In a state now famous for its controversial Stand Your Ground legislation, Florida is under scrutiny over whether it discriminates over who is protected under the self defense law. A Tampa Bay Times article recently uncovered that those who killed black victims in “stand your ground” cases were more likely to be let off the hook than those who murdered white people.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that those who killed a black person under the self defense law were acquitted of charges in 73 percent of the cases. Those who killed a white person were let go 59 percent of the time. Seventy percent of all people claiming stand your ground defenses were allowed to walk.
Florida is not alone in its stand your ground law — it’s only one of 25 states in the nation that has passed the model legislation. This year, all eyes were on Florida in the case of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, who was shot by George Zimmerman, a Hispanic Neighborhood Watch volunteer in a Florida community, who claimed deadly force was applied in self defense.
While the Martin-Zimmerman case is by far the most well-known, it’s one of many situations in Florida where stand your ground was evoked as a defense. A recent compilation of similar cases were documented by the Tampa Bay Times, showing 200 cases since the law’s implementation in 2005.
Included in the list of cases are statistics relating to the role race plays — highlighting another controversy in the Martin-Zimmerman case, in which the black community stepped up to question whether Zimmerman would have been charged promptly had Martin been white.
A look at the statistics
The Times in-depth analysis did not find that white people who used the law for self defense did so at a higher rate than black people, with additional data showing that white people were convicted at the same rate as black people who used stand your ground as a defense.
In all, 66 percent of black people using stand your ground defences walked, compared to 61 percent of white people. The Times reports this is likely due to cases in which black people killed another black person.
The stand your ground law allows a person to use deadly force as a means for self defense, in any public setting, without the obligation to first attempt to flee the scene. The law applies to those who feel there is reasonable suspicion to believe an assailant is attempting to harm them.
In ‘Castle Doctrine’ states, where stand your ground is not implemented, there is an obligation to attempt to flee a potentially dangerous situation, before the use of deadly force outside of the home. Self defense can be implemented inside one’s home without the responsibility for retreat.
While the Florida data did draw speculation of a form of racism inside the justice system, a criminologist interviewed by the Tampa Bay Times indicated that the depiction of black people within the media could inadvertently influence proceedings in the judicial system.
“I don’t think judges or prosecutors or whoever works in the field of criminal justice is consciously saying black life is worth less than that of other ethnicities,” Criminologist Kareem Jordan told The Times. “But at the end of the day, it could be something that’s subconscious going on if you look at how the media depicts black life.”
Martin-Zimmerman case and racism
Zimmerman was not initially charged, a lack of action that caused widespread media attention and criticism among those in the black community who questioned why Zimmerman would presumably not be tried in court. He has since been charged with murder — his attorneys are using the stand your ground law to argue justification for his actions.
On May 16, Zimmerman’s defense team released medical records that showed he had suffered from two black eyes, a nose fracture and cuts to his head following the shooting incident that killed Martin, according to the Washington Times. Records from 911 calls are also expected to be used in his defense — and prosecution, as they indicate Zimmerman was chasing after Martin, an action the dispatcher asked Zimmerman to stop.
Those very same calls were the source of controversy recently, as three NBC employees were fired for editing what many felt unfairly portrayed Zimmerman as racist. Producers were let go for editing out the 911 dispatcher’s question relating to the race of the suspect Zimmerman was calling about — a question he answered with, “He’s black.” That portion of the tape was edited to following a comment made by Zimmerman, in which he said, “This guy looks like he‘s up to no good,” according to the Associated Press.