Commentary: Deconstructing Biases Behind “Stand Your Ground”

The Florida law that let George Zimmerman off the hook for so long has a whole host of problems unrelated to Trayvon Martin.

Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which allows citizens to legally use deadly force against threats instead of trying to extricate themselves from a situation peacefully, has been the subject of a major national debate since the Trayvon Martin killing.
When 28-year-old George Zimmerman shot Martin at the end of February 2012, he was able to avoid jail by claiming he stood his ground against the 17-year-old Martin, who was holding only a bag of candy and a can of iced tea. In the ensuing months, whether Martin was actually a threat to Zimmerman has been called into question many times, but Stand Your Ground itself has been called into question just as much. Does the law promote violence? Is it biased? Today, a new study has answers to those questions and more, and the facts are not pretty.
According to a new analysis of Stand Your Ground by the Tampa Bay Times, not only is the law racially biased; it also allows people to get way with outright violent attacks that sometimes resemble murder. For instance, one of the more chilling revelations from the Times’ reporting is that the Stand Your Ground defense has worked in Florida even in cases when the victim has been shot in the back. This from Yahoo! News’ Liz Goodwin:
In 200 Florida cases where the "stand your ground" defense was invoked, 70 percent of defendants were let go, according to the Tampa Bay Times. These included cases where the defendant had shot someone in the back, or while the victim was lying down.
Besides allowing questionable behavior, Stand Your Ground also appears to mete out justice in a way that’s not blind toward race. Under Stand Your Ground, people who killed African-Americans went free in 73 percent of the cases, while people who killed whites went free just 59 percent of the time.
That all being said, however, Stand Your Ground has been a blessing for some African-Americans in Florida. “Overall, Black defendants went free 66 percent of the time in fatal cases compared to 61 percent for white defendants,” writes the Miami Herald, “a difference explained, in part, by the fact Blacks were more likely to kill another Black.”
“Let’s be clear,” Alfreda Coward, a Black Fort Lauderdale lawyer told the Herald, “This law was not designed for the protection of young Black males, but it’s benefiting them in certain cases.”
In other words, when Stand Your Ground isn’t allowing neighborhood watch members to shoot young Black men, it’s allowing young Black men to kill each other. A grosser law we can’t think of right now.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

BET National News - Keep up to date with breaking news stories from around the nation, including headlines from the hip hop and entertainment world. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter. 

(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking subscribe, I agree to receive newsletters, marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers), and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. For more information about our data practices, consult our Privacy Policy.