Stand Your Ground turning into defense for racism
Though most of the U.S. seems to have progressively moved forward with the Civil Rights era, which started several decades ago, the South always seems to fall behind. Every year, there seems to be another southern high school still fighting with the archaic problem of segregated proms, but in recent months another problem seems to be becoming a trend in Florida, a state law that seems fine on paper but in practice seems eerily reminiscent of old Jim Crow laws.
After another crime utilizing the Stand Your Ground defense, a Duval County court began proceedings against Michael Dunn, who said he killed Jordan Davis in November 2012. Dunn, a 47-year-old white man, said he shot Davis, a black teenager, when the two got into a confrontation about Davis’s loud music playing from his car while at a gas station.
According to a New York Times article, Assistant State Attorney John Guy, who helped prosecute George Zimmerman last summer, said Dunn fired 10 shots after he heard what he described to his fiancée as “thug music.” Guy said Davis was sitting in the car empty-handed with his door closed.
Dunn’s defense said Davis had a weapon, and told Dunn “you’re dead.” While investigators were unable to find the shotgun Dunn said he saw, a pocketknife was found in Davis’s clothing.
Many states have adopted the Stand Your Ground law, a law intended to promote self-defense especially when one is threatened at home, but according to NBC News, more than 20 states extended the law to apply to self-defense in dangerous situations in public areas. Half of these states, such as Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas, are in the former Jim Crow South.
If anything is learned from Florida courts in the past year, it is that courts rarely work in the favor of minorities when concerning the Stand Your Ground law.
Last summer, Zimmerman was acquitted in Central Florida after shooting Trayvon Martin, a black teenager whose death sparked national attention.
Around the same time, Marissa Alexander, a black mother who claimed a Stand Your Ground defense, was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison after she fired a gun at her abusive husband, threatening him without injuring him.
If this trial goes anything like previous Stand Your Ground cases, then Dunn may be acquitted like Zimmerman, and the Stand Your Ground law may once again be used not as a genuine self-defense explanation, but a legal defense angry white men claim after they get into altercations with the black community.
The Stand Your Ground law needs to be upheld by courts for the way it is intended — self-defense from a genuine threat, not as a legal scheme to support pre-existing prejudice. If the courts aren’t going to administer the law justly, the law should be restricted to apply only to home defense so as not to continue allowing excuses for public violence.
Depending on who is giving the numbers, Stand Your Ground has been said to both reduce crime rates as people can defend themselves, but also increase crime rates because the law is now advocating people defending themselves.
Unfortunately, most people in society are not trained enough to properly gauge a situation, assuming their actions are always just in the moment, but later coming up with excuses such as seeing a shotgun where there may have only been a pocketknife to build their self-defense claim.
Alex Rosenthal is a sophomore majoring in mass communications.