Firm and Legal News
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As many of you know, the 2016 Presidential Election has taken over the news cycle in the past few months. But before the news began focusing almost solely on the election, the media was focused on something else entirely: a seeming increase in the shooting of unarmed African Americans. In response, there have been a flurry of books written and documentaries made about racism in American and how, despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racism nonetheless permeates American society 52 years later.
In her book Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, Kelly Brown Douglas looks at the history of racism in America and particularly focuses on the recent passage of “Stand Your Ground” laws in various states, like Florida, where George Zimmerman used this law as a defense to killing Trayvon Martin. And while I do not go as far as Douglas to state that “Stand Your Ground” laws are inherently racist and justifications for “murderous violence against black bodies,” I do think that it is important to look at how we got to the passage of these laws and the actual effect the laws have had on people of color. (92).
The legal basis of “Stand Your Ground” laws is the Castle Doctrine, which is a legal doctrine that allows a person to use force in self-defense against an intruder in his or her own residence. In other words, the doctrine states that a man has a right to protect his “castle” with force, if necessary. And it is from this doctrine, that “Stand Your Ground” laws were derived. Further, Ohio has a “Stand Your Ground” self-defense applicable in both civil and criminal cases. Ohio Rev. Code § 2901.09 and § 2307.601. Both state that there is no duty to retreat and can use force against an intruder in self-defense, in defense of the property, or in defense of another. Id. However, the person must reasonably believe that the aggressor intends to cause bodily harm or death. In other words, the law does not permit a person to react with violent or fatal force if the aggressor is simply yelling and/or moving towards you in an aggressive manner. Various other states, including Florida, have adopted some version of this law, which, Douglas argues, has led to the disproportionate killing of people of color. And even though the law is supposed to prevent the killing of an unarmed aggressor from being justified in self-defense, the law does not always do so, as seen in the case of Trayvon Martin.
So what do we do?
Regardless of political stance, it is imperative that the legal community seriously look at the implications of “Stand Your Ground” laws for people of color. Whether or not enactment of “Stand Your Ground” was meant to be racist, the results arguably have been. Should the laws be repealed? I am not sure, but I do agree with Douglas that “Stand Your Ground” laws perpetuate a culture that is afraid of people of color and has created a fear so great that a white person’s first reaction to the perception of a person of color as an aggressor is to shoot. It is this fear and paranoia that every person of color must be violent that is the problem, not the law, not the second amendment, but fear. And yes, a person should be able to protect his or her property from an intruder without impunity. However, the result of such a right has been that force is met not with reasonable and proportionate force, but fatal force. And, more disturbingly, courts have held that that fatal force is justified. Therefore, the legal community must look at why and how “Stand Your Ground” has evolved into a justification for the use of fatal force against unarmed trespassers and aggressors. And, it is through that inquiry and that inquiry alone that we may even begin to understand how what began as simply as right to protect property became a successful defense to murder.
Kate A. Venable
Kate A. Venable is an attorney in Youngstown blogging about her firm and hot topics in legal news.