Defendants in Florida who employ the “stand your ground” defense are more successful when the victim is Black, according to a recent newspaper report.
According to a Tampa Bay Times analysis of almost 200 cases in which the defense was employed, 73 percent of those who killed a Black person ultimately faced no penalty, compared to 59 percent of those who killed a White.
The Times also found that the law was being applied in questionable ways, was being invoked much more frequently, even in misdemeanor cases, and had a significant success rate—about two-thirds of those who claimed the “stand your ground” defense have gone free.
“People often go free under ‘stand your ground’ in cases that seem to make a mockery of what lawmakers intended,” the Times’ reporters wrote. “One man killed two unarmed people and walked out of jail. Another shot a man as he lay on the ground. Others went free after shooting their victims in the back. In nearly a third of the cases the Times analyzed, defendants initiated the fight, shot an unarmed person or pursued their victim—and still went free.”
Under the law, a person may use force to defend themselves, without first trying to retreat, if they have a reasonable belief that they face a threat.
Whether a defendant is exonerated, however, also seems based on the winds of fate. The vagueness of the law yields disparate results, with outcomes depending on the judge, the area, the race of the victim and the defendant.
This malleability has caused Florida’s Stand Your Ground law to be applied in unintended ways, the Times report found, such as the case of a self-described "vampire" in Pinellas County, a Miami man arrested with a single marijuana cigarette, a Fort Myers homeowner who shot a bear and a West Palm Beach jogger who beat a Jack Russell terrier.
The law has also caused more residents to carry weapons. Since 2005, when the law was passed, the number of concealed weapons permits issued has tripled, increasing to 1.1 million.
“I think the law has an emboldening effect. All of a sudden, you're a tough guy and can be aggressive,'' George Kirkham, a professor emeritus at Florida State University who has worked as a police officer, told the Times.
This emboldening effect and the resulting rise in homicides, the malleability of the law and the discrimination it allows—particularly towards Blacks—are among many reasons social rights groups and activists have decried Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” principle.
Those concerns rose to nationwide awareness earlier this year in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teen, by George Zimmerman, a Hispanic neighborhood watch participant. Zimmerman was initially released on the basis of the “Stand Your Ground” law, but was later charged with second-degree murder. Zimmerman was recently returned to jail as a result of his bail being revoked following the disclosure that he had lied at his bail hearing.