This morning, the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, two unarmed African-American teenagers who were killed in Florida by men claiming they needed to defend themselves, testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. The hearing was about the role that “Stand Your Ground” laws played in the deaths of Martin and Davis. But Republicans on that committee stated that “Stand Your Ground” laws – which give immunity to a person who kills another when he or she feel his or her life is threatened – had nothing to do with those teens’ deaths, nor with their race.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said in his opening statement that criminal law enforcement is a states’ rights issue, and hence Congress has no jurisdiction presiding over a hearing that discusses laws like “Stand Your Ground.”
“It raises the question of, what is the purpose of this hearing?” asked Cruz. “It also raises the question of whether this hearing is part of a broader political agenda.”
That agenda, Cruz suggested, was about quelling free speech and blocking citizens’ constitutional rights to possess weapons.
Cruz also said that the hearing was being used by people who want to “enflame racial tensions.”
Said Cruz, “I thought it a remarkable statement that…no one could reasonablly believe that Stand Your Ground laws protect those in the African-American communities who are victims of violent crimes. I think that’s a remarkable statement on many, many fronts, including the fact that a great many African-Americans find themselves victims of violent crime, and have asserted this defense to defend themselves, defend their families, defend their children.”
One of the people who testified in the hearing was John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, who stated that Stand Your Ground laws were biased against white people. Said Lott, “Blacks, who are most likely to be victims of violent crime, simply have to defend themselves more often. If there is any evidence that Stand Your Ground laws are applied with bias, it is that their application has been applied with bias against whites, not blacks.”
You should read Lott’s testimony where he provides his logic for why he reached this conclusion.
Harvard professor Ronald Sullivan Jr., director of the Criminal Justice Institute, came to a different conclusion in his testimony, though, showing a clear bias in Stand Your Ground states when the shooter is white and the victim is black. From Sullivan’s testimony:
“In non-Stand Your Ground states, for example, whites are 250 percent more likely to prevail on a theory of justified homicide of a black person as compared to a white victim. By contrast, in Stand Your Ground states whites are 354 percent more likely to prevail when the victim is black.” (emphasis is mine)
What this meant in the trial for George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin: “Zimmerman’s acquittal was made possible because Florida’s Stand Your Ground and concealed weapons laws conspired to set the perfect background conditions for an acquittal,” said Sullivan. “To Zimmerman, Martin’s blackness served as a crude proxy for criminality. This is racial profiling in its purest and ugliest form. And, this ugly form of racial profiling led to the untimely and tragic death of an unarmed American child.”
Cruz later countered that the Zimmerman trial was not about Stand Your Ground nor about race. Said Cruz, “I recognize for the families, that you are simply mourning the loss of your son, but there are other players who are seeking to do a great deal more based on what happened that Florida night.”
But Davis’s mother Lucia McBath was not confused about what she was seeking to do at the hearing.
“These laws empowered [the killer’s] prejudiced beliefs and subsequent rage over my son’s own life, his liberty and pursuit of happiness,” said McBath. “There will be no sense made of any of it, unless I and the families of other victims speak out to assure this kind of predatory violence ends.”