On Killing Grounds

The defense wins in the Trayvon Martin murder trial; it can happen in Detroit too.

So, now we know how to kill someone in cold blood and get away with it.

First, live in a state that has a “Stand Your Ground” law. Then, find a victim who is black, preferably a young male.

That’s essentially the lesson learned from the Florida trial of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted on first- and second-degree murder charges last week in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

“What the verdict says, to the astonishment of tens of millions of us, is that you can go looking for trouble in Florida, with a gun and a great deal of racial bias, and you can find that trouble, and you can act upon that trouble in a way that leaves a young man dead, and none of it guarantees that you will be convicted of a crime,” writes Andrew Cohen in The Atlantic.

But it could just as easily happen in Michigan. Thanks to the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and compliant Democrats — including former Gov. Jennifer Granholm — a similar law has been on the books here since 2006.

The spread of “Stand Your Ground” laws is chronicled in an article posted on the Web by Brendan Fischer, who works for the left-leaning nonprofit group Center for Media and Democracy.

Writes Fischer:

“As the Center for Media and Democracy (publishers of ALECexposed.org) uncovered, ALEC adopted Stand Your Ground as a ‘model’ for other states in early 2005, just months after the NRA pushed it through Florida’s legislature (with then-state legislator Marco Rubio voting in favor).

“The NRA boasted that its lobbyist’s presentation at a 2005 ALEC meeting ‘was well-received,’ and the corporations and state legislators on the Criminal Justice Task Force voted unanimously to approve the bill as an ALEC model, under the name the ‘Castle Doctrine Act.’ At the time, Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest seller of rifles, was the corporate co-chair of the task force. Since becoming an ALEC model, twenty-six states have passed laws that contain provisions identical or similar to the ALEC legislation. ALEC called the legislation one of its ‘successes.’ With this revelation, the spotlight turned on ALEC as never before, with the public soon becoming aware of ALEC’s role in advancing an array of reactionary bills, including legislation that makes it harder to vote, criminalizes immigrants, destroys unions, protects corporations from civil liability, thwarts environmental regulations, and cuts holes in the social safety net — all while the organization enjoys tax-exempt ‘charitable’ status.”

The only thing unusual about the killing of Trayvon Martin was the amount of media attention the incident received.

Most victims where Stand Your Ground has been invoked have not had the same level of press attention as the Martin case,” writes Fischer. “There is the case of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, for example, who was shot and killed in Florida after a disagreement with 46-year-old Michael Dunn, who thought Davis and his friends were playing their music too loud; Davis was black and Dunn was white, and Dunn plans to invoke Stand Your Ground at trial.

“And the disparities in how Stand Your Ground are applied become clear by looking at the case of Marissa Alexander, also in Florida,who was convicted of 20 years for firing a warning shot after being threatened by her husband, who has a history of domestic violence.”

In the killing of Martin, the issue of race is a mixed bag: Zimmerman’s father is white, his mother Peruvian. The big picture, though, is clear regarding the proliferation of Stand Your Ground laws.

According to a June 2012 study by researchers at Texas A&M University, “the rates of murder and non-negligent manslaughter increased by 8 percent in states with Stand Your Ground laws. That’s an additional 600 homicides per year in the states that have enacted such laws.”

That information comes from a PBS Frontline investigation into these laws. That report found that racism is undeniably a factor when it comes to judging guilt and innocence in murder trials, and becomes an even greater factor when Stand Your Ground Laws are involved.

John Roman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, analyzed FBI data at the request of Frontline. According to its report, “Roman … found that Stand Your Ground laws tend to track the existing racial disparities in homicide convictions across the U.S. — with one significant exception: Whites who kill blacks in Stand Your Ground states are far more likely to be found justified in their killings. In non-Stand Your Ground states, whites are 250 percent more likely to be found justified in killing a black person than a white person who kills another white person; in Stand Your Ground states, that number jumps to 354 percent.”

Those kinds of statistics are all too familiar to Ron Scott and other members of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality.

“The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality joins the many individuals and organizations here in Michigan, around the country and around the world, who are shocked, disappointed and appalled by the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin,” Scott said in a press release. “The unfortunate fallout of this case is that many young African-American men like Trayvon may be codified and profiled, and face even greater threats and endangerment as a result.”

Curt Guyette is the news editor atMetro Times. Send comments to [email protected]

This version of the story has been changed from the original.

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