A newspaper report has found that the Stand Your Ground self-defense statute in Florida is more likely to succeed when the victim is black.
The Tampa Bay Times looked at 200 cases and found that in instances in which the victim was black, the person who invoked the defense went free 73 percent of the time. If the victim was white, the person walked free 59 percent of the time. The report also found that more than two thirds of all the people who invoked the law were acquitted, and that the defense is being invoked in more and more cases.
"People often go free under 'stand your ground' in cases that seem to make a mockery of what lawmakers intended," wrote the Times reporters. "One man killed two unarmed people and walked out of jail. Another shot a man as he lay on the ground. Others went free after shooting their victims in the back. In nearly a third of the cases the Times analyzed, defendants initiated the fight, shot an unarmed person or pursued their victim — and still went free."
The reporters acknowledged that there is no comprehensive data on "stand your ground" decisions, since police departments and prosecutors often don't indicate why they chose not to arrest or press charges against someone.
The state's law justifies the use of force if " it is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another."
Stand your ground laws -- and Florida's in particular — have come in for particular scrutiny in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin in February. The unarmed 17-year-old was shot in Sanford, Fla., as he returned from a convenience store to the house where his father was staying. His shooter, George Zimmerman, told a police dispatcher that Martin looked suspicious, and he shot Martin in the altercation that followed. The case has become a flashpoint in the national debates over racial profiling and gun control.
A majority of Floridians still support the law, according to a Quinnipiac poll from last month. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans surveyed support Stand Your Ground, compared to only 58 percent of Independents and 32 percent of Democrats.
Many of the stand your ground laws around the country were sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a conservative lobbying group that has come under fire in the aftermath of the Martin shooting. Several large corporations who contributed to ALEC, including Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and Kraft, have severed ties with the organization in recent months.