Category Archives: crime

Stand Your Ground Increases Racial Bias in “Justifiable Homicide” Trials

Rally for Trayvon Martin at the University of Minnesota. Image courtesy of Fibonacci Blue on Flickr

Rally for Trayvon Martin at the University of Minnesota. Image courtesy of Fibonacci Blue on Flickr

 

By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, Ph. D.; originally published at Sociological Images

Today a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder. It is widely argued that Florida’s stand your ground statute, which was considered by the defense, and which Zimmerman previously studied in a criminal litigation course, was at play. The statute allows people to use proportionate force in the face of an attack without first trying to retreat or escape. More than 20 other states have such laws.

At MetroTrends, John Roman and Mitchell Downey report their analysis of 4,650 FBI records of homicides in which a person killed a stranger with a handgun. They conclude that stand your ground “tilts the odds in favor of the shooter.”  In SYG states, 13.6% of homicides were ruled justifiable; in non-SYG states, only 7.2% were deemed such.  This is strong evidence that rulings of justifiable homicide are more likely under stand your ground.

But which homicides?

Ones similar to the one decided in favor of George Zimmerman today.  A finding of “justifiable homicide” is much more common in the case of a white-on-black killing than any other kind including a white and a black person.  At PBS’s request, Roman compared the likelihood of a favorable finding for the defendant in SYG and non SYG cases, consider the races of the people involved.  The data is clear, compared to white-on-white crimes, stand your ground increases the likelihood of a not-guilty finding, but only when a person is accused of killing a black person.

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Notice, however, that white people who kill black people are far more likely to be found not-guilty even in states without SYG and black people who kill whites are less likely to be found not-guilty regardless of state law.

It’s simple: We are already biased in favor of the white defendant and against the black victim. Stand your ground laws give jurors more leeway to give defendants the benefit of the doubt.  This increase even further the chances that a white-on-black homicide will be considered justifiable because jurors will likely give that benefit of the doubt to certain kinds of defendants and not others. Stand your ground may or may not be a good law in theory but, in practice, it increases racial bias in legal outcomes.

It is contested whether stand your ground played a role in this case, Media Matters offersstrong evidence to suggest that it did. Cross-posted at Ms.PolicyMic, and Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter andFacebook.

Open Thread: Fruitvale Station

 

 

This is the true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who wakes up on the morning of December 31, 2008 and feels something in the air. Not sure what it is, he takes it as a sign to get a head start on his resolutions: being a better son to his mother, whose birthday falls on New Year’s Eve, being a better partner to his girlfriend, who he hasn’t been completely honest with as of late, and being a better father to T, their beautiful 4 year old daughter. He starts out well, but as the day goes on, he realizes that change is not going to come easy. He crosses paths with friends, family, and strangers, each exchange showing us that there is much more to Oscar than meets the eye. But it would be his final encounter of the day, with police officers at the Fruitvale BART station that would shake the Bay Area to its very core, and cause the entire nation to be witnesses to the story of Oscar Grant. IMDB

On That Serena Williams/Steubenville Comment

By Arturo R. García

Serena Williams. Image via imgace.com

Tuesday afternoon portions of a new Rolling Stone profile of tennis star Serena Williams went online, but one section in particular set off red flags and trigger warnings online.

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Open Thread: The Rush To Memeify Charles Ramsey

By Arturo R. García

As both Kat Chow at Code Switch and Slate’s Aisha Harris have pointed out, it did not take long for Charles Harris to join Antoine Dodson and Sweet Brown as the latest figure to be posted on many of our friends’ Facebook pages with notes like “Best. Interview. EVER.” or some variant of “HILAR.”

Like Dodson, what got Ramsey into this spotlight was being the right person at the right time and helping three women escape from a Cleveland home where they had allegedly been held captive for ten years. Three people have since been charged in connection to the crime. But what got peoples’ attention was his interview with a local station in which he described how he ran into one of the women, Amanda Berry:

There’s a lot to unpack in not just his account of not just his interactions with the suspect, but his statement that, “I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms.” (Not to mention the reporter’s cutting the interview at precisely that point.)

But that’s not what’s coming across in many people’s reactions to the story. Take, for instance, this comment I found on a friend’s thread:

I found this funny and I don’t think he’s a joke. It’s just cool the way he told the story. He was funny…not a joke.

And even as people are (justly) applauding Ramsey’s actions, authorities are already seeking to minimize his involvement. And the story of at least one of the kidnapping victims, Michelle Knight, is also getting far less attention than the other two.

So, this story is only just beginning to be told. But for now, let’s get your take on how Ramsey has been represented.

From Science Class To School-to-Prison? Criminalizing Black Girls

By Guest Contributor Sikivu Hutchinson; originally published at Feminist Wire

kiera wilmotHigh stakes test question: a female science student conducts an experiment with chemicals that explode in a classroom, causing no damage and no injuries.  Who gets to be the adventurous teenage genius scientist and who gets to be the criminal led away in handcuffs facing two felonies to juvenile hall? If you’re a white girl, check Box A; if you’re an intellectually curious black girl with good grades, check Box B.

When 16 year-old Kiera Wilmot was arrested and expelled from Bartow High School in Florida for a science experiment gone awry, it exemplified a long American-as-apple pie tradition of criminalizing black girls.  In many American classrooms black children are treated like ticking time bomb savages, shoved into special education classes, disproportionately suspended and expelled–then warehoused in opportunity schools, juvenile jails, and adult prisons.  Yet, while national discourse on the connection between school discipline and mass incarceration typically focuses on black males, black girls are suspended more than boys of every other ethnicity (except black males).  At a Georgia elementary school in 2012, a six-year-old African American girl was handcuffed by the police after throwing a tantrum in the principal’s office.[i]  Handcuffing disruptive black elementary school students is not uncommon.  It is perhaps the most extreme example of black children’s initiation into what has been characterized as the school-to-prison pipeline, or, more accurately, the cradle-to-grave pipeline.  Stereotypes about dysfunctional violent black children ensure that the myth of white children’s relative innocence is preserved.

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The Need To Grieve

By Guest Contributor Leigh Patel, cross-posted from Decolonizing Educational Research

I was on Mass Ave. and Boylston yesterday when the bombs exploded. You’ve heard more than enough to add the details of what it felt like to be there: panic, chaos, helping, screaming, running, falling, being helped up, mass confusion.

As I’ve been feeling the adrenaline pulse its half-life through my veins, I’ve been thinking steady on the need to grieve. How very important it is for us to stop and to share in moments of trauma and loss with each other. Many of us had the supreme luxury to do just that, and the grieving will continue. But I believe our collective need to grieve, to feel difficult feelings, may actually contain some answers to the questions roiling in our heads and bodies. The need to grieve and our lack of ability to grieve may have everything to do with the cycles of seemingly more frequent and deeper violence.

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