Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Look deeper at preconceptions about race and self-defense - Cathy Young

Link: http://www.newsday.com/opinion/columnists/cathy-young/young-look-deeper-at-conceptions-about-race-and-self-defense-1.5744782 (via shareaholic.com)

As proof of pervasive bias, some cite a June 2012 Tampa Bay Times report based on a study of cases involving self-defense claims since 2005, when Florida passed its "stand your ground law": 73 percent of defendants who killed blacks were cleared, compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white person. Yet, since most homicides were between people of the same race, this also suggests black defendants were more likely to win. Indeed, the study found that "black defendants went free 66 percent of the time in fatal cases compared to 61 percent for white defendants." In mixed-race cases, "four of the five blacks who killed a white went free; five of the six whites who killed a black went free."
Of course, one study in one state and a few anecdotes do not prove a national pattern. Critics point to an Urban Institute analysis of FBI statistics for 2005-10 which shows that firearm homicides are far more likely to be ruled justified when the shooter is white and the victim is black than vice versa. But without knowledge of the specific circumstances of these homicides, it's impossible to say how much of the disparity is due to bias.
One Florida case has been widely cited as a contrast to the Zimmerman verdict and a shocking injustice: the case of Marissa Alexander, a black woman said to be serving 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot to scare off her violent ex-husband. But that's not quite what happened. Alexander's "stand your ground" claim was rejected because, after the altercation with then-husband Rico Gray, she went to the garage, returned with a gun and fired a shot that Gray said narrowly missed his head (a claim backed by forensic evidence). Gray was indeed abusive, but Alexander was no innocent; she also assaulted him while out on bail for the shooting. Her 20-year sentence, required by a mandatory minimum for firearm offenses, was a travesty; her conviction was not.

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