Smile Politely

The morning aftershock

On the Sunday morning after hearing the “not-guilty” verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, many Illinois residents may have been asking themselves the same question:

Does Illinois have a “Stand Your Ground” Law?

John Roska, an attorney and writer whose weekly newspaper column, “Q&A: The Law,” runs in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Illinois Edition) and The News-Gazette, recently answered this question on the Illinois Legal Aid website: “Yes. Article 7 of the Illinois Criminal Code includes a law that is similar to Florida. It’s a ‘self-defense’ [law] that can defeat both criminal and civil liability,” Roska wrote in an article updated in April of last year.

He continued, describing how different levels or types of “force” were defined by Illinois law: “For any force to be ok for self-defense, you must ‘reasonably believe that such conduct is necessary.’ It’s not self-defense if you are over-sensitive, over-react, or overdo it. You must act reasonably.”


“To defend yourself or someone else, regular force is OK to defend against the ‘imminent use of unlawful force.’”

In these two abstract terms, “imminent” and “reasonable,” is the go-ahead to stalk someone who fits a stereotype. In these two arbitrary assessments, “imminent” and “reasonable,” is the implied right to shoot anyone with dark skin wearing a hoodie.

In this vague nomenclature of, “imminent” and “reasonable,” lies the green light to kill another human being.

Mad about the verdict?

Go ahead. Go to the social networking site of your choice and vent disdain into the ether. The responses from forgotten high school friends, strangers, and family will support or belie the tirade. Then it’ll be time to switch over to Bejeweled or Scrabble, and to get on with the day.


Click on the links below:

  1. Senator Mark Kirk
  2. Senator Dick Durbin

Write to these two men. Tell them about the cost of abstract, arbitrary, and vague wording in Illinois law. Tell them about how many students we have in our two cities walking around in hooded sweatshirts. Talk to them about how many different nationalities and skin colors our college culture openly supports.

Encourage your forgotten high school friends, strangers, and family members to write to those who represent our district — and across the state, for that matter — about Article 7, and the danger of ambiguity.

Perhaps, (G)od(s) forbid, when and if such a tragedy befalls our community, we can hang our heads with the knowledge that we tried to enact change, or we can look in the eyes of the bereaved fathers and mothers of the fallen, knowing that we made an effort to pull their loved one back from violence, back from destruction or injury. Then we can shake our collective finger at those still clinging to the archaic, fear-driven mores that take our children too early and say, “shame.”


  • We can genuinely learn to love one another.
  • Stop.
  • Introduce ourselves.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Stop.
  • Help the elderly couple load their wheelchair.
  • Pick up an extra sandwich for the guy with the cardboard sign.
  • Stop.
  • Return a smile.
  • Say, “Excuse me,” “Bless you,” “Good Morning,” even if it was your fault, even when a stranger sneezes, and even if it’s raining and cold that morning.
  • Stop.

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