This is Embarrassing: Man with Illegal Gun Released Due to Stand Your Ground

A lot of comments on my post about stand your ground laws, in which I wrote “Gun ownership is much higher among White people than Black people, so stand-your-ground laws do not provide equal protection,” where suggestions that I forgot about all the Black people with illegal guns. My answers to those comments were that some people have a very inflated sense of how many Black people are illegally holding guns, and that those illegally gun-toting Black people don’t count towards what I was writing about.

The two reasons I felt the illegally gun-toting Black people didn’t count were because I was writing about how stand your ground laws unequally affect law abiding citizens (not criminals), and because stand your ground laws don’t protect people with illegal guns.

Well maybe I was wrong about my second reason. Apparently, somebody with an illegal gun can get away using stand your ground in Florida. 17 year old Tyrone Pierson will not be charged with murder for killing Julius Jerome Jacobs, who threatened him with a stick, even though he shot his assailant with an illegal gun. The reasoning, as explained on Talking Points Memo was

… even though the famed Stand Your Ground provision passed by the Florida legislature in 2005 prohibits those who are engaged in “unlawful activity” from claiming Stand Your Ground immunity, that another provision amended at the same time authorizes the use of deadly force in similar circumstances with no explicit exception for “unlawful activity.”

The primary focus of laws requiring retreat where possible is to protect innocent people. In Pierson’s case, there were witnesses, and perhaps evidence, to convince prosecutors that Jacobs was the aggressor, but without those witnesses or evidence all we would have is a dead guy and another guy saying, “He started it”. Requiring people to retreat where possible would reduce the amount of people killed, some of whom would be innocent.

Nobody says you can’t defend yourself if you have to. Most claims of self defense seem to go just the way the Zimmerman case went, with the killer being dismissed or acquitted because there isn’t enough evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the killer wasn’t in fear for his life.

Even without SYG, Pierson might not have been charged with murder, but he might have been charged with something related to his failure to retreat. The possibility of such a charges would save lives.

Why Black-on-White Crime Statistics are Not an Appropriate Response

A friend (real friend, someone I actually know) posted this on facebook last week:

Dear Racist FB Friends: I know that black people kill white people, just like white people kill black people. It’s OLD NEWS. Old, ancient, boring, sickening news. Can we please focus on loving one another instead of spreading hate and discontent and fomenting racism? Every time I see one of you post *yet another* status about black-on-white crimes, I feel a little sicker and even more disheartened about our world. Move on.

At the time she wrote this, I hadn’t seen many posts or comments about the black-on-white vs white-on-black crime ratio, but since then it’s become ubiquitous.

I image there are people who don’t understand why black-on-white crime statistics aren’t relevant to the outrage over the delay to arrest George Zimmerman. The following is an attempt to explain it.

I am White. There exist violent thugs who are White. Those thugs do not represent me. They are not my agents. I get nothing from their crimes. When a White murderer kills innocent Black people, the White race does not get a point. And I am not personally responsible for George Zimmerman’s actions.

The same would be true if I were Black, in reference to Black criminals. Black criminals don’t act on behalf of law abiding Black people. The Black race gets no points for crimes against Whites. There have been Black people committing violent acts against White people in retaliation for Trayvon Martin, but most Black people have nothing to do with them, and are not responsible for their actions.

The outrage over Mr. Zimmerman is not about the actions of criminals. It’s not even about George Zimmerman. The outrage is about the apparent approval of Trayvon Martin’s death by the lawmakers and enforcers who are supposed to keep us safe. It’s about the feeling of some law abiding citizens that race and demographics, rather than deeds, determine who gets punished for crimes and who gets to go free.

Gun ownership is much higher among White people than Black people, so stand-your-ground laws do not provide equal protection. While laws and attitudes which encourage vigilantism might increase the amount of people who kill criminals, they also increase the amount of people who mistakenly kill innocents who they assume to be threats. People who fear falling into the “assumed threat” category don’t see this as a fair trade-off.

Some White commenter’s have asked, since so many Black people kill so many White people, why isn’t it White people who are protesting against Blacks? But White people have protested, and the result has been laws and attitudes which enabled George Zimmerman to track down Trayvon Martin and start a confrontation with him while armed and ready to kill.

One particularly mean spirited writer suggested that Blacks and Whites should call it even, considering the balance of racial oppression against the violence of Black criminals. But again I emphasize, criminals are not agents of law abiding citizens, and should not be treated as their representatives.

Instead of Blacks protesting Whites and Whites protesting Blacks, law abiding citizens should protest criminals. And instead of laws which promote confrontations, we should have laws that reduce crime. These laws include youth programs, police outreach and increased patrols (by which I mean more cops, not more overworked cops), better education, safe public transportation, and perhaps even increased gun ownership.

The protests aren’t about equaling the balance of cross-race crimes or the desire to protect Black criminals as equally as White criminals. The protests are about equal protection of the law and and a desire to protect law abiding citizens.

It’s OK to Defend the White Guy

Three innocent Black people were murdered by two White men in an unprovoked hate crime in Tulsa. Two years prior, the father of one of the murderers was killed by a black man after the father knocked the black man down with a stick for making threats against his daughter. In the comments of a story about this horrible crime, I disagreed with a commenter who said the father had it coming, and found myself arguing against people who I might normally agree with and being “liked” by people who I might not “like” in return.

Being progressive doesn’t mean always defending the Black guy. It means looking at the facts and not jumping to conclusions. It means not retaliating against people just because they remind you of others who did you wrong. It means not convicting unless you’re sure beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime, while at the same time trusting facts and logic to guide you towards getting it right more often. And it means considering mitigating circumstances, even if the subject is a crotchety old White man beating a Black guy with a stick.

Edit: I added “by two White men” in the first sentence for clarification.

Update: Soon after I added “White men” I read that Mr. England is Native American. For now, I’ll leave my words up there as written.

Arrest George Zimmerman

I try to understand all sides of a story, so I looked through headlines about Trayvor Martin and George Zimmerman. I tried to find what the hard-core right wing sites, like Breitbart.com were saying. Perhaps Trayvor Martin was caught stealing candy from the checkout aisle while his Mom was paying for groceries. Perhaps he was sent to the principal’s office in 6th grade for disruptive behavior. Perhaps he got into a fight with a White kid in high school. But the only headline I found on Breitbart was “Media Labels Hispanic Man White in Shooting of Black Teen”. If that’s the best the right wing can come up in their mission to accuse the liberal media of being unfair to White people then Trayvor Martin must have been an angel.

Oddly enough, the best defense for the delay in arresting Zimmerman comes not from the hard right but from NPR. And the reason for the delay, according to NPR, is not that anyone thinks George Zimmerman is innocent, but that Florida’s outrageous “Stand Your Ground” law makes it difficult to prosecute anyone who claims self defense as a motive for an apparent murder.

In theory, Florida’s miserable and dangerous law, which has been adopted by 16 other states (according to the NPR story), is a double edged sword. In theory, someone who kills a White person could claim “self defense” just as easily as someone who kills a Black person. But I think supporters of the law are not so much Whites looking to kill Blacks with impunity, but rather White people who believe that Black people already kill Whites with impunity. They feel under siege in a world where liberal judges feel sorry for Black murderers and refuse to punish them for anything. If you ask them why there are so many Black people in prison, they might conclude that Black people are so murderous that even though we only incarcerate a tiny percentage of them, it’s still enough to skew the prison population. They knew a Zimmerman case would come up, but they feel it’s better than letting Black people run around raping and killing their daughters. These people aren’t White supremacists, they’re Orks who believe the lies of supremacists and the suggestions of right wing pundits and politicians.

Thanks to these paranoid, gun-slinging Orks, we have laws in seventeen states that encourage the murder of innocent young men.

With the crazy law in place, there are complications which make arresting Zimmerman tricky. But I still don’t believe the “Stand Your Ground” law is enough to let Mr. Zimmerman remain free. It seems almost certain that Mr. Zimmerman chased Mr. Martin and instigated some kind of conflict, and it appears that Mr. Martin was not a threat at the time of his death. The case might not be as easy as some think it is, but I find it hard to even imagine that a good investigation can fail to find enough evidence to take a disturbed and dangerous man like George Zimmerman off the street.

There is a petition (probably one of many) for the proper investigation and prosecution of George Zimmerman. Hopefully this will not only pressure investigators in the Zimmerman case, it will also pressure lawmakers to reconsider laws which encourage the murder of innocent people like Trayvor Martin.

Update, March 25: I said the right wing media couldn’t find any dirt on Trayvon Martin. That was true at the time, but now we know that Mr. Martin had been suspended from school. I still don’t see how that justifies Mr. Martin being hunted down by Mr. Zimmerman.