† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
Black Life, Perceived Threat, and “Stand Your Ground”
by nancy a heitzeg
Almost one year ago, CI published Standing Up to Stand Your Ground in response to the murder of Jordan Davis. In the ensuing months, we have witnessed an intensifying climate of toxic Anti-Blackness, where fear and explict/implict bias turn deadly and white killers walk.
The acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin . The death of Jordan Davis. The death of at least 6 Black men, women or children at the hands of someone employed or protected by the US government. Jonathan Ferrell, who survived a car crash only to be shot 10 times by the police while seeking help. And now Renisha McBride, another help-seeking crash survivor shot in the head with a 12 gauge shotgun by a Stand Your Ground Michigan homeowner. Brittany Cooper in Asking for Help While Black: How it Became a Capital Offense:
White supremacy is no country for black people. Gender be damned. And it remains abundantly clear that black life is still considered a reasonable price to pay for the protection of white property and white life. White supremacy works to reassert and maintain dominance by striking fear in the hearts of black and brown people, by restricting our free movement through the world, by reminding us at every turn, that we might end up the indiscriminate victims of white rage. We are made to believe that white rage is ephemeral, though, such that we look up in its aftermath, devastated by its inhabitation, but remain unable to track, trail or trap it. With a kind of profound certitude, though, we can generally trust its trail of black destruction.
Video by dream hampton
So too the calls for “justice” – one by one by one – from a system designed to devalue it. Ultimately, we must challenge both the cultural constructs and structural processes which collude/collide/conspire to devalue Black Life. As Kay Whitlock notes in What Would Real Justice for Trayvon Martin Look Like?:
While the NRA may solidify its ethically bankrupt power by encouraging an ethos of enmity and expendability, great leaders for social change—King, Gandhi, Chavez, Huerta, Malcolm X, Archbishop Oscar Romero—have always rightly noted the importance of simultaneous forms of transformation at both individual and structural levels.
Where are the civic and faith-based leaders calling for such transformation today? Where are today’s risk-takers who are willing to step out into the great storms of fear—those who are willing to call not for more policing, punishment , and retribution, but for justice that not only names and confronts, but works to transform and heal the terrible wounds of structural racism in this purportedly “colorblind” society?
Even as we mourn the loss of Trayvon Martin and so many other young people of color, let us reflect on the collective duty before us: valuing their lives by dismantling all the neutral-sounding ways in which racism manifests—anti-immigrant laws, gutting of the Voting Rights Act, voter suppression efforts, Stop and Frisk police practices, race-based mass incarceration and more. If we’re serious about racial justice, we have to embrace measures equal to the challenge.
The challenge is a daunting. Legal challenges to Stand Your Ground laws remain a starting place. Since CI originally published its’ critique, a growing body of research indicates that these laws have contributed to the racially fueled climate of guns and violence, with white shooters being wide latitude to kill Blacks. For example, a recent study of homicide conviction rates in the 22 states with such laws, found that 17% of the homicides of black victims by white defendants were ruled justifiable, while only 1% of the homicides of white victims by black defendants were deemed legally justifiable.
Resistance has mounted as well. But repealing these laws will largely be a state by state struggle. And so, as a reminder of the scope and legal pitfalls of expanding “gun rights” legislation, CI revisits an updated Standing Up to “Stand Your Ground” below..