Category Archives: legal issues

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.

Injustice For All: Conservative Justices Takes Aim At POC Voters

By Arturo R. García

It took less than two hours for Texas lawmakers to prove the Supreme Court made a mistake on Tuesday.

It’s also important to emphasize that it was Texas lawmakers who pushed to become the first to enact a voter identification law after the high court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

“There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act. The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the 5-4 majority decision, which broke down along party lines. So the majority’s argument was that the VRA worked too well to be allowed to continue, despite being renewed by an overwhelming margin just seven years ago, for a 25-year extension.

“Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA with great care and seriousness. The same cannot be said of the Court’s opinion today,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the dissenting opinion. “The Court makes no genuine attempt to engage with the massive legislative record that Congress assembled. Instead, it relies on increases in voter registration and turnout as if that were the whole story.”
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The Hippocratic Oath Doesn’t Apply To Undocumented Immigrants

By Andrea Plaid

hospital sign

Even as the Drop The I-Word campaign and their partners celebrate the good news about the Los Angeles Times and the Denver Post dropping the i-word, US hospitals are quietly dropping off undocumented immigrants who need life-saving long-term health care in the countries they emigrated from in order to keep down costs.

According to both NPR and Huffington Post, these healthcare facilities have sent about 600 people back under the system of “medical repatriation” in the last five years. Under this, the hospitals put the stabilized, and usually unconscious, patients on a chartered international flights–which the facilities are willing to pay for–back to their former home countries.

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Voices: RIP Trayvon Martin, One Year Later

It rained in Sanford, Fla., on Tuesday, just like it did exactly a year ago when Trayvon Martin died there.

The shooting death of an unarmed black 17-year-old at the hands of a part-white, part-Peruvian neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community catapulted the central Florida city into headlines around the world and launched heated discussions about race and guns and Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

George Zimmerman, 29, faces second-degree murder charges in the case after invoking that law, which allows the use of deadly force in some life-threatening situations.

Despite the damp conditions Tuesday, a crowd amassed outside Sanford’s Goldsboro Welcome Center and the Goldsboro Historical Museum by midmorning. Museum curator Francis Oliver said she opened the welcome center a few hours early to accommodate the score or so of people who gathered to get a glimpse at the items memorializing the slain teenager.

There are crosses and flags, dolls and pictures of the teenager, Oliver said of the items showcased at the permanent memorial made from the items that initially cropped up outside the Retreat at Twin Lakes, the gated community where Trayvon was fatally shot.
- Marisa Gerber, Los Angeles Times

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As Christopher Dorner Saga Continues, The Truth Is Still Out There

By Arturo R. García

The search for former Los Angeles Police officer Christopher Dorner may be over…but hopefully, the questions he has raised are not. Which makes Davey D’s interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman all the more relevant.
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Race, Rehabilitation, And The Private Prison Industry

Image by x1klima, via Flickr Creative Commons.

By Lisa Wade, PhD, cross-posted from Sociological Images

In 1984 the U.S. began its ongoing experiment with private prisons. Between 1990 and 2009, the inmate population of private prisons grew by 1,664%  (source). Today approximately 130,000 people are incarcerated by for-profit companies.  In 2010, annual revenues for two largest companies — Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group — were nearly $3 billion.

Companies that house prisoners for profit have a perverse incentive to increase the prison population by passing more laws, policing more heavily, sentencing more harshly, and denying parole.  Likewise, there’s no motivation to rehabilitate prisoners; doing so is expensive, cuts into their profits, and decreases the likelihood that any individual will be back in the prison system.  Accordingly, state prisons are much more likely than private prisons to offer programs that help prisoners: psychological interventions, drug and alcohol counseling, coursework towards high school or college diplomas, job training, etc.

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Sundance Film Festival: Fruitvale Scores Big After Gaining Distribution

By Arturo R. García

TRIGGER WARNING: Video contains footage from the shooting of Oscar Grant between :38-:58, between 3:25 and 4:02 and between 13:11 and 13:28.

Last week we mentioned that Ryan Coogler’s film Fruitvale had been picked up for distribution after becoming a favorite at the Sundance Film Festival. Now we know it’s leaving with the festival’s top honors, as well.
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The Wilmington Ten: A Struggle In History

By Guest Contributor Lamont Lilly

The Wilmington Ten. Standing (l-r): Wayne Moore, Anne Shepard, James McKoy, Willie Vereen, Marvin Patrick, Reginald Epps. Seated (l-r): Rev. Ben Chavis, Joe Wright, Connie Tindall, Jerry Jacobs

On Dec. 31, outgoing North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue pardoned the Wilmington 10, ending the prolonged national struggle for the 10 activists–nine black, one white–initially convicted in 1972. Perdue was forced to publicly admit that their sentences were “tainted by naked racism,” ending 2012 with justice finally being served for Rev. Benjamin Chavis, Connie Tindall, Marvin Patrick, Wayne Moore, Reginald Epps, Jerry Jacobs, James McKoy, Willie Earl Vereen, William Wright, Jr., and Ann Shepard.

“We are tremendously grateful to Gov. Perdue for her courage,” said Chavis, the group’s leader. “This is a historic day for North Carolina and the United States. People should be innocent until proven guilty, not persecuted for standing up for equal rights and justice.”

Background 
In 1971, racial outbursts in the city of Wilmington shocked the world. The political and social undercurrent of racism and bigotry were still festering in the aftermath of the signing of historic Civil Rights bills in 1964 and 1965. Police had murdered a black teenager, while two white security guards had been killed.

The National Guard was called to patrol the city, to protect its downtown and commercial district from a potential race war. All of the key players were in attendance: the Ku Klux Klan and their local support organization, The Rights of White People, while frustrated Black residents, including youth, towed the progressive side. Anyone who pressed for change and racial solidarity became a threat to social order and the complete reign of white supremacy. Though skin color was the major dividing line, Blacks weren’t the only targets. White allies who were seen as “trying to make integration work” were also targeted by the Klan. White southerner and superintendent of schools Hayward Bellamy was almost lynched to death in front of his family.

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