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'Stand your ground' laws encourage racially charged violence

"Stand your ground" laws generally give individuals a license to use deadly force in response to a threat or...

Posted: Aug 5, 2018 12:04 AM
Updated: Aug 5, 2018 12:04 AM

"Stand your ground" laws generally give individuals a license to use deadly force in response to a threat or physical force without the fear of serving a prison sentence. While on the surface the laws give individuals the right to protect themselves, they can provide a literal get-out-of-jail pass for those who use them as legal justification for racially charged acts of violence.

In 2005, Florida was the first state to enact a "stand your ground" law, which allows people to fatally shoot others in public without attempting to escape if they feel threatened, all without fear of criminal prosecution. States across the country have passed their own versions of this law, but Florida's arguably goes the furthest to protect the shooter.

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Under Florida's "stand your ground" law, not only does an individual have "no duty to retreat" when faced with "imminent death or great bodily harm," but a recent change to the law made it even easier for defendants to get off by shifting the burden of proof to the state. In other words, the state must prove that the shooter was not acting in self-defense.

It should be no surprise, then, that "stand your ground" cases in Florida have come under the spotlight. Just last month, for instance, Michael Drejka, a white man, fatally shot Markeis McGlockton, an unarmed black man, in front of the victim's loved ones in a dispute over a handicapped parking space in Clearwater. Invoking the "stand your ground" law, the Pinellas County sheriff did not arrest Drejka -- claiming his hands were tied -- a decision that even some NRA lobbyists and Republican sponsors of the legislation refute.

Lawmakers have weighed in on the killing of McGlockton. Five Democratic members of Congress have asked the US Department of Justice to investigate the case. Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum has called for a state of emergency in Florida and a repeal of the law, given the concern parents have that they or their children risk being gunned down under the measure.

In a tweet, Gillum did not mince words, noting that the law "is being used by vigilantes to turn themselves into judge, jury and executioner."

While people may claim self-defense on a reasonably perceived threat, what is reasonable in a society where we've seen whites, harboring overt racism or implicit bias, perceive people of color as suspicious or criminals who must be terminated or, at the very least, apprehended?

As Gillum, who is black, said at a news conference, "We all know that stand your ground is not colorblind. If we're going to talk about it, we're going to have to talk about it fully." He continued, "We all know that based on the color of my skin I present a certain threat. A certain level of threat that might cause someone to have the power to snuff out my life or my children's lives."

These laws only lead to more bloodshed; they encourage more violence and produce more dead black and brown bodies. This, in a country where the right of lethal self-defense was intended for white-male property owners and denied to slaves, freedmen and Native Americans whose lands were stolen from under them."

The reality is that the laws' impact goes beyond letting those who shoot to kill walk free. They also give them the confidence to shoot to kill in the first place, regardless of whether the stand your ground defense holds up in court.

In the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, George Zimmerman was acquitted after invoking the stand your ground defense. Yet Michael David Dunn, who also tried to invoke stand your ground, was sentenced to life without parole for the 2012 murder of Jordan Davis, 17, outside a Jacksonville gas station in a dispute over loud music.

Some may point to these two examples and say the law is not racially biased because Dunn, a white man, was convicted of murdering Davis, a black teen. But to say this is to ignore a crucial point -- one that Lucia McBath, Davis' mother, made very clear. McBath, who is now a running for Congress in Georgia, argued that the law empowered Dunn to spray her son's car with bullets, as it contributes to the gun violence epidemic.

"People like Mr. Dunn feel empowered to use their gun instead of their voice to reason with others," McBath said in her 2013 testimony to the then-called subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

In fact, a 2015 study in the journal Social Science & Medicine found that stand your ground is rife with racial bias. According to the research, defendants in Florida were nearly twice as likely to be convicted in a case involving white victims than they were in cases with victims of color.

The racial disparities in justifiable homicides under stand your ground only support the notion that this law was designed to benefit white shooters and not gun owners of color. According to the Urban Institute, when both the shooter and victim are white, 11% of these cases are ruled justifiable. When both parties are black, the rate is 8%. However, when the shooter is white and the victim is black, the rate of justifiable homicide is 34%. But when the shooter is black and the victim is white, that rate is only 3%.

Further, those who claim stand your ground helps fight crime should take into account that in the decade after Florida enacted the law, murders increased 22%, with a 75% hike in justifiable homicides. Nationwide, states with stand your ground witnessed a 53% average increase in the justifiable homicide rate after passage of the law. Meanwhile, states that did not enact the law experienced an average decline of 5% in justifiable homicides during the same period, according to a 2013 study from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the National Urban League and VoteVets.org.

The numbers are hard to argue with: "Stand your ground" is a racially unjust law that leads to an increase in bloodshed. And with heartbreaking acts of gun violence making headlines on a regular basis, the last thing we need is a law that gives people a license to kill.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 331863

Reported Deaths: 7494
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22855279
Hinds22625437
Harrison19462326
Rankin14765286
Jackson14233251
Madison10658227
Lee10398178
Jones8713169
Forrest8164157
Lauderdale7528243
Lowndes6761150
Lamar665988
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Oktibbeha476898
Panola4719112
Marshall4648106
Warren4612125
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Monroe4243137
Union424379
Neshoba4179180
Lincoln4088115
Hancock402788
Leflore3562125
Pike3511111
Tate348988
Alcorn343174
Sunflower342293
Adams331987
Yazoo330573
Scott330175
Simpson313690
Copiah311467
Itawamba309580
Coahoma308285
Tippah298368
Prentiss292563
Covington280183
Marion278980
Leake277975
Wayne269942
Grenada265688
George259851
Newton256064
Tishomingo235769
Winston235084
Jasper225748
Attala220373
Chickasaw215960
Stone209137
Holmes194974
Clay191554
Tallahatchie181542
Clarke181480
Calhoun177332
Smith175334
Yalobusha169240
Walthall140448
Lawrence137026
Greene134934
Amite131843
Noxubee131135
Perry130838
Montgomery130644
Carroll124531
Webster116732
Jefferson Davis112934
Tunica110827
Benton104425
Claiborne104231
Kemper100329
Humphreys99033
Franklin85923
Quitman83519
Choctaw80919
Wilkinson73232
Jefferson69028
Sharkey51518
Issaquena1696
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 565510

Reported Deaths: 11468
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson828061584
Mobile44938853
Madison36534532
Tuscaloosa26589465
Shelby26409255
Montgomery25598623
Baldwin23319324
Lee16691179
Calhoun15030332
Morgan14877288
Etowah14563368
Marshall12723235
Houston11302292
Elmore10576217
St. Clair10449251
Limestone10420158
Cullman10198204
Lauderdale9883253
DeKalb9226191
Talladega8705187
Walker7545286
Autauga7388113
Jackson7216117
Blount7147139
Colbert6522142
Coffee5962131
Dale5224117
Russell463942
Chilton4603117
Covington4502125
Franklin439781
Tallapoosa4343156
Escambia414782
Chambers3813124
Dallas3674163
Clarke361562
Marion3354106
Pike323179
Lawrence3176101
Winston289672
Bibb276165
Geneva267383
Marengo257367
Barbour241860
Pickens238862
Butler233571
Hale230578
Fayette223863
Henry203345
Cherokee192347
Randolph192244
Monroe190241
Washington174539
Macon167252
Crenshaw163457
Clay161859
Cleburne158445
Lamar149138
Lowndes143854
Wilcox128431
Bullock125342
Conecuh117730
Coosa115229
Perry109628
Sumter107532
Greene95935
Choctaw63125
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