Friday, July 19, 2013

The problem with "Stand Your Ground" may have nothing to do with race at all...

This is the second part of my two-fer related to Stand Your Ground. I'm not a lawyer, just a gal who studied History and Journalism, likes to write and tweet and serve as the occasional pot-stirrer...among other things.  Alas, I'm going to lay this out as I see it. You can feel free to agree or disagree. If you're a legal expert, feel free to chime in and give us your thoughts. This is not legal advice, it's my opinion.

If you haven't read Florida's Statutes on self-defense, you can find them by clicking on the link below to read my previous post.

Now, about Stand Your Ground, which has been targeted since the senseless, tragic death of young Trayvon Martin. What is argued to be the biggest problems with it?
  1. The "no duty to retreat" when a person has an opportunity to do so safely. 
  2. It's racially biased in favor of whites who invoke it and against blacks who do the same. 
Okay so let's address the first item. If you read SYG carefully, section (3) seems to be the problem as it pretty much defines Stand Your Ground. This section allows a person to use deadly force without a duty to retreat. In states with no SYG law, an individual who uses deadly force in self-defense, but who had an opportunity to retreat and chose not to, can be convicted. In Florida, that would not happen, so long as the force was deemed justifiable. SYG was created to prevent the conviction of law abiding individuals who use deadly force in places they have a "right to be" when they reasonably believe their lives are in danger. Remember, with SYG, an individual invoking it, still needs to prove that as as they would in any other self-defense case. The difference here, again is the issue of retreat.

The "no duty to retreat" is my only problem with SYG, as I believe if we have a chance to walk or run away safely, I think we should do it. Why? First, it can further endanger our safety if we choose to confront the other person. Suppose you stand your ground and wind up seriously wounded or even dead or someone around you winds up the same? You're going to feel pretty bad about that, unless you're dead that is and you won't feel a thing. Second, killing or seriously maiming another person can leave lasting effects psychologically. Who wants to live with that?  When you choose to stand your ground, and by that I mean when you choose to confront rather than walk away safely (if that opportunity exists), then you change the rules of the game. Are you willing to take responsibility for what happens?

Remember...every action provokes a reaction.

Yes I believe we should have the right to defend ourselves but when we can think clearly I think we should. I do not think it is a sign of weakness to choose to walk away from a confrontation and whoever tells you that is a fool. I think we should be encouraging people to use their heads and get out if they can. SYG would appear, on the surface, to encourage some people to "duke it out" in a violent conflict rather than take a more responsible approach. In my opinion, it is possible for a person to incite conflict knowing they can lean on Stand Your Ground. I'm not saying it has happened or it will happen, just that it could. In my opinion, the question of Stand Your Ground comes down to one thing:  To retreat or not to retreat?

Since so many people fear Stand Your Ground because they believe it will give aggressors a green light to provoke conflicts, then lean on the law if something happens, I propose a solution, which actually would be applicable to all self-defense statutes, not just SYG. In a recent post, titled Final Thoughts on the Zimmerman Verdict, I suggested that we be more critical of an individual's ability to invoke self defense when he or she is the aggressor. Section 776.041 of the Florida Statute addresses that the justification of use of force does not pertain to an individual who provokes the use of force against himself or herself however it also states it is allowed if "such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant."

So...if I read this right, a person can provoke a fight and use deadly force but only if it gets out of hand to the point where they can't retreat and the person they picked the fight with is in a position to do great bodily harm or kill them. By this logic, a person inciting conflict could in fact use deadly force and claim self-defense. Yes, it would have to be justifiable but...should it be justified if you started it in the first place?  Maybe we should get rid of Stand Your Ground and change this law so that if one who uses deadly force is indeed proved to be the aggressor, they may lose the right to invoke a claim of self-defense. I've said it before, I really do think that would make a difference because it just might make people think twice before engaging in a physical confrontation that could very well be avoided completely.

The second part of this post is about the race issue. We're hearing from everyone from the President on down that Stand Your Ground is racially biased. Now, I took the time to run the numbers based on the Tampa Bay Times Stand Your Ground database. Below you will find how SYG breaks down in Florida when it comes to blacks and whites. The results may surprise you. I know it did me.

First, we have the breakdown of fatal vs. non fatal so you know where I got the numbers from. I will not include the pending cases in my calculations but will list them here for you.

235 total cases 2005-2013. This includes all races and genders
211 cases fatal/non-fatal decided involving blacks & whites (66 blacks = 31%, 125 whites = 59%)  

Fatal Cases:
Convictions: 39 (11 black, 25 white)
Justified: 73 (24 black, 40 white)
Pending: 21 (9 black, 11 white)

Non-Fatal Cases:
Convictions: 29 (9 black, 18 white)
Justified: 70 (22 black, 42 white)
Pending: 15 (7 black, 5 white)

68 convictions (20 black = 29.4%, 43 white = 63.3%) 
143 justified (46 black = 32%, 82 white = 57%)

Of the 66 blacks charged, 31% were convicted while 69% were ruled justified.
Of 125 whites charged, 34% were convicted while 66% were ruled justified.

What does this mean?

The percentage of blacks and whites convicted and acquitted is nearly the same. In fact, while the number of whites acquitted is higher, the percentage of blacks acquitted is higher. The convictions and acquittals of individuals invoking Stand Your Ground is near even between blacks and whites.

In the end, the numbers show Stand Your Ground is not racially biased for or against the individuals invoking it based on race. The question of Stand Your Ground now comes down to one thing and one thing only, no duty to retreat. If you take that out, it becomes just another standard self-defense statute. No duty to retreat was designed not to kill young black men like Trayvon Martin, but to protect all law-abiding Floridians from conviction in true cases of justifiable self-defense. However and perhaps understandably so, SYG has become a target because people need something to blame in an effort to make sense of this terrible tragedy, especially when the man responsible for it it is now free. The reality is no matter how hard we try, we can't make sense of it, we just can't. And sadly, we won't.

Everyone's talking about change. Okay fine, if we're going to make change, let's attack the real problem at the heart of our anger. Stand Your Ground for all its faults, isn't it, at least not in this case.


  1. I disagree with this. The laws can't be about our feelings, ultimately, they have to be about what is right and just. Are you considered to be the aggressor if you confront someone breaking into your house, or setting fire to your garage? If it gets out of hand, then would you be tried if the criminal ends up getting killed? Do I have to flee if I walk in and find someone about to rape my daughter? Of course, any sane and rational person doesn't want to kill someone, much like I don't want to use my fire extinguisher, or my first aid kit. The current administration doesn't want these laws on the books, as they promote gun ownership. I think their position on anyone else having guns is pretty clear (except Holder, I think he wants all of the cartels and gangs to have them to make his case for law abiding people to not have them e.g. Fast and Furious). Thank you for providing the link to the statistics, I fully expected them to be a lot more uneven than they really are, and I think they are proof positive that these laws are not about race.

  2. Anonymous7/21/2013

    My discomfort with a "duty to retreat" clause is that it reminds me of the "duty to not have sex" assumption in 'sensible abortion laws'."Gee, abortions kill, therefore they are bad, and no one would need to die if women just didn't go around having sex !" Yeah, right, THAT's gonna work. I'm sure there are plenty of times when someone can safely retreat from a situation, but defining that as the means that must always be used, unless you are hopelessly cornered implies an extreme limit on what people can reasonably do. Where to draw the line as 'reasonable' becomes a difficult thing, frequently affected by the specific circumstances. So there are no 'simple' answers.