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Justice Department Should Stand Its Ground with Stand Your Ground or ‘Castle’ Laws

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Guns and racism go hand-in-hand.  The Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws which the NRA has peddled into the books of at least twenty-four states are unconstitutional. They deprive the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of their victims by unevenly elevating the rights of one class of Americans over another. The Justice Department needs to lay siege to these so-called “castle” laws.

Fear of minorities by whites has been a big seller of guns, from the swearing in of a black President of the United States, to the scared little man who stalked and killed Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Pitting the races against one another has been a time-tested winner in the gun biz for sales.

The racists were having a field day with George Zimmerman’s  acquittal on Saturday.

“Wouldn’t it be amusing to seen an EPIC beatdown and mass arrest of negroes for acting like frenzied herd animals? As long as they destroy their own ‘hoods, I don’t care. Its when they cross into polite White society that they are going to be stopped in their tracks,” writes white supremacist Sun and Steel on their bulletin board at Stormfront.org. [1]

In the wake of the Zimmerman trial, Stand Your Ground is being seen as a rallying point for both white haters and closet racists alike.  The verdict, in effect, gives any white person who wants to use a weapon to challenge minorities in a place where they don’t think that they belong license to shoot first, ask questions later, as long as there aren’t any witnesses around to question the shooter’s account of how events progressed.

Stand Your Ground (SYG), or “castle” laws draw on the Castle Doctrine, the belief that no one should have to retreat from an attacker or invader in their home.   The problem is that most of these laws been written to take the principle outside of the “castle” home. In most states, SYG laws have established the concept that an armed person is justified in the use of deadly force without retreating from a perceived threat anywhere that they are, as long as they feel threatened.

The law has yet to receive a challenge before the Supreme Court (SCOTUS), but what is clear, in the way that most of these statutes are written, is that they create two classes of citizen: One empowered with a gun, and the license to use their fear, reasonable or not, and/or poor judgment to legally take the life of a citizen whose rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are subjugated to the armed citizen.

How do we have these castle laws in twenty-four states? Thank the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Dead Billionaire’s Club-fed, Grover Norquist-channeled  Libertarian legislative golden arches, making McLaws aimed in part at maintaining the power of the 1% right white supremacy that has been fighting social justice since the New Deal.  It’s a “model bill” that can be handed to any Teahadi in a state legislature. Grease generously with lobbying money from the NRA and the gun industry, and saturate with a little fear of NRA reprisals against state legislators who don’t vote for it, and you have the groundwork for the closet form of racial separatism that the law was intended to foster.

By 2010, the reports of justifiable homicides tripled in Florida.  Prosecutors and police alike are not big fans.

“Whether it’s trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn’t want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house,” Chief John Timoney told the New York Times, “you’re encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn’t be used.”[2]

The Trayvon Martin tragedy wasn’t an exception. Stand Your Ground was designed  to empower frightened whites and disempower  minorities. The Tampa Bay Times reports:

“A Tampa Bay Times analysis of nearly 200 cases — the first to examine the role of race in “stand your ground” — found that people who killed a black person walked free 73 percent of the time, while those who killed a white person went free 59 percent of the time.”[3]

Racial bias may not be hardwired into prosecutors so much as it is in jurors saturated in American life and culture. Under prior law, if a citizen shot another, it was as a last resort. There was no opportunity to flee. No way to get help. Imminent threat without recourse.  There had to be a credible threat as well. A gun. A knife. A baseball bat.

Under the castle laws, the fear-soaked judgment of a gun-toting citizen is given legal standing to protect the shooter. Just the shooter’s fear of violence is enough to justify killing another human being.

All laws also have unintended consequences, and precedent defined from the case law made around them. In the Zimmerman case, we have now added that the fear of taking a non-lethal beating by a craven stalker is justification for the use of deadly force.  The larger unintended consequence, that a minority of white Americans can use it to enforce their personal code of racial separatism with lethal force, legally, alone is cause for reviewing these laws as a violation of the Civil Rights Act in both letter and spirit.

If minorities are so intimidated by a few angry, gun-toting whites that they cannot safely travel through parts of any town without fear for their lives because they look “suspicious”, as Mr. Zimmerman’s case clearly demonstrated happens, then their freedom to travel, their freedom of association, and their civil rights are violated by these laws.

The state, in these SYG/Castle laws, is saying that the right to life of the apprehensively armed takes precedence over the right to life of the person being shot.   The state is abrogating the rights of the victims of castle killings and woundings without cause.

State SYG/Castle laws are unconstitutional. The weak-willed Mr. Holder and his Justice Department need to act. Failing that, the ACLU, NAACP, and other organizations that protect the Constitution and civil rights for all need to bring cases before the SCOTUS to invalidate these laws.

The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness apply to all of America’s citizens, not just a well-armed fearful few, backstopped by the gun industry and the Koch brothers.

My shiny two.

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About Brian Ross

Brian Ross is a writer, screenwriter, political satirist, documentarian and short filmmaker who blogs for Truth2Power, the Huffington Post, and the Daily KOS, among others.

6 comments on “Justice Department Should Stand Its Ground with Stand Your Ground or ‘Castle’ Laws

  1. thedrpete
    July 16, 2013

    The right to self-defense of one’s life, liberty, and property (from whence comes the pursuit of happiness) is unalienable and from the Creator or Nature’s God. The U.S. Constitution is designed to protect and defend collectively the rights each possess and may defend individually, no more, no less.

    People do what they do, and behaviors have consequences. People – young, old, men, women, boys, girls – choose, and each choice has consequences. Some choices are default with no conscious thinking, but those are still choices, and have consequences, good ones, bad ones, mixed ones, disastrous ones.

    Progressives/liberals believe they can and should remove consequences from choices and behaviors. The law of consequences is like the laws of physics and the laws of economics. Because progressives/liberals will them gone, doesn’t change reality.

    Personal responsibility isn’t a conservative idea or principle. It is reality. Choices you make determine whether you will be fat or skinny, whether you’ll become economically-independent or poor, whether you’ll be as healthy as possible, given your genetics, or obese, diabetic, emphysemic, and/or alcoholic.

    Why was Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida some 250 miles north of his home in Miami/Dade, Florida? Why was Trayvon Martin not in school? Why was Trayvon Martin walking across the gated community when he had no family living within 250 miles of it? Why did Trayvon Martin have no arrest record, even though in the last six months of his life he’d been once caught by police with illegal drugs and once caught with a large bag of stolen jewelry? Why did Trayvon Martin walk where he did after dark wearing a hoodie, though the uniform of hip-hop culture, a signal of trying to hide one’s identity to a resident or neighborhood-watch captain in that community? Choices and behaviors. Consequences. I know the answers to each of the above questions. Maybe you should as well. Reality versus nonrational feeling.

    • Brian Ross
      July 16, 2013

      Ah Dr. Pete. Once again, and I know this is going to kill you, but we agree. “The right to self-defense of one’s life, liberty, and property (from whence comes the pursuit of happiness) is unalienable” It’s “inalienable” but hey, but the Ph.D. in Whacko that you got out of the Cracker Jack box doesn’t include that class in spelling (The little red squiggles under the word don’t indicate that you wrote it “extra good.”) The problem is that that right applies to both the person doing the shooting and their victim.

      George Zimmerman got out of a car, in contravention to the 911 operator’s instruction. Mistake one. He stalked Trayvon Martin because a black kid in a hoodie in his neighborhood could be up to no good. Mistake two. He is guilty of manslaughter because he knew that his actions, armed, would have a high likelihood of death or injury occurring. Even the 911 operator got that, which is why she tried to get him to stand down.

      Mr. Martin was walking home. Unarmed. Not threatening a soul. It wouldn’t matter if he was a saint or a sinner. For the purposes of his last walk on Earth, he was doing nothing to illicit Mr. Zimmerman’s fearful, paranoid delusions.

      Mr. Zimmerman deprived Mr. Martin of his human and civil rights. Those “god given” things you speak of above. Your logic applies more to Mr. Martin than Mr. Zimmerman. If you were confronted by someone who didn’t like you being in their neighborhood, your disagreeable countenance withstanding, you still have a right to walk down a public access of any kind without being confronted, without being threatened, and certainly without being shot.

      Even if Mr. Martin engaged in the act of attacking his attacker, use of a gun to avoid a beating by an unarmed man is excessive force. If Mr. Martin had got the gun during a fight, and used it, it would have been excessive force. The old standard of the law still should apply. This SYG law is nothing more than an easy out for the police to let white vigilantes like Mr. Zimmerman walk. It deprives the equality under the law. It is unconstitutional, therefore. Everyone in the equation has those rights Peetie.

      • thedrpete
        July 16, 2013

        First, Mr. Ross, I agreed with America’s Founders in my analysis of natural law, when they wrote in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence “unalienable” rather than “inalienable”, two words with different meanings. I’ll ignore the “Cracker Box” snark.

        Second, your point about the like right of the so-called-by-you “victim” is a distinction without a difference. Each human being has a right to self-defense. No-nil-nada-zero-zip-zilch evidence, however, was presented at trial that Trayvon Martin ever acted in self-defense. Both physical evidence and numerous witnesses on the other hand showed that Mr. Zimmerman did.

        Mr. Zimmerman spoke with a non-emergency operator on more than one occasion, and according to actual unedited voice recordings and transcripts, he was never instructed to not get out of his car. Further, the operator had no authority to do so. There was no evidence presented at trial to indicate that the race of Mr. Martin played even a scintilla of role. There was zero evidence presented at trial to substantiate a charge of manslaughter. There was zip evidence presented at trial that Mr. Zimmerman was “fearful”, “paranoid”, or had “delusions”.

        Mr. Martin was walking after dark, wearing a hoodie, through a gated (so restricted) community some 250 miles from home or from any member of his family. Though the original ill-brought charge and case was for a state crime, the FBI was tasked by, I must presume, AG Holder to investigate whether a federal “civil rights” charge might later be brought. The FBI concluded and made public that it did not.

        The circumstances of the physical confrontation clearly indicate that your whole contention vis-à-vis “excessive force” by Mr. Zimmerman is bogus at best, disingenuous demagoguery more likely.

  2. Rob
    July 19, 2013

    SYG laws do not create two separate classes because owning a gun is not immutable. You CHOOSE to own a gun or not. But the Gun Control Act of 1968 does and is, on it’s face, grossly unconstitutional. But I digress.

    The narrative to date by critics of SYG laws continually divests Martin of any wrongdoing whatsoever. In countless diatribes stemming from this incident, Martin is universally portrayed as an angelic saint, full of promise, just coming home from a candy run, when accosted and gunned down by an evil racist George Zimmerman with a gun and a vendetta. Why don’t you show us some more baby pictures while you’re at it? We know none of that was true. The evidence and testimony clearly shows that HE was the only racist out in the rain that night, and HE was the only one who committed any crime. Had he conducted himself in a civilized, EQUAL fashion, none of this would be a story today. It is not illegal to follow someone for ANY reason, let alone misplaced suspicion; which isn’t applicable here because Z was essentially an authorized volunteer security official investigating an unknown individual as a result of numerous burglaries. It IS illegal, however, to jump on and assault someone for following you. Martin COULD have simply asked Z what he wanted and why he was following him. Martin COULD have simply kept going and dealt with the police when they arrived. Martin COULD have done a hundred things different that night and still been alive today, but no. He had to be thug. He had to be gangsta. He had to take it upon himself to hide and lay in wait to ambush the “creepy-ass cracka”, and when Z went by, feloniously assault him.

    I refuse to accept excuses for this any more. Always it seems, blacks acting like savages must be someone else’s fault, the blame always centering around something except the blacks themselves. Countless white people are victimized every year by these animals, yet never a media circus, never a word from the race hucksters, never a second look from the DOJ. Whites practically eat their own trying to create equality, yet blacks get a free ride for putting forth little effort at all towards actually BEING equal. Excuses will no longer be tolerated. We’re not going to be the bad guys in the lack of equality any more. The Martin case clearly indicts America’s gross double standard, and the blame for inequality is going to be laid at the feet of who’s REALLY to blame…..the unequal ones.

    • Brian Ross
      July 21, 2013

      Rob – Your premise is flawed. The immutability of gun ownership is not the issue. Gun ownership under SYG/castle law provides supremacy under law to one citizen over an unarmed citizen, regardless of color. That is a clear violation of the constitutional protections to life and liberty afforded to both parties in the moment at which all courts must evaluate the rights of citizens in conflict that brings them into the legal system. That it is, for all time, or beyond that moment, changeable, is a poor ploy.

      Beyond that, the narrative of the events that followed are very clear. Mr Zimmerman was clearly told to stand down, and, instead of following that instruction from the 911 operator and waiting for the police, took the law into his own hands and became an armed vigilante. It does not matter, after that, what Mr. Martin’s prior history with the law is. Actually, under the SYG/castle law, Mr. Martin, the recipient of violent aggression, would be entitled to beat Mr. Zimmerman to a pulp if need be to defend himself from an aggressor who clearly came armed and, from the perspective of Mr. Martin, could be perceived as intending him harm.

      Of course, in this case, no one from the pro-SYG camp makes much of a case for Mr. Martin defending himself because he was black, and the real crux of the issue, as you so aptly demonstrate here. Your remark about “blacks acting like savages” point out the real core issue that you and so many others demonstrate, which is that SYG is a tool of racists and racism, not justice.

  3. Brian
    September 11, 2013

    Just sad and selfish. Why do some people feel compeled to inflict their opinions as to how someone should live their lives. A person with no legs would be obligated to flee. Stupid. Selfish. Elitist.

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