- Politics and Social Issues
Guns are the Tool, Stand Your Ground is the Excuse, Irrational Fear is the Reason
Guns combined with Stand your Ground laws give fearful Whites permission to kill Black men that they have been afraid of all their lives. These laws are the justification many of these frightened White men have been looking for and state Republican legislatures all over this nation have provide it to them.
Two high profile cases in the last couple of years put this into focus. First, there was George Zimmerman’s trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin and recently Michael Dunn’s case for murdering Jordan Davis. Dunn shot Davis, a young black man, because “he was afraid” after Dunn asked Davis to turn down his music. The jury acquitted Dunn of murder but somehow found him guilty of attempted murder of the three passengers in the car. Apparently, if Dunn had murdered the other three passengers in the car, he may have been acquitted of all charges.
What was Dunn’s excuse for shooting into the car, even as it was driving off? He said he could tell that “they were bad.” Point in fact, he was scared and angry, and his racial perceptions clouded his judgement.
During the Zimmerman trial, Prosecutor John Guy quotes Zimmerman calling Martin a, “‘F-----g punks,’ under his breath to a police dispatcher when he spotted 17-year-old black teenager Trayvon Martin.” Zimmerman obviously had a problem with Blacks, and Florida’s Stand your Ground law shielded him from prosecution. As Toure of the Time Magazine online states, “If Zimmerman had not been hopped up on stereotypes and vigilantism then maybe he would’ve waited for the police. Or not followed Trayvon.”
Why did Zimmerman stalk and kill Martin? Why did Dunn shoot up and kill Davis who’s only offense was playing music loudly? What extraordinary amounts of anger and fear must these men possess to kill people who were not a threat to them? Whatever their reason, Florida's Stand your Ground law gave them permission to shoot unarmed Black men.
And while some high-profile Whites are getting away with murder, Blacks are being incarcerated at record numbers. “1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.” Overall, Blacks are 30% more likely to face jail time than Whites who commit the same crime. Moreover, “Prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years, an analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found.”
Other studies have demonstrated that Blacks who are convicted of harming Whites face longer sentences than if they committed the same crime against a Black person. If a murder victim is White, a Black defendant is far more likely to receive a death sentence. These results suggest that our justice system values a White life more than a Black life.
The NAACP lists the disparity in incarceration on their site. Some findings include:
1. African Americans are 1 million of the 2.3 million prisoners in the U.S.
2. Blacks are imprisoned at six times the rate of whites.
3. One in six black men have been in prison since 2001.
The longer sentences and incarceration rates are a result, and perpetuation, of the “Black man as criminal” stereotype. And, this stereotype has social consequences such as Stand your Ground laws. The perpetuation of the fear of the Black man leads to Zimmerman and Dunn killing young Black men (among thousands of historical cases of Whites killing Blacks) and juries letting them get away with murder. And seeing Black men as criminals also leads to an unequal treatment of Black men by police and the justice system. If they are the criminals, then the police are justified in treating them harshly. (Welch)
President George H.W. Bush's Racist and Misleading Ad
Racial profiling laws
Jody Feder, legal council for the Congressional Research Service gives us a useful definition of racial profiling, “Racial profiling is the practice of targeting individuals for police or security detention based on their race or ethnicity in the belief that certain minority groups are more likely to engage in unlawful behavior.”
One of the most famous racial profiling laws is New York City’s “stop and frisk”. The Stop and Frisk laws were written to allow New York City police the right to stop any citizen, without probable cause, and search them. Other than being unconstitutional, the law leads to racial profiling, “The police are stopping hundreds of thousands of law abiding New Yorkers every year, and the vast majority are black and Latino.” Over 90% of the people being stopped were completely innocent of even minor infractions and Black and Latino residents were over 90% of those stopped. (NYCLU) Moreover, because many blacks have been repeatedly stopped and frisked, “The number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire city population of young black men.” (Ibid NYLCU)
Perceptions of Blacks as Criminals
Even though Whites commit more crime overall, there is a common perception that Blacks are the criminals of society. Research shows that the public associates being black with crime and that Blacks are more likely to be associated with violence. (Sigelman & Tuch, 1996) “A General Social Survey question in 1990 showed that 54% of Whites believe that Blacks are prone to violence. In 1991, the National Race Survey showed that a clear majority of both Whites and Blacks agreed with the statement “blacks are aggressive or violent” (Sniderman & Piazza, 1993).” Other studies on perceptions of Blacks as criminals include (Hurwitz & Peffley, 1998), (Chiricos, Welch, & Gertz, 2004; Welch, Chiricos, & Gertz, 2002), (Young, 1985, p. 475) among others and can be referenced at http://www.sagepub.com/gabbidonstudy/articles/Welch.pdf
Blacks are defined as criminals in our media. And because of a society that sees Blacks as criminals, they are treated differently in our justice system. Then there is the “blame the Black man” ploy that people such as Susan Smith, the real murderer, use to distract the gullible police and public into looking in the wrong direction for the criminal. “A total of 67 incidents of racial hoaxes between 1987 and 1996 were identified by Russell (1998) (Welch) When looking for a scapegoat for a crime White or other non-Blacks have committed, Black males are often implicated.
Not coincidentally, Trayvon Martin was painted as a criminal by the defense attorneys for George Zimmerman. In reality, Zimmerman’s has a fear and obsession with Black men and crime. For example, he called the police at least 46 times between 2004 and Martin’s shooting. Moreover, Zimmerman “was described by neighbors as a “mild-mannered neighbor who fixated on crime and focused on young, black males.”
Human reactions to perceived dangers, and what we perceive as dangerous, are often irrational. What Florida and other states that have passed Stand your Ground laws have done is assumed that people will react rationally when they are afraid. Thus, they allow people to carry guns in more and more places and give people the right to use deadly force when they “perceive” a threat. There is obviously a problem with this, for anyone can use the law when they feel threatened if they can make a good argument for their fear. “Humans have histories and emotions; we harbor unconscious biases and get triggered because of them. These things make us, well – human.” (Psychology Today)
Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald wrote about the knowledge of the history of White men getting away with killing Black men as the lens through which trials like the Michael Dunn case for the murder of Jordan Davis are filtered for many blacks. “This knowledge lent a certain tension and poignancy to the wait for a verdict last week in the trial stemming from the killing of Jordan Davis. Davis was the black kid shot dead by a white man, Michael Dunn, at a gas station in Jacksonville in November of 2012 after an argument over loud music. Dunn’s story was fishy from the beginning.” Dunn accused Davis of pointing a weapon at him and none was found. And why did Dunn shoot off a second round of shots when Davis attempted to drive off? “This case, like the case of Trayvon Martin, hinges on whether white fear legally outweighs and is therefore more legally defensible than black life.” Professor Angela Ards said of this decision, “ “The chilling social logic of this illogical legal verdict is that Dunn has been found guilty of missing the other black boys in the car, of failing to kill them all.”” (Miami Herald)
Whether irrational White fear of Black men is because of family, culture, the media or based on one’s passed experience of trauma, we should not make legal justifications for murder with Stand your Ground and other similar laws.