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“Repeal Stand-Your-Ground Laws”: We Shouldn’t Have To Wait For Another Death And Controversial Trial

The law is supposed to solve problems, not create them. Laws should provide as much clarity as possible, not expand the realms of ambiguity and subjectivity. Laws ought to bring about the practical results their promoters claim they’ll achieve. And at its best, the law can help us to live together more harmoniously.

By all these measures, “stand your ground” laws are a failure. These statutes make the already difficult task of jurors even harder. They aggravate mistrust across racial lines. They appear to increase, rather than decrease, crime.

We should not have had to go through another racially charged trial in Florida to learn all this. Writing online for The Post, Mark Berman offered a succinct account of the facts of the Michael Dunn case that has aroused so much legitimate passion.

“In November 2012, Michael Dunn shot 17-year-old Jordan Davis in a Jacksonville, Fla., gas station parking lot. Dunn had approached a Dodge Durango holding Davis and three other teenagers and asked them to turn down their music. . . . An argument developed, and Dunn fired 10 times at the vehicle, including multiple shots fired as it pulled away.

“Davis died almost immediately after he was hit. . . . Dunn, who was in town for a wedding, returned to his hotel and drove back home to Brevard County the following morning; he was arrested later that day.” Dunn said he saw a shotgun in the Durango, but there was no evidence of one.

Dunn was convicted on three counts of attempted second-degree murder, but the jury hung on the first-degree murder charge brought in connection with Davis’s death.

The verdict came seven months after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the Sanford, Fla., killing of Trayvon Martin in another case where the stand-your-ground law was at issue. Both Martin and Davis were black teenagers. Should it surprise anyone that many African Americans fear that the law does not protect young males of color when they find themselves in confrontations with whites?

We shouldn’t fault the Dunn jury, which seemed to struggle to reach a just outcome. Unlike Zimmerman, the 47-year-old Dunn was not acquitted and could spend the rest of his life in prison. The jury clearly saw no justification for his firing at a fleeing car. But the stand-your-ground law undoubtedly sowed confusion on the murder count.

Supporters of the law say it was technically not at issue in the case, but this overlooks the obvious role it played in the trial. Cory Strolla, Dunn’s lawyer, mentioned it in his closing argument: “His honor will further tell you,” Strolla said, “that if Michael Dunn was in a public place where he had a legal right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.” The judge, Russell L. Healey, was required to read the relevant stand-your-ground provisions to the jury.

Florida’s statute allows someone to use force if he or she “reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force.” The “reasonable belief” standard is not unique to stand-your-ground laws, but it opens a vast loophole for extreme subjectivity when it is applied in conjunction with them. This has created problems that even the law’s supporters should acknowledge.

A comprehensive 2012 examination of the law by the Tampa Bay Times concluded: “Seven years since it was passed, Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law is being invoked with unexpected frequency, in ways no one imagined, to free killers and violent attackers whose self-defense claims seem questionable at best.” The law, the Times reporters wrote, has “confused judges” and has “allowed drug dealers to avoid murder charges and gang members to walk free.”

A study by two Texas A&M economists found that such laws “do not deter burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault” but do “lead to a statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and non-negligent manslaughters.”

Stand-your-ground laws shift the balance of power on the streets to those who carry weapons. They thus provide an incentive for everyone to be armed, which is why the National Rifle Association has pressured legislatures in some two dozen states to enact them. We shouldn’t have to wait for another death and controversial trial to recognize that this is a poor reason for laws that cause such palpable harm. It’s time to repeal them.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 20, 2014

February 21, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Stand Your Ground Laws | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“2013, The Year In Whiteness”: Grievance Mongering Became An Uglier And Even More Lucrative Racket

Maybe it was the very fact of enjoying a wonderful Christmas with my family and friends, against the manufactured backlash to a nonexistent “War on Christmas,” that let me appreciate the perilous mental state of a small but noisy and paranoid swath of white America. Somehow over the holiday it became clear: 2013 was the year white grievance mongering became an uglier and even more lucrative racket.

Fox News has been peddling the phony “War on Christmas” for years, of course, but it took new Fox phenom Megyn Kelly to give it an explicitly racial cast. Not only did Kelly wage war against the menace of a black Santa – declaring nonsensically that the fictional character of Santa Claus “just is white” – but when she was called on it, she made herself out to be the victim of politically correct bullies, race-baiters and Fox haters. Suddenly it was clear: The imagined war on Christmas has become an equally farcical war on whiteness in the minds of those sad right-wing warriors.

The next week, “Duck Dynasty’s” Phil Robertson also became a martyr for the white right, after A&E briefly suspended him for holding forth on the nastiness of gay sex while insisting African Americans were happy in the Jim Crow South.

The new hysteria and hypocrisy was crystallized by one surreal fact: While paranoid white righties were fighting for their allegedly endangered right to celebrate Christmas (with their white Santa), they could watch a “Duck Dynasty” Christmas marathon on A&E, underscoring that there’s neither a war on Christmas nor on bigoted pseudo-Christians like Robertson. But there’s a lot of cash to be made, and fear to be stoked, by claiming both.

Kelly and Robertson and kindred spirits like Sarah Palin charted a bold new civil rights frontier in 2013: fighting for the right of white people to say false, stupid and bigoted things without facing criticism, let alone paying any real penalty. Palin has long made herself out to be a victim of mean liberals, but this year her anger-mongering took on a more explicitly racial tinge. She bashed Jeb Bush for casting aspersions on the fertility of white people — Bush did make an admittedly stupid remark about immigrants being “more fertile,” but if you thought that would get him in trouble with immigrant groups, not whites, you thought wrong – and later in the year declared her inviolable right to equate the federal deficit she wrongly blames on our first black president with “slavery.” She closed the year announcing she stands with Phil Robertson, even though she had to confess to Fox’s Greta Van Susteren that she hadn’t read the GQ interview that got him in minor temporary trouble.

2013 was also the year that George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of an unarmed black 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin, allegedly in self-defense, becoming a cultural hero to some of that same paranoid white right. If you have the misfortune of stumbling into the Twitter sewer that is TheRealGeorgeZ’s timeline, you’ll find an exaggerated sense of white grievance (please spare me the insistence that Zimmerman is Latino; he has seemed uninterested in identifying as such, at least publicly, and in any case his Latino heritage wouldn’t necessarily erase his whiteness).

TheRealGeorgeZ alternates between tweeting Bible verses and attacks on his “haters.” Of course, like Sarah Palin he’s a big Phil Robertson supporter, tweeting Dec. 20:

I guarantee everyone 1 thing, Phil Robertson is not losing sleep over getting to spend more time fishing, loving his family and The Lord.

— George Zimmerman (@TherealGeorgeZ) December 21, 2013

Robertson has come in for more criticism of his anti-gay remarks than his inanity on race, although it’s a little hard to take any of it seriously. Apparently the Robertson boys are yuppies dressing up as rednecks for profit, and A&E is laughing with them all the way to the bank. But the way the right has made Robertson a hero for his crude racial and homophobic remarks shows the way victimhood has become a crucial part of the white grievance industry.

Of course the stoking of white grievance is nothing new. It was at the heart of the GOP’s so-called Southern strategy, which always had a crucial Northern component: deliberately inflaming the anxieties of white working-class Southerners and Northern “ethnics” about racial and economic change. I have been someone who tried to see and point out the elements of those grievances that weren’t racial, but real: the genuine erosion of economic stability and opportunity for the white working and middle classes. (I wrote a book about it.) And early in 2013 I endured my own mini-backlash for suggesting, in “How to talk about white people,” that sometimes Democrats and social-justice advocates talk about race in ways that are unnecessarily divisive and punishing to whites.

I was honestly unprepared for the criticism, but I understand it better now. To suggest that there’s any way that the rhetoric of either “people of color” or racial liberals is to blame for white paranoia and racism seems like the essence of victim blaming. Of course that wasn’t my intent; I would argue that it stemmed from a very human impulse to try to feel you have some kind of control over forces you don’t. Sadly, or not, I realized this year that liberals have very little control over the way white people respond to racial change (though I will always argue that economic populism has more power to build cross-racial coalitions than the pro-Wall Street, multiracial neoliberalism practiced by too many Democrats over the last 20 years.)

I’m optimistic nonetheless. A little under a year ago I wrote an obituary for former New York Mayor Ed Koch, outlining how the formerly liberal Democrat rode a wave of white fear and grievance into Gracie Mansion in 1977. I couldn’t know it at the time, none of us did, but New York was about to elect its first Democratic mayor in 24 years, a staunch progressive on racial issues with an African American wife and two biracial children. An ad that tried to depict Bill de Blasio as an anti-police lefty who’d lead New York back to the crime and chaos of the ’70s and ’80s backfired; so did the ravings of Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, which did so much to help elect Koch.

De Blasio’s landslide win, among every racial and ethnic group, showed that white New Yorkers are ready to embrace the city’s multiracial future and tackle its lingering racial and class inequities. The mayor-elect’s influential “tale of two cities” is largely, though not exclusively, a tale of white and non-white New York. Red state demagogues can mock New York as a lonely blue island irrelevant to the rest of the country. But the city helped invent both liberalism and the backlash that tore it down. I’m going to bet that the de Blasio coalition has more influence, in the end, than Phil Robertson or George Zimmerman, Megyn Kelly or Sarah Palin. A noisy, paranoid white backlash against racial change may be inevitable, but it will also pass. That’s what scares them.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 31, 2013

January 1, 2014 Posted by | Bigotry, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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