Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It: Thoughts on “Stand Your Ground” Law

Editor’s Note: I’d like to welcome the newest writer for D Street Politics, Nicole Anzuoni. She’s a good friend from back in Boston, where she is about to graduate from Emmanuel College. She’ll be a regular writer for us, and will be posting every couple of weeks. And now we can say we have a woman “on staff” (she’s doing this for $free.99). Anyways, welcome Nicole!

By Nicole

When one thinks of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws and the high profile trial cases surrounding it, it seems as if the state has transformed the suggestion, “If you see something, say something” into “If you see something, shoot it. And if it’s black, shoot it twice.”

In 2005, Florida passed the “Stand Your Ground” law which justifies the use of deadly force if  “a person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.”

David Granlund

Anyone with a measurable IQ and a decent internet connection should be familiar with the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Martin, who was seventeen years old at the time and unarmed, was shot by the twenty-eight year old, George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was not arrested at the time of the shooting due to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, and was later, acquitted of all charges in July 2013. (Note: Zimmerman did employ self-defense in his case.)

No one wants to make the argument that DMX could have served more justice for Martin than Florida jurors but you have to wonder…

But jurors down in Florida are getting a little bit smarter—that is, at least if Michael Dunn’s conviction proves anything. On February 15, a Florida jury convicted Dunn of three charges of attempted second degree murder. Each charge carries a minimum twenty year sentence.

Bob Mack, Associated Press / February 15, 2014

Back on November 23, 2012, Dunn parked next to a Dodge Durango filled with teenagers in a gas station parking lot. Dunn apparently felt threatened by the “thug music” and asked the teenagers to lower the music. Thereafter, he fired ten shots into the SUV, ultimately killing the seventeen-year old, Jordan Davis. Interestingly enough, the verdict didn’t state whether the Durango’s stereo went up to 11.

There’s no doubt that music can be threatening. In Guantanamo Bay, blaring American pop music is actually used as a torture tactic for prisoners. Indeed, there is possibly someone right now getting waterboarded as Drake plays in the background. (It brings “waterworks” to a new meaning.) But I have to ask, does playing loud music really justify firing ten gunshots? (I guess that ultimately depends if the shots are fired at a radio playing Riff Raff.)

Hip-hop music might suggest violence but as Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic points out it’s  “actually not very different from the broader culture within which it resides.” I remember (although, I typically try to repress it as much as I can) when I used to be a huge My Chemical Romance fan. Paired nicely with red eye shadow and a clear lack of shame, their band shirts became a staple of my wardrobe and almost all I wore in middle school. Each shirt seemed to have some kind of gun or knife on it. Sure, I received stares but rock music with violent themes and American pop culture as a whole do not seem to receive the same type of critique that hip-hop does.

No weapons were found in the Davis’ Durango. And Dunn never mentioned the teenagers having any weapons to his fiancé, Rhonda Rouer, who was in the convenience store at the time of shooting. Calling the case “self-evident” may be a bit of an overstatement, but Dunn comparing himself to a rape victim definitely has me beat.

While Dunn will spend the rest of his life in prison, there’s the possibility that he wasn’t appropriately charged. While Dunn was charged with the attempted murder of three teenagers in that SUV, he was not charged with the murder of Davis due to discrepancies over the degree of murder. Initially it seemed weird for me to classify the case as first-degree murder. I mean what if Dunn really did act on what he thought was a potential threat? Five to ten minutes occurred before Dunn fired shots, there was enough time for him to premeditate the murder or arrive at a more peaceful solution like rolling up his windows and leaving the scene. Dunn made communication with boys in the car. He drove away from the scene without calling the police. But despite all that evidence and how it seems almost impossible to call this second-degree murder, discrepancies somehow exist.

There have been other “Stand Your Ground” cases that didn’t invoke white-black-violence but let’s approach race for a minute.

In 2012, Tampa Bay Times conducted a comprehensive study of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. After examining over two-hundred cases, it found that while black and white defendants were treated roughly the same, “people who killed a black person walked free 73 percent of the time, while those who killed a white person went free 59 percent of the time.”

The Society Pages further examined the racial disparities in “Stand Your Ground” laws as set forth in the graph below. This graph below “compares the likelihood of a favorable finding for the defendant in “Stand Your Ground” and non-“Stand Your Ground” cases [and also] consider[s] the races of the people involved.”

The Society Pages. Lisa Whade, PhD.

White people who kill black people are more likely to be found non-guilty, even in states without “Stand Your Ground” laws. Black people are far less likely to be found not-guilty.

These statistics don’t show that “Stand Your Ground” laws directly reinforce racial disparities in Florida jurisdiction. Consider, however, general American prison statistics where “blacks are incarnated six times the times of whites” and that “one in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001 [and] if current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime.”

These statistics don’t suggest that blacks commit more crimes than whites. Institutional racism is undeniable. As a black man, there’s roughly a 33% chance you will be imprisoned, most likely, by no fault of your own.

So with that in mind, it doesn’t seem out of line to say that a black man spends a great deal of his life asserting his own innocence. And what “Stand Your Ground” law does is distort the idea of a “reasonable person” and shift the burden of proof on the prosecutor. “Stand Your Ground” laws become less about a defendant owning up to his/her crime and more about the victim proving he/she did not invoke any harm or threat—once again, a declaration of innocence.

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