Blacks benefit from Florida ‘Stand Your Ground’ law at disproportionate rate
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.
One hundred thirty three people in the state of Florida have used a “Stand Your Ground” defense. Of these claims, 73 were considered “justified” (55 percent), while 39 resulted in criminal convictions and 21 cases are still pending.
Forty four African Americans in the state of Florida have claimed a “Stand Your Ground” defense. Of these claims, 24 were considered “justified” (55 percent), while 11 resulted in convictions and nine cases are still pending.
Of the 76 white people who have used the defense, 40 were considered “justified” (less than 53 percent), while 25 were convicted and 11 cases are still pending.
Ten Hispanics have used the defense, seven of them successfully, according to the database, which included George Zimmerman as a “Stand Your Ground” defendant.
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” cases have resulted in 78 white victims against 40 black victims, including Martin, and 10 Hispanic victims.
“For a defense attorney, it (stand your ground) is an excellent tool. Even if your client is not found legal under stand your ground, it helps you flesh out the issues as the case proceeds to trial… It’s an opportunity to push forward with that position while also forcing the state to show their hand,” said defense attorney Chuck Hobbs, whose 20-year-old African-American client Earl Jackson was found not guilty of murder but was convicted on lesser charges after a 2009 gang shootout in a Tallahassee parking lot that left an innocent bystander dead.
Then-19-year-old African American Tony Hayward of Palm Beach County also benefited from the “Stand Your Ground” defense when he was acquitted in the shooting death of 22-year old Jyron Miles.
“Besides the shooter’s word and a grainy surveillance video, jurors had little to go on when deciding if Tony Hayward was defending his life when he shot and killed Jyron Miles, 22. Hayward, then 19, and his father were delivering newspapers when Miles appeared at about 3 a.m., according to newspaper reports. They said Miles aggressively demanded ‘is you straight?’ a phrase sometimes used to see if someone has drugs,” according to the Tampa Bay Times database. “The father and son said Miles then reached for what they thought was a gun, so the teen fired. The video did not show whether Miles had a gun, but police did not find one when they arrived…At his second trial in early 2011, Hayward was acquitted. His public defender argued that Hayward was standing his ground during the confrontation.”
The best known African American associated with Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is Marissa Alexander, who was prevented from invoking the law after firing a warning shot to protect herself from her abusive ex-husband. Alexander, who had no prior criminal record, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and her case has become an important cause for supporters of the law. Alexander was prosecuted by Angela Corey, the same state attorney who lost the Zimmerman case.