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Marissa Alexander. Associated Press Marissa Alexander. Associated Press  

Blacks benefit from Florida ‘Stand Your Ground’ law at disproportionate rate

Photo of Patrick Howley
Patrick Howley
Political Reporter

African Americans benefit from Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law at a rate far out of proportion to their presence in the state’s population, despite an assertion by Attorney General Eric Holder that repealing “Stand Your Ground” would help African Americans.

Black Floridians have made about a third of the state’s total “Stand Your Ground” claims in homicide cases, a rate nearly double the black percentage of Florida’s population. The majority of those claims have been successful, a success rate that exceeds that for Florida whites.

Nonetheless, prominent African Americans including Holder and “Ebony and Ivory” singer Stevie Wonder, who has vowed not to perform in the Sunshine State until the law is revoked, have made “Stand Your Ground” a central part of the Trayvon Martin controversy.

Holder, who was pressured by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other progressive groups to open a civil rights case against acquitted neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Martin, criticized Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law in a speech Tuesday before the NAACP.

The law was not invoked by Zimmerman’s defense team but was included in instructions to the jury.

“We must confront the underlying attitudes, the mistaken beliefs and the unfortunate stereotypes that serve too often as the basis for police action and private judgments. Separate and apart from the case that has drawn the nation’s attention, it’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhood,” Holder said to applause in his speech before the NAACP Tuesday.

“These laws try to fix something that was never broken. There has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if — and the ‘if’ is important — if no safe retreat is available. But we must examine laws that take this further by eliminating the common-sense and age-old requirement that people who feel threatened have a duty to retreat, outside their home, if they can do so safely. By allowing and perhaps encouraging violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety,” Holder said.

“The list of resulting tragedies is long and, unfortunately, has victimized too many who are innocent. It is our collective obligation; we must stand OUR ground to ensure — (cheers, applause, music) — we must stand our ground to ensure that our laws reduce violence, and take a hard look at laws that contribute to more violence than they prevent,” Holder said.

But approximately one third of Florida “Stand Your Ground” claims in fatal cases have been made by black defendants, and they have used the defense successfully 55 percent of the time, at the same rate as the population at large and at a higher rate than white defendants, according to a Daily Caller analysis of a database maintained by the Tampa Bay Times.  Additionally, the majority of victims in Florida “Stand Your Ground” cases have been white.

African Americans used “Stand Your Ground” defenses at nearly twice the rate of their presence in the Florida population, which was listed at 16.6 percent in 2012.