Last Monday, sadly, the big news was George Zimmerman being booked into jail once again. Fortunately, this time he wasn’t booked for shooting and killing yet another unarmed teenager. Instead, he was forced to surrender to authorities after having his bond revoked for lying to the court about his finances at his bond hearing. The fact that Zimmerman being forced to go straight to jail without yet another get out of jail free card being the lead story this week is disappointing.
Not that I’m sympathetic to people who shoot and kill unarmed black youth. But on the contrary, I figured the lead story in the media this week would be what Kelly Virella reported over at Dominion Of New York. She introduced us to what I think to be a significant study, which concludes that in the state of Florida, contrary to popular opinion, black folks have fared better within the state’s judicial system since the 2005 implementation of the now infamous “stand your ground” or “shoot to kill” law. One would think a such a story as covered by Kelly, would have made major headlines; but, I suppose such a revelation or finding isn’t as polarizing as the typical race-related story or incident the mainstream media craves. That is, with the exception of the good folks from the Tampa Bay Times, of course:
A Tampa Bay Times analysis of nearly 200 cases — the first to examine the role of race in “stand your ground” — found that people who killed a black person walked free 73 percent of the time, while those who killed a white person went free 59 percent of the time.
[…] The Times analysis found no obvious bias in how black defendants have been treated:
• Whites who invoked the law were charged at the same rate as blacks.
• Whites who went to trial were convicted at the same rate as blacks.
• In mixed-race cases involving fatalities, the outcomes were similar. Four of the five blacks who killed a white went free; five of the six whites who killed a black went free.
• Overall, black defendants went free 66 percent of the time in fatal cases compared to 61 percent for white defendants — a difference explained, in part, by the fact blacks were more likely to kill another black.
“Let’s be clear,” said Alfreda Coward, a black Fort Lauderdale lawyer whose clients are mostly black men. “This law was not designed for the protection of young black males, but it’s benefiting them in certain cases.”
The Times analysis does not prove that race caused the disparity between cases with black and white victims. Other factors may be at play.
The analysis, for example, found that black victims were more likely to be carrying a weapon when they were killed. They also were more likely than whites to be committing a crime, such as burglary, at the time.
Experts note that most cases have unique combinations of facts and circumstances that determine whether a person goes free or goes to prison. They caution against drawing conclusions on statistics alone.
Now, we have the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights launching an investigation into whether there’s a racial bias applied to the law which grants defendants the ability to use deadly force, without having the duty to retreat from a confrontation. According to the commission, there may be signs of bias:
Data compiled by the Wall Street Journal shows a near-doubling of justifiable homicides from 2005-2011 in states where SYG [Stand Your Ground] has passed. Moreover, their data shows that while white killers of black victims comprises only 3.1% of all homicides, such cross-racial killing constitute 15.6% of justifiable homicides.
A separate FBI study found that, “34% of cases involving a white shooter killing a black person were deemed as a justifiable homicide. Meanwhile, in similar situations, when the shooter was black and the victim was white, the homicide was ruled justifiable only 3.3% of the time.”
While I welcome the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ investigation and pending release of their finding about one year from now, we must be careful in our rush to judgement. It’s easy to look at those numbers above and arrive at the conclusion, that the laws application has be wrought with racial bias. But there are a couple things to consider when you spout the notion that when white folks kill black folks, under stand your ground, they’re somehow egregiously justified.
One would be, just as the Florida study points out above, at least in their state, black victims were more likely (than white victims) to be acting in the commission of a crime, or to be in possession of a weapon; and, let’s not forget that black folk are more likely to be killed by a black defendant in a “stand your ground” case. That last point is something to marinate on if somewhere in your head you develop the notion that white folks are killing black folks and getting away with it.
I mean, I don’t think a white person who kills a black person who attempts to rob, car-jack, or simply kick his ass for being white isn’t justified in bussin’ a cap in a brotha’s ass. Hell, I’m black and I don’t care if you’re black, white, or purple: If you run up on me with the intent to do me harm — which almost always happens in the commission of a crime — I reserve the right to use deadly force to defend and protect myself from serious injury or death. And, I’m kinda glad that the law would look past my race, and instead focus on the circumstances leading to my defense of self.
Sure, Trayvon Martin’s parents are mourning the loss of their son, and as such, they feel compelled to do something to ensure that he did not die in vain. I can understand and empathize with them working to repeal Florida’s stand your ground law; however, at the end of the day, Trayvon was not killed by Florida’s stand your ground law. As a matter of fact, without the law on the books, I’m of the belief that that though unfortunate, he would still be dead. Not because he was committing a crime or being in the wrong place at the wrong time; but simply because George Zimmerman had a gun at the time of their confrontation. And unlike Marissa Alexander, Zimmerman didn’t fire a warning shot as an act of self-defense. Fortunately for Marissa, her actions could have, but didn’t lead to the death of another individual, given the presence of two children when she pulled the trigger.
Look, there’s no argument from me on the history of racial bias when it comes to black folk and the judicial system. However, when it comes to justice, what matters more in my opinion, are the facts and circumstances surrounding the actions of a defendant, rather than the color of their skin, or if they’re male or female. At the end of the day, Marissa Alexander isn’t in jail for being black, any more than O.J. Simpson is. But, don’t tell that to Rep. Corine Brown (D-Fla) and the host of Alexander supporters who say otherwise; sadly, for them, facts do not matter.