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Under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law, Black and White Defendants Fare Equally Well

Friday, July 19, 2013 9:57
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(Before It's News)

In my
last week, I noted two complementary narratives that
cloud people’s understanding of the George Zimmerman case: one
about race, the other about the alleged defects of Florida’s
self-defense law. Last year the Tampa Bay Times tried
to get a sense of how these two factors interact by looking at
racial patterns in self-defense cases. Its
belie the idea that the enforcement of Florida’s law
is biased against black defendants:

The Times analysis found no obvious bias in
how black defendants have been treated:

• Whites who invoked the law were charged at the same rate as

• Whites who went to trial were convicted at the same rate as

• In mixed-race cases involving fatalities, the outcomes were
similar. Four of the five blacks who killed a white went free; five
of the six whites who killed a black went free.

• Overall, black defendants went free 66 percent of the time in
fatal cases compared to 61 percent for white defendants—a
difference explained, in part, by the fact blacks were more likely
to kill another black.

That last point relates to a finding that could be seen as
evidence of racial bias: While black and white defendants fared
equally well, people who killed blacks were more likely to make
successful self-defense claims than people who killed whites.
“People who killed a black person walked free 73 percent of the
time,” the Times reported, “while those who killed a
white person went free 59 percent of the time.” The
Times conceded that its analysis “does not prove that
race caused the disparity between cases with black and white
victims,” since “other factors may be at play.” For example, “black
victims were more likely to be carrying a weapon when they were
killed” and “more likely than whites to be committing a crime, such
as burglary, at the time.”

Critics of Florida’s law may seize upon the numbers regarding
victims and cite Zimmerman’s acquittal as another example of how
the criminal justice system values black people’s lives less than
white people’s. But they will find no support in the numbers
regarding defendants for the often heard claim that Trayvon Martin
would have been arrested immediately and ultimately convicted if he
had shot Zimmerman instead of the other way around. And as
Reason Contributing Editor Walter Olson notes in a
, anyone who is concerned about racial disparities in the
justice system should think twice before responding to Zimmerman’s
acquittal by supporting legal changes that would make it easier to
convict people and send them to prison.

It may be risky drawing any firm conclusions from these numbers,
since self-defense claims involving the use of lethal force are
pretty rare. The Times found a total of 192 such cases
since 2005, or less than 20 a year, which is less than 2 percent of
all homicides in
Florida. When you get into subgroup analyses, the numbers are tiny.
For example, the Times identified “only 26 completed
cases in which a black person was killed and only eight fatalities
with a Hispanic victim.”

The other thing to note about these cases is that it’s not clear
to what extent, if at all, the new features of Florida’s law, such
as eliminating the duty to retreat for people attacked outside
their homes, affected the outcomes. It is therefore misleading to
call them “stand your ground” cases, as the
Times does.

 [Thanks to John Banzhaf for the tip.]


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