According to a new Quinnipiac University poll, 53 percent of Americans favor stand-your-ground self-defense laws. I don’t want to go into detail about the law just yet — we’ll get there further down in this post. Besides, I’ve written about it here, here, and here before today (yes, I have said a lot).
In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, as you can imagine, polling shows that there’s a huge split along racial lines. With 57 percent of whites and 37 percent of blacks supporting stand-your-ground laws which exist in one form or another in at least 38 states. One can conclude that at least for black folk, results of the poll shows that many black folk are of the opinion that there appears to be racial bias in the laws application.
And why wouldn’t they? After all, it took 44 days before Zimmerman was arrested for killing an unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin after admitting to doing so. Never mind that Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense for the shooting and killing of Martin was still being investigated by the Sanford, Florida Police Department. All that mattered to many was that an unarmed black teen was dead at the hands of a “white man” and there was no arrest. It was then and only then that we were introduced to Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute, which seemed racially biased given the circumstances. Yep, Zimmerman not being arrested for killing Trayvon Martin, just reeked with the smell of racism to many.
If you’ve been following this blog for the last 6 years, you’ll know that I’m, a black man. And, you’ll also know that as far as politics, I consider myself a progressive. Yes, I’m a bona fide racism-chasing progressive blogger and I’m not ashamed of it in the least. However, having said that, it may shock you to hear that I support stand-your-ground self-defense laws. Yes, even as polling shows the widest split among partisan lines with 75 percent of Republicans supporting such laws, with just 32 percent of Democrats supporting it as well. I believe that much of this disparity cab be attributed to a fundamental misunderstanding of the law. Much of which, id due in large part the racial polarization of the Zimmerman case.
In the court of public opinion, the law is characterized as a “shoot first ask questions later” law. This characterization has led many to believe that the law gives an individual a license to kill. What it overlooked and hardly mentioned, however, is what I deem to be the centerpiece of the law. That would be, the removal of the required “duty to retreat” so as to be justified in the use of deadly force to defend one’s self if attacked. So let’s take a look at how having to fulfill a “duty to retreat” versus not having to impacts the lives of individuals in the judicial system.
Lets say that a defendant is facing the risk of death or serious bodily injury even while being the recipient of as ass-whoopin as Zimmerman was (or rape or kidnapping or, in some states, robbery or some other crimes). And let’s say that the defendant…
- is not in his home or other property that he owns or his place of business,
- is in a place where he may lawfully be,
- is not engaged in the commission of such crime, and
- has not attacked the victim first or deliberately provoked the victim with the specific purpose of getting the victim to attack or threaten him.
In states that require a “duty to retreat”, the defendant isn’t legally allowed to use deadly force to defend one’s self. If the jury concludes that the defendant could’ve safely avoided the risk of death or serious bodily injury (or the other relevant crimes) by retreating. Plain and simple, the defendant will be convicted. Yes, end of story — go straight to jail and do not pass go. That said, let’s look at a case down in Houston, Texas.
This from ABC 13:
Shanequia Nicole McDonald, 24, was soft-spoken and even wept while speaking to reporters.
The confrontation happened Sunday night at a Gulf gas station on Cullen near Ward. Investigators say McDonald shot and killed Lewis Daniel after the two got into an argument as McDonald was filling her vehicle with gas. Police tell us Daniel made sexual advances toward her and continued to do so even though McDonald repeatedly told him to go away.
Eyewitnesses say they saw Daniel come at McDonald with a knife. After that you see on surveillance video that she went into her trunk and retrieved a rifle. She appeared to fire to the ground first, and then after Daniel took a swing at her, she apparently fired several more rounds at him. He died at the gas station.
“I just went to the gas station to get gas,” McDonald said. “I didn’t go out to hurt or harm anyone. I was just protecting myself when it happened.”
Watch the video below:
Well that may have been true of the victim, but clearly he wasn’t killed for playfully swinging a knife at Ms. McDonald because she refused his sexual advances. Forget the fact that the incident was caught on tape and that there are witnesses to the altercation. The next question, should she be arrested for committing a crime? If so, what crime? What, not avoiding the confrontation?
Okay, so I see the wheels turning in your head. Yes, and I know that at this very moment you’re thinking: But RiPPa, this is nothing like the Zimmerman case. No, she didn’t stalk her victim like Zimmerman did Trayvon Martin. True, but whether you like it or not, Zimmerman broke no laws when he got out of his vehicle or “followed” Trayvon Martin as some of you would like to think.
But hey, if you can find any law on the books that makes his actions illegal, please feel free to share it with me. To help you out, however, see Gibbs v. State, 789 So. 2d 443 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001). In it you’ll find that words alone do not constitute provocation. Yep, walking up to someone and asking, “What are you doing here?” In no way is legally seen as provoking an altercation in most states; and, certainly not in the state of Florida. Yep, and I’m willing to bet it isn’t anywhere else.
But beyond all of this, the bottom line is that stand-yoir-ground had nothing to do with the outcome of the Zimmerman trial. Hell, it was never invoked by the defense; and it’s not the reason why Zimmerman was acquitted. That said, to rally against and ask for a repeal to Florida’s stand-your-ground seems silly to me. I mean why do this when it had no impact on the outcome when it was a simple self-defense case to begin with?
I know it’s hard for many to accept, but most crimes (especially homicides) are intra-racial and not interracial. I’ve explained before why the assertion that stand-your-ground laws are racist are egregious (read here). Yes, according to FBI data. only 3 percent of all homicides in America are white-on-black. And in those instances, only 34 percent of them are found to be justified. As a father of four daughters, it is the circumstances surrounding the McDonald case above that makes it hard for me to go against my states stand-your-ground law.
The law as I’ve pointed out before has its roots in the protection of women outside of their homes. So, while I can understand why the parents of Trayvon Martin are dedicated to having that law repealed (as are the Dream Defenders who are occupying the Florida state capitol). I just wish someone would explain to them how the law actually works. Why? Because people in the 19 states which requires a “duty to retreat” are at a disadvantage. Don’t believe me? Just ask Shanequia McDonald if she would’ve liked having to fulfill that obligation while she faced a knife-wielding perv. But hey, maybe we should have a march or protest in the interest of justice for Lewis Daniel. After all, McDonald should’ve ran; and, she has yet to be arrested.
Watch the surveillance video below: