Consider these scenarios.
- A woman shoots a warning bullet into ta wall or the ceiling during a confrontation with her abusive husband. No one is hurt, no one is killed. The woman’s defense is the “stand your ground” law. She was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in jail.
- A man sees someone carrying a bag of stolen radios. The man pursues the thief for a block and kills him. The man is charged with 2nd degree murder. His defense is the “stand your ground” law. The man is acquitted.
Both of these scenarios happened in Florida.
Here is the text of the applicable law:
Use of force in defense of person.—
A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:
(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony;
The woman in the first scenario is Marissa Alexander, 31 years old, a mother, and a victim of domestic abuse.
Reverend Al Sharpton explains the issues that comes with the Stand Your Ground Law within the context of Marissa Alexander’s case.
Marissa’s husband, Rico Gray, confirmed that he was abusive during a deposition in 2010.
“I’ve got 5 baby mamas and I put my hands on every last one of them except for one. I physically abused them; physically, emotionally … They never knew what I was thinking, What I might say … or what I might do.”
According to the Huffington Post, Marissa’s husband punched and choked her on several occasions over the course of a year.
CNN reports that this all began when her husband tried to strangle her because he had read cell phone text messages Marissa had sent to her ex- husband.
Marissa escaped and ran to the garage intending to drive away. However, she forgot her keys. That is when she got her gun and went back in the house. In response to a death threat from her husband, Marissa fired one shot, hitting a wall.
“I believe when he threatened to kill me, that’s what he was absolutely going to do,” she said. “That’s what he intended to do. Had I not discharged my weapon at that point, I would not be here.”
According to the Florida Times Union, a previous judge rejected the Stand Your Ground defense because going back in the house was not consistent with someone who is in fear for her safety.
In short, Marissa’s husband punched and choked her on several occasions within a year. He attempted to strangle her on the day in question. She escaped, but realized she forgot her keys. When she went back into the house to get them, her husband threatened to kill her.
Under those circumstances why would anyone think their life is in imminent danger. But, the previous judge’s rational hinged on the fact that she returned to the house to retrieve her keys.
Compare that with Greyston Garcia’s story. Garcia was acquitted of murder charges under the very same defense a judge and a jury rejected in Marissa Alexander’s case.
According to the Miami Herald, Garcia chased Pedro Roteta for over a block before stabbing him to death. Roteta was carrying a bag containing 3 stolen radios, and an unopened pocket knife. Since Garcia chased Roteta, it’s safe to conclude that Roteta wasn’t swinging the bag of radios at Garcia while running away from him. How does a reasonable person claim self defense, as Garcia did, when he was doing the chasing.
Even Jeb Bush, who signed the Stand Your Ground statute into law, recognized the intent of that legislation. When commenting within the context of the Trayvon Martin case, Bush made the following observation:
Stand your ground means stand your ground. It’s doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.
There is something wrong when the Stand Your Ground defense applies if a man is chasing another man, but does not apply when a women is abused and the man who abused her admits it.
The sad truth is Marissa Alexander’s story happens far too often in the United States. Melissa Harris Perry did a segment on the subject of battered women defending themselves. It is worth watching again.
There are severe problems with the stand your ground law in Florida. Chief among them is the notion that standing your ground means chasing someone who is behaving in a non threatening manner. More precisely, the manner by which stand your ground will be interpreted and applied is dependent on who you are.
When George Zimmerman claimed self-defense after chasing and killing Trayvon Martin, he was detained briefly and released. Based on the available information, Zimmerman persued Trayvon for the crime of being black and wearing a hoodie at the same time.
After the weeks of public outcry, through vigils and protests, the social media and the traditional media, Zimmerman was finally charged with second degree murder. There are understandable reasons that one might conclude racism was a factor in that case and racism plays a role when it comes to the inconsistent application of the “stand your ground rule”. I join with others who ask why didn’t the stand your ground law apply to Trayvon Martin?
Granted, this case has yet to reach a conclusion. The only thing we know is what it took to get an arrest.
Like George Zimmerman, Greyston Garcia chased someone before killing them, then claimed self defense. Garcia was acquitted of murder based on the notion that if one believes their life is in imminent danger they do not have the duty to flee. Both are male, both chased their victims and both claimed self defense.
Despite the fact that her husband admitted abusing her on several occasions, including the day Marissa Alexander shot into the ceiling, the judge concluded that she couldn’t have believed she was in imminent danger because after fleeing the premises she returned to get her keys. Despite the fact that Marissa Alexander’s husband threatened her life upon her return to their home, the judge opined that her behavior was inconsistent with a belief that her life could be in danger. Therefore, she cannot stand her ground. Like other victims of domestic abuse who defend themselves, Marissa Alexander will spend a very long time in jail for trying.
The underlying message in Florida is clear. Stand your ground is a license to kill someone who is young, male and black if they are wearing a hoodie while carrying ice tea and skittles. If you are a black women, you have the duty to flee if you believe your life is in imminent danger. If you’re carrying a bag of radios, be they stolen or not, someone can chase you for a block before killing you and claim they thought their life was in imminent danger because you were carrying radios that had the potential to cause them bodily harm.
Conversely, if you are in your car and ignore advice to stay there, you can shoot someone, then claim self defense. If someone utters a threat after trying to strangle you, and you shoot at a wall or the ceiling, that will get you 20 years in jail. That becomes more likely if you are a woman defending yourself from a man who admits that he abused you for a prolonged period of time.
This law needs to be repealed or there will be many more Trayvons and many more Marissas. This law needs to be repealed because it is an obscenity.
Image from News of the Restless
Read some of my other posts at Nuts and Dolts