Young, black and shot to death

‘Stand Your Ground’ encourages violence on streets, increases racial bias in courtrooms

On February 16, 2014

Trayvon Martin. Jonathan Ferrell. Renisha McBride. Jordan Davis.

It's not a list anyone would want to join. Martin, Ferrell, McBride and Davis are all dead - shot by strangers who said they were "menacing," "suspicious" and "up to no good."

In other words, they were black. 

Ferrell was 24 when he was shot 10 times by a white police officer last September as he sought help after crashing his car in a suburban North Carolina neighborhood. McBride, who was 19 years old, died in November after knocking on a stranger's door in Detroit. The homeowner, who was white, greeted her with a shotgun blast to the face. Both men are currently awaiting trial.

'Stand Your Ground' is a self-defense statute that was made infamous by Martin's death. It is employed in 22 states. It gives individuals the right to use deadly force to defend themselves in a dangerous situation. This right is being abused, however, by people who consider a black person to be a "dangerous situation."

A 2013 study that analyzed the FBI's data on homicide found that, compared to the 2.21 percent of white-on-white homicides that were deemed justifiable, 11.41 percent of white-on-black homicides were deemed justifiable. In Stand Your Ground states, that number rises to 16.85 percent.

That is, frankly, terrifying.

It is racism encapsulated in a percentage, one which demonstrates beyond all reasonable doubt that it is easier to get away with murder if you are white and your victim is black. It is an outright denial of racial equality and a resounding threat to black Americans.

On Feb. 15, the jury in the trial of Michael Dunn, a Florida man who shot

Davis, a black 17-year-old, could not reach a verdict on the charge of first-degree murder. A case that, arguably, would have been open and shut, deadlocked a jury for days because of the ambiguity of Stand Your Ground. The prosecution intends to retry the case. Dunn was convicted on three counts of attempted murder, which could lead to a 60-year prison sentence, as well as one charge of shooting or throwing a deadly missile, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Dunn approached Davis and his three teenage friends, who were also black, in a gas station parking lot in Jacksonville, Fla., and asked them to turn down their music, which Dunn later referred to as "thug music" and "rap crap" - terminology that suggests his motivation was rooted in racial confrontation and not self-defense.

After arguing and exchanging racial epithets and expletives, Dunn claimed he saw Davis reach for a shotgun. A weapon was never found - prosecutors argue that Dunn falsified the detail to bolster his case for self-defense. That single details allowed Dunn to shield himself with Stand Your Ground and avoid a murder charge.

The story eerily echoes the events surrounding Martin's death, which occurred less than two hours away from the Jacksonville gas station where Davis died. Martin was also 17 years old when the now-acquitted George Zimmerman shot him. Like Dunn, Zimmerman claimed self-defense in the shooting of the unarmed black teen, protecting himself with Stand Your Ground.

Crucially, the statute has no requirement to evade or retreat. The provision offers less stringent criteria for the authorization of deadly force than justifiable homicide laws, which require proof beyond all reasonable doubt that the victim's intent was to commit violence.

There are certainly situations in which violence is necessary and justifiable as a means of self-defense. In those cases, the legal protection of justifiable homicide laws is not just merited, but vital. But Stand Your Ground is not about protection. It's about violence. The provision allows for unchecked aggression and unneeded confrontation to go without retribution.

In Stand Your Ground jurisdictions, the burden of proof in homicide cases seems inexplicably shifted to the dead. The burden weighs even more heavily in cases when those shoulders are dark-skinned.

Stand Your Ground allowed the death of a 17-year-old, armed with only Skittles and iced tea, to go unpunished. It has permitted Dunn to avoid a guilty verdict after initiating a confrontation, pausing to load his weapon and shooting 10 bullets at unarmed teens as they fled.

It tells the young black citizens of this nation that they don't deserve the same protection that angry white men receive.

It forces us to ask the question: If Davis weren't black, would he still be breathing? Or at the very least, would Dunn have heard five guilty verdicts instead of four?



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