The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has initiated a probe into the controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws to determine if it harbors racial bias. “Stand Your Ground” made national headlines after George Zimmerman invoked the law’s protection after shooting and killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Sanford, Fl. authorities granted Zimmerman “Stand Your Ground” protection, refusing to arrest and charge him for more than a month after Martin’s death.
“Stand Your Ground” grants citizens’ the right to use deadly force if their lives are in imminent danger. It has been used in several controversial cases, including widower Sarah McKinley’s killing of an intruder in Oklahoma. The law has been adopted in 24 states and has support from the National Rifle Association. The commission is examining whether it is applied fairly to all races and ethnicities.
The Tampa Bay Times conducted a study of how “Stand Your Ground” has been applied in Florida. The newspaper found defendants invoking the law have been more successful in court when the victim is black. Seventy-three percent of defendants who killed a black person were not penalized compared to 59 percent in cases with white victims.
The Huffington Post reports:
The push for an investigation was led by Democratic Commissioner Michael Yaki.
“This is something the commission has not done in decades — a full-blown field investigation of an issue with potential civil rights ramifications,” Yaki told The Huffington Post, explaining that much of their work in recent years has focused instead on briefings and receiving testimony.
“We’re going to take our own cut at it, go down, dig through records at the district attorney, police level and other things, and start going through … to see whether or not, as some people suspect, that there is bias in the assertion or the denial of Stand Your Ground, depending on the race of the victim or the race of the person asserting the defense,” he said.
Gail Heriot, one of the independent members who voted against the investigation, said she believed the matter was simply too big for the agency’s staff to handle.
“I believe that what’s being proposed here is much, much too complicated for our commission to undertake,” Heriot said at the meeting. “This is a big issue, but there’s not much in the way of data.”
Todd Gaziano, a Republican commissioner who is also a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, proposed an amendment that would investigate whether state gun control laws hurt “minorities who live in high-crime neighborhoods” and may be unable to protect themselves because their “Second Amendment rights are restricted or abridged.”
The commission voted down that amendment in a 5-2 vote, with one abstention.
Last year, the commission also voted 5-3 to authorize staffers at the small federal agency, created through the Civil Rights Act of 1957, to investigate Stand Your Ground. The problem at that time, Yaki said, was that the group lacked both a staff director for the agency and the funds to move forward. Now, they have both.
Yaki estimated that the cost of the inquiry could total as much as $100,000.
“No study has attempted, to date, to review possible racial basis in the operation of Stand Your Ground laws in the post-police investigative stage in the administrative justice. … That’s why the budget is so high,” said Yaki during the meeting on Friday. “The kind of research we’re going to be doing is not simply that which is ordinarily reported just to the FBI or Department of Justice statistics. This is actually going to be going down into courtrooms, into certain jurisdictions.”
Chime in Clutchettes. Do you think “Stand Your Ground” is racially-biased?