Yesterday a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder in the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin. The decision was based on a law colloquially called “stand your ground” (SYG) which allows people to use proportionate force in the face of an attack without first trying to retreat or escape. More than 20 states have such laws.
At MetroTrends Blog, John Roman and Mitchell Downey report their analysis of 4,650 FBI records of homicides in which a person killed a stranger with a handgun. They conclude that stand your ground “tilts the odds in favor of the shooter.” In SYG states, 13.6 percent of homicides were ruled justifiable; in non-SYG states, only 7.2 percent were deemed such. This is strong evidence that rulings of justifiable homicide are more likely under stand your ground.
But which homicides?
The very kind decided in the Zimmerman trial. A finding of “justifiable homicide” is much more common in the case of a white-on-black killing than any other kind including a white and a black person. At PBS’s request, Roman compared the likelihood of a favorable finding for the defendant in SYG and non SYG cases, consider the races of the people involved. The data is clear, compared to white-on-white crimes: Stand your ground decreases the likelihood of conviction, but only when a white person is accused of killing a black person.
It’s simple: SYG laws increase the chances that a homicide will be considered justifiable because it gives the jurors more leeway to give defendants the benefit of the doubt. But, jurors will likely give that benefit of the doubt to certain kinds of defendants and not others. Stand your ground may or may not be a good law in theory, but in practice it increases racial bias in legal outcomes.
Crossposted from Sociological Images