It’s Not about ‘Stand Your Ground,’ It’s About Race

Mark O'Mara, CNN, February 19, 2014

There has been a lot of debate about Florida’s “stand your ground” law in recent days. From my perspective, the George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn cases were not “stand your ground” cases, although I know reasonable people disagree about my stance on this.

{snip}

When you hear “stand your ground,” think “no duty to retreat.” For centuries, traditional self-defense implied a duty to retreat, meaning when someone finds himself in a threatening situation, he has a duty to exhaust all viable options to retreat before resorting to deadly force.

The problem with the duty to retreat is that, in the cold light of day, jurors may have a better perspective on a person’s options to retreat than the person had during his life-threatening encounter.

Because of concern over this Monday morning quarterbacking–and with the thought that we were sending people to jail who were otherwise justified in using deadly force–legislatures in many states modified their justifiable use of force laws to say that people who have a reasonable fear of imminent great bodily harm or death very affirmatively DO NOT have a duty to retreat.

In other words, they can “stand their ground” and meet force with force, including deadly force. “Stand your ground” refers specifically to the removal of the duty to retreat.

In a self-defense scenario where imminent harm is so immediate that retreat is not possible, there is no “duty to retreat” to waive, and therefore “stand your ground” does not apply.

According to evidence presented at his trial, at which I represented him, George Zimmerman was on the ground, being beaten, when he pulled the trigger; he had no way to retreat, and it was not “stand your ground.”

Michael Dunn, if we are to believe his story, thought Jordan Davis had a shotgun; there is no retreating from a shotgun at short range, and therefore it was, arguably, not “stand your ground.”

If we repealed “stand your ground” laws tomorrow–if we reinstated the duty to retreat–George Zimmerman still gets an acquittal, and the Dunn jury still hangs.

The underlying concern with the statute is that those who are aware of it may be emboldened by its protection, and place themselves in, or remain in, a circumstance that increases the likelihood of using force.

A concern with the national focus on these two recent cases is that the concept of “stand your ground” has been misperceived by so many that there are now those who believe use of deadly force is more justified than it is, and there are those who believe that it is intentionally used to kill minorities.

{snip|

What causes people to be upset is the concept of “reasonable fear” and how subjective it is. In effect, it is possible for someone to believe they are justified in killing another human being–that they have reasonable fear–even if that fear turns out to be unwarranted in the cold light of review.

The standard is, and has to be this: Was that fear reasonable under the circumstances? This has been the standard for determining self-defense for centuries, and it has nothing to do with “stand your ground.”

Repealing the “stand your ground” provision won’t change the fact that sometimes self-defense homicides will be ruled justified based upon a technically unwarranted, but otherwise reasonable, fear.

The concerns that are voiced in this regard are more properly focused not on a law, (be it “stand your ground” or simple self-defense), but on the system that harbors subtle but undeniable biases toward certain demographics.

Where the discussion about the strange nuances of our self-defense laws becomes most disturbing is when you introduce race into the equation.

I think it is sufficiently established as a sociological fact that black men–especially young black men–are regarded by many people, of all races, as more suspicious and more threatening than men and women of other races. It’s heartbreaking to think this is true, but it’s folly to deny it. If young black men are regarded, in general, as more threatening, then some people may be more likely to manifest that fear–however unwarranted in the individual case it may be–and act on that fear, sometimes with deadly force.

When this element is added, the job of the jury includes trying to wade through whether these subtle biases (or justifications) for fear are present, and what weight to give them. Now, we are asking our juries to see deep into the heart of the citizen accused–maybe too deep. Is it fear, or disdain? And how much of each?

It’s outrageous that these tragedies occur, but repealing “stand your ground” laws will not stop them. The problem is not in our legislation, it’s in our collective hearts. We have a system that is still, without question, the best in the world, but it’s far from perfect.

It still, unfortunately, carries with it the inertia of more overt racial inequities from our recent past. As an example, while there are studies that support that the immunity afforded by “stand your ground” can produce racially disparate results, I contend the statute itself is race-neutral, and it is the inequitable application that evidences an inherent bias of the system.

But our self-defense laws are not the only laws applied with racial inequity. Look at the incarceration statistics in the United States: Black men are disproportionately represented by an extraordinarily wide margin for virtually every type of crime, from petty theft to drug charges to murder. Repealing laws against these crimes won’t fix the problem of racial inequity in our justice system, just as repealing the “stand your ground” provisions will not either. Rather, the solutions lie in a more system-wide or society-wide approach.

{snip}

In addition, the systemic biases are not simple to explain. While it is admitted that there is bias in the system, this does not fully explain the numbers. The black community must look not only to the system, but also to itself for answers to how and why young black males find themselves in the system in wildly disproportionate numbers.

{snip}

I believe that we can fix the problem of racial inequity in our justice system, but first we have to admit that the problem exists, and then we have to have the courage to engage in an open, honest and thoughtful conversation about the true state of race relations in America.

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  • Puggg

    This was Zimmerman’s defense lawyer? I thought he was smarter than this. Because this is a bunch of warmed over left wing drool. (And we pugs are experts on drool.)

    • http://www.ambrosekane.com/ bluffcreek1967

      Zimmerman’s defense lawyer is a Lefty and, regardless of the good work he did on behalf of Zimmerman, he still can’t shake his liberalism. I must say, however, the fact that he even wrote of the disproportionate number of blacks in the criminal justice system at least hints that whites are starting to wake up.

      • 1Forced_Registration

        I don’t think you find too many criminal defense lawyers that aren’t lefties.

    • Frank_DeScushin

      I don’t see O’Mara’s statements as necessarily being Liberal ramblings. When O’Mara says “bias” he doesn’t mean completely unwarranted or malicious. He’s simply saying that most people view black men as the members of society most likely to engage in violence and crime. That’s true, most people do see black men as the most violent and criminal. O’Mara then goes on to suggest that black men do engage in a grossly disproportionate amount of crime. O’Mara may be suggesting that this high rate of black criminality biases people toward having a negative view of most black men as a potential criminal and that may be unfair toward non-criminal, non-violent black men, but O’Mara places burden on blacks for this reputation which a true Liberal would never do.

    • r j p

      I would assume he is trying cover any assumed prejustices.

      • Ron Cheaters

        Naturally, he has his objectivity and his clients well-being on the line. Political limbo

      • Brian

        He’s playing the ‘some of my best friends are black card’ to try to get a foot in the door. Can’t really blame him for that, given what he’s up against.

  • Extropico

    Mark O’Mara admits every race views blacks as more violent, and rightfully so. Because they are. Obama said so.

    We need to remove the bottom 30% of Africans from the bell curve for them to fit into society decently. It will be done through genetic engineering. But that can’t be stated publicly yet in polite society.

    • DudeWheresMyCountry?

      Why bother? Just separate permanently and let nature sort out the Black subspecies issue.

      • Extropico

        That will be a really difficult matter to enforce in perpetuity. I believe genetic selection of traits will be the overarching decider as opposed to strict geographic barriers.

  • http://saboteur365.wordpress.com/ bigone4u

    More states need to pass laws allowing whites to defend themselves against the black menace. Zimm’s lawyer is trying to reach white readers who are independent, but swayed by mainstream anti-white propaganda. I have no quarrel with his essay, even though it tends to go more than halfway toward placating blacks, with its silly talk of society-wide solutions. If the article helps keep self defense laws in place, then the end justifies the means.

  • http://countenance.wordpress.com/ Question Diversity

    I think it is sufficiently established as a sociological fact that black men especially young black men–are regarded by many people, of all races, as more suspicious and more threatening than men and women of other races.

    I think it is sufficiently established as a sociological fact that liquid water is regarded by many people as being wet.

    But our self-defense laws are not the only laws applied with racial inequity. Look at the incarceration statistics in the United States: Black men are disproportionately represented by an extraordinarily wide margin for virtually every type of crime, from petty theft to drug charges to murder. Repealing laws against these crimes won’t fix the problem of racial inequity in our justice system, just as repealing the “stand your ground” provisions will not either.

    Actually, that would work. If there’s no such thing as crime, there can be no such thing as racially disproportionate (honest) application of criminal law.

  • pcmustgo

    “The black community must look not only to the system, but also to itself for answers to how and why young black males find themselves in the system in wildly disproportionate numbers.”

    But of course they won’t… they’ll just sit their pointing out the 3% of their problems that’s do to white racism and ignore the gaping holes in their culture.

  • Pelagian

    at least he’s doing a spirited defense of “stand your ground”

  • dd121

    You could see all my acerbic comments on CNN except, because the editors are liberal and we disagree, they deleted them.

    • Brian

      I just got booted from Mother Jones for pushing back against the ‘driving while black’ whining. I guess they think if they plug the dyke, the water on the other side just disappears.

      • dd121

        I think it’s best to keep posting on the liberal sites. Before you get censored at least a few people will see it. Over time a few people will get another perspective.

  • DudeWheresMyCountry?

    I love this tool’s ridiculous logic. If you can’t escape a violent attack then you can’t stand your ground. Possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard an attorney say… and that is a hard thing to be on top of.

    • Ron Cheaters

      I took the meaning as if you can’t escape a violent attack then it is self-defence.
      Stand your ground is different (and I may be wrong) when it applies to territory. IE: “Get off my car!”
      “Make me”
      Bang
      “You all saw it, I warned him”

      • Ron Cheaters

        So long as the perp is not retreating. You have the right to protect your proprty, family etc.

    • Brian

      You misunderstood his meaning. ‘Stand your ground’ means you could run away from danger, but now you don’t have to. In other situations where there is no option to get away in the first place, you are free to defend yourself, whether there is a ‘stand your ground’ law or not. He’s saying the people complaining about SYG in the Zimmerman and Dunn cases don’t realize that it doesn’t even legally apply there.

  • Luca

    “For centuries, traditional self-defense implied a duty to retreat…”

    When confronted with a feral sub-Saharan, to retreat is an invitation to get shot or stabbed in the back. The best you could hope for is a blind sucker punch from behind. Nah…I think I’ll go with “Stand your ground”.

    • IstvanIN

      Most of the blind sucker punches from the back come from them sneaking up on a White person.

  • Spartacus

    “Black men are disproportionately represented by an extraordinarily wide
    margin for virtually every type of crime, from petty theft to drug
    charges to murder. ”

    ———————————————————————————————————————

    BECAUSE THEY COMMIT MORE CRIME YOU IDIOT !

    • ncpride

      Never mind the black idiots advocated, then demanded the crack dealers who were destroying their ‘hoods’ back in the 80′s receive harsher jail time. Jump ahead 30 years and it’s a ‘racist’ justice system to blame. They are morons.. all of them.

      • Laura Dilworth

        the blacks still complain that the police don’t protect them

    • Laura Dilworth

      white collar crime too

  • Garrett Brown

    Well, at least someone from CNN gets it. Conflict between blacks and whites is entirely because of race.

  • negrolocaust

    i am deeply ashamed of the 8 traitorous whites on the dunn jury. i hope they get a taste of the nigout game. i would have acquitted him on all counts.

  • JohnEngelman

    I think it is sufficiently established as a sociological fact that black men–especially young black men–are regarded by many people, of all races, as more suspicious and more threatening than men and women of other races. It’s heartbreaking to think this is true, but it’s folly to deny it.

    - Mark O’Mara, CNN, February 19, 2014

    It is a folly to deny that there is no valid reason for this suspicion.

    • jane johnson

      I think what you meant to say is that it is a folly to deny that there IS a valid reason for this suspicion.

  • JohnEngelman

    I have used pepper spray on three black muggers. If I had had a hand gun and a permit to carry it I would have shot them. When several blacks start punching me they do not want to ask directions to the nearest bus stop.

  • John K

    Of course it’s about race. It’s about the right of white people to defend themselves against racist blacks who attack them for simply being white.

  • OhWow

    Bottom line: stereotypes are there for a reason.

    Black men are much more likely to be thugs. End of discussion. You get treated how you act.

  • Ron Cheaters

    You do understand he had to say that right or he’d never be hired again? I hope?

  • http://leftistconservative.blogspot.com/ Leftist_Conservative

    the elite tell the blacks it is OK to hate and attack whites. They do this sub rosa, surreptitiously.
    Why?

    For money.

    Blacks and other nonwhites are the tools of the elite in their war against white majority Labor.

    This is Capital vs Labor, and Capital is using blacks, other nonwhites and mass immigration combined with civil rights laws as a tool to depress wages, to grow the population of this livestock operation and to fragment the unity of the working class.

    This is war.
    Capital vs Labor.

    We are Labor, and only united can we stand against Capital.

    Capital know this. So it uses blacks and other nonwhites to divide the populace.

  • benvad

    Makes want to join the AB

  • Malgus

    I’m not a lawyer. I’m just a crusty old retired soldier. But I am well read. Perhaps one of you lawyer types can help me out with this..

    So, the folks in government derive their power from the consent of the governed. This includes police. Police are employed to do the job that we ourselves do not have time to do, since we’re busy with our own lives. Since one cannot give that which one does not possess, it stands to reason that police have no powers that we, the people, do not already possess. We merely delegate our power to others to act in our stead, and the act, the delegation of power, in no way negates the power we already possess.

    Therefore, if police have no “duty to retreat”, then neither do we. If the police go armed, then we can as well. If the police can use deadly force when they judge it is warranted, then so can we.

    I have no idea where this “duty to retreat” nonsense came from. To me, it always had the odor of cowardice around it. I’ve read Blackstone and I can’t remember him ever speaking about a duty to retreat. Granted, our system does not sprout whole cloth from the writings of Blackstone, but he had a pretty good handle on things…

    Every creature on God’s earth has the right to defense of self, period. But somehow, we think that running away should be our first reaction. Would it not be better to stand up to the threat, confront it head on and neutralize it if we can?

    I suspect it comes down to power – those actually IN power are jealous of what they have, and they do not want us poor proles to realize that yes, we DO have the same power as those who rule us, so they concocted this ‘duty to retreat’ nonsense in order to foster a mindset in us so that we will come to rely on, and recognize, The State as the Great Protector…

    The ‘duty to retreat’ might have a few centuries of history behind it… but that does NOT make it right or moral. Crucifixion also had centuries of history behind it, and was totally lawful, but that does not make it right or moral…

  • Zaporizhian Sich

    Those who cannot be named and the darkies ARE forcing whites to stand their ground as a group, because we have nowhere else to go. In other words, they intend to corner us and remove our right to defend ourselves and loved ones from harm. What that will result in is violent revolution, which will blow up in their faces in more ways than one.

  • Zaporizhian Sich

    I agree avoiding an un-necessary confrontation is one of the rules of self-defense. The flip side is when confronted with a genuine threat, do whatever is required to eliminate that threat. I am sure they were threatening him with a gun or guns, and ditched them so Mr. Dunn would appear to be the aggressor when in fact he was the target of racially motivated violence.