By Pasang Lama
In 2005 Florida passed its explicit Stand Your Ground law,which gives an individual the right to use deadly force instead of retreating when facing a situation where they feel threatened. As many as 22 states following Florida have passed the law with the help of the American Legislative Council (ALEC).
Since the law was enacted gun deaths in Florida as well as other states with the law have increased. And its not only gun deaths that has increased but also the overall homicide rate compared to states that don’t have stand your ground laws.
The law itself has had many controversies over the years. Many critics predicted that the law could lead to racially motivated crimes and promote deadly escalations of arguments, both of which have happened. So therefore it goes to show that the Stand Your Ground laws have increased racial tension, because of the racial bias surrounding the law. African American Civil Rights organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) who are against the law fight to bring justice to those who have been a victim to the racial bias Stand Your Ground laws provide such as Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander.
Case Study: Trayvon Martin/ Marissa Alexander
On the night of February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, an unarmed African american teenager, Trayvon Martin who was returning from a nearby convenience store, was shot to death after an altercation with a neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, who had previous criminal records before the shooting. Zimmerman who was initially told by a 911 operator not to pursue Trayvon insisted on doing so leading to the altercation, and eventually Trayvon dead. The case made national headlines and many African Americans believed that it was a racially motivated crime. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights(USCCR) launched an investigation, into Stand Your Ground laws, regarding the controversy around the killing of Trayvon Martin.
The case was under even more scrutiny when Zimmerman was found not guilty due to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law as he claimed to have used. The verdicts decision sparked national outrage as people took to the streets and started protesting.
A survey done by The Pew Research Center, on the decision of the verdict, found that 39% were satisfied with the verdict versus 42% who were dissatisfied. What’s more interesting is that 86% of African Americans were dissatisfied versus 5% satisfied whereas 49% of whites were satisfied and only 30% of whom were dissatisfied at the verdicts decision. It wasn’t just how satisfied and dissatisfied someone was about the verdict but much more deeper as it shows that 60% of whites believed that the issue of race was getting more attention than it deserved compared to 13% of Africans Americans who also believed that. 78% of Africans Americans believed that the verdict’s decision raises important issues about race that need to be discussed compared to 28% of whites who also believe this.
In July of 2010 Marissa Alexander, an African American women from Jacksonville, Florida, fired warning shots to fend off her husband, Rico Gray, who was believed to be physically abusing her at the time and even threatening to kill her. No one was injured. Marissa who had just prematurely given birth 9 days prior to this incident did not have a criminal record or arrests.
Marissa unsuccessfully invoked the Stand Your Ground law and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The NAACP tweeted out this statement saying “Stand Your Ground laws are symptomatic racism in the criminal justice system”.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People NAACP is an African American Civil Rights organizations, formed in 1909. The NAACP’s main objective is “to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination”.
The NAACP with thousands of supporters and activists such as civil rights leaders Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson, marched and rallied in Sanford, Florida on march 31st to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. The NAACP also created a petition to the Department of Justice asking for federal charges, including civil rights charges, to be filed against George Zimmerman which reached over 1.5 million signatures. Roslyn M. Brock, chairman of the NAACP released this statement saying “ The support our petition has received shows the mindset of the American public, who are tired of a system of justice that allows for appalling verdicts like the one we saw on Saturday.”
In a testimony to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights regarding impact of “Stand Your Ground” laws Hilary O. Shelton, director to the NAACP’s Washington Bureau / Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy stated “The NAACP is staunchly opposed to “Stand Your Ground” laws,” and that “they are applied in a racially biased manner, and the bottom line is, as we saw in Sanford, FL, that they make it easier for people to murder other human beings and not face any legal consequence. As such eviscerating any deterrent to gun related homicides, and even providing a road map to getting out of jail scot-free.”
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a 40-year-old nonprofit organization that connects business community members with elected state lawmakers. According to their website, ALEC “works to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government and federalism at the state level.” While ALEC’s political membership is limited to state legislators there have been many former state legislators who are now U.S. senators, congressional representatives and state governors, two of the biggest names being U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
More than 98 percent of ALEC’s funding comes from big corporations but after Trayvon Martin it has lost many of its findings due to the tie with Stand Your Ground law. ALEC played a key role in expanding the Stand Your Ground law with the help of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Despite being scrutinized for the death of Trayvon Martin, Florida is still looking to expand the Stand Your Ground law calling it the “warning shot” bill, because Marissa Alexander was unsuccessful when she invoked the stand your ground law. The motive for this law is unclear but it will more likely expand immunity for violent conduct such as the present Stand Your Ground law.
The NAACP have developed a set of policy principles called “Trayvon’s Law” which would help prevent another tragedy like the killing of Trayvon Martin. The principles of the law are:
- Ending racial profiling;
- Repealing stand your ground type laws;
- Creating law enforcement accountability through effective police oversight;
- Improving training and best practices for community watch groups; and
- Mandating law enforcement data collection on homicide cases involving people of color.