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'Stand your ground' is only part of story

Story highlights

  • Ruben Navarrette: Much of talk on Trayvon Martin deals with "stand your ground" law
  • He says there are other issues worth exploring, including racial/ethnic profiling
  • Navarrette: Latinos are often left out of the discussion about race in America
  • He says the danger of political prosecutions is also worthy of consideration

The fact that President Barack Obama, Sen. John McCain and other elected officials have said that they believe Americans should re-evaluate "stand your ground" laws in response to the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin no doubt plays well with those who want strict gun laws.

But regardless of the merits of that argument, that discussion shouldn't prevent people from considering other issues Americans should be wrestling with in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman verdict.

Here are 10 such issues that deserve a hearing. We should be talking about:

• How the media handle, and often mishandle, the touchy topics of race and ethnicity. One minute, they are tiptoeing around the subject because they don't want to inflame tensions; the next, they are all thumbs, slapping inaccurate labels on people and framing stories in what is now an antiquated black-and-white paradigm.

• Why an individual who was not a trained law enforcement officer but instead a volunteer monitoring his surroundings for what he considered suspicious activity, either on his own or as part of an official neighborhood program, was carrying a loaded weapon and felt justified in using lethal force.

Ruben Navarrette

• Racial and ethnic profiling, but not just in the way that we typically discuss it: that is, white people who are in a position of authority allegedly making unfair and uninformed snap judgments about black people. Profiling is a fact of life, but it isn't only white people who do it, and it isn't only black people who have to suffer through it.

• Where Latinos fit into this storyline as well as what ground they occupy in the dominant narrative of a nation divided between whites and blacks. This is no small colony. We're talking about 52 million Latinos throughout the United States who represent 16.9% of the U.S. population. African-Americans account for 13.1%.

• Why the leaders of Hispanic advocacy groups and 501(c)(3) organizations that are supposed to give voice to the voiceless and speak up for Hispanics in their hour of need were silent during the trial and didn't come to Zimmerman's defense despite the fact the defendant was identified as Hispanic early on.

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Alberto Gonzales on race and the law

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• The newly strained relationship between Obama and those many in the African-American community who want stronger leadership from the president and federal criminal civil rights charges brought against Zimmerman and who consider Obama's reaction to the verdict to be weak and inadequate.

• Whether the portion of the African-American community that feels this way will be at all satisfied with the president's heartfelt remarks Friday detailing his experience with racial profiling and explaining how he identifies with Martin, if there are, in the end, no federal charges against Zimmerman.

• The fate of the awkward term "white Hispanic," which appears to have been concocted by the media and affixed to Zimmerman and which now probably deserves to be retired from public use since it made for endless trouble and stirred resentment from both whites and Hispanics.

• The dangers of political prosecutions, and what can go wrong when police and prosecutors initially decide that no criminal charges should be filed in a given case only to reverse themselves later after a public outcry and overcharge the defendant with a murder case they couldn't prove.

• And finally, whether -- in our obsession over race -- we're missing another part of the story. Could this be about testosterone -- what happens when two males square off, and neither wants to back down?

The sliding scales of self-defense

Politicians gravitate to volatile, and often unresolvable political issues, and that's why some in Washington naturally want to start a national conversation about "stand your ground" laws. From there, it's a short walk into the highly charged political topic of gun control with all its fund-raising possibilities. I get that.

Fine. Let's talk about those laws. But we can multitask. And there are other urgent issues to deal with -- the sort that are bubbling just under the surface as a result of the controversial outcome of the Zimmerman verdict.

In the final analysis, it may well be that "stand your ground" laws are too loosely written and need to be changed. But as you well know if you paid attention to this heart-wrenching trial and its troubling aftermath, that's not all that needs changing in our society.

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