali Akuno and Arlene Eisen at least 29 young African-Americans (28 men and 1 woman) were killed by police, security personnel, or self-appointed “keepers of the peace” since January 1 of this year. These are just the ones they were able to find with a quick Google search and they only looked at the first 65 of 712,000 pages. It also does not count every case of vigilante justice, non-police or security-related deaths, or other unreported ones. And these are just the legal killings of young blacks in three months in this country. That’s ten a month, two to three a week.
We cannot continue down this path. We cannot allow the lives of our youth to be extinguished so easily. We must make a stand for peace and justice before there is no peace and justice left. It appears likely that there will be an attempt to repeal the Castle Doctrine in Wisconsin, but the chances for success don’t appear the best right now with a Republican-controlled Assembly, Senate, and Governor. Even if the Governor is unseated in his recall election and the Senate control reverts to Democrats the Assembly will still be solidly in Republican control. Pressure needs to be put on supporters of the law to change their minds, hearts, and votes and that will likely not be enough either.
Maybe when a sixteen year old white kid dies at the hands of someone who feels threatened our legislators will take another look. Maybe when an old woman is shot by mistake as she enters her own child’s house. Maybe when too many lives have been lost.
Bo Morrison was one life too many to lose. For Bo’s sake, let’s repeal this law now.