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Report: Stand Your Ground Laws Have Resulted in Increase in Homicides, Racial Bias

The controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense laws, which have been enacted in 33 states, have resulted in an increase in homicides compared to states without the laws and racial disparities in the outcomes of criminal cases, according to a task force convened by the American Bar Association.

As a result of the investigation by the nation’s top professional association for attorneys, the ABA’s National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws recommends that states repeal their Stand Your Ground laws to get rid of this unnecessary and corrosive legislation.

Before issuing its 62-page report, the task force held separate public hearings in every region of the country, combed through statistics from every state and probed the latest social science data on the efficacy of the laws.

Among the report’s conclusions was that states with “stand your ground” laws experienced an 8 percent increase in the number of homicides compared to states without such laws.

“If our aim is to increase criminal justice system costs, increase medical costs, increase racial tension, maintain our high adolescent death rate and put police officers at greater risk, then this is good legislation,” Jerry Ratcliffe, professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University, told Al Jazeera America in reacting to the report. “There is no reliable and credible evidence to support laws that encourage ‘stand your ground.’”

As noted by the report’s authors, the Stand Your Ground laws gained increased scrutiny after George Zimmerman was acquitted last year of murder in the 2012 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin. Though Zimmerman’s lawyers didn’t explicitly invoke Stand Your Ground, there was considerable national debate about the impact of the law on the criminal justice system.

“The application of Stand Your Ground laws is unpredictable, uneven, and results in racial disparities,” the report concluded. “An individual’s right to self-defense was sufficiently protected prior to Stand Your Ground laws. Victim’s rights are undermined in states with statutory immunity from criminal prosecution and civil suit related to Stand Your Ground cases.”

The report said states that want to combat violent crime or reduce overall homicide rates should either repeal or refuse to enact so-called “stand your ground” legislation.

“It is troubling that under Stand Your Ground, there are less restrictions imposed on U.S. service members using deadly force when they return to the United States than when they are deployed in a combat environment,” Christopher Jenks, an assistant professor of law at Southern Methodist University and director of the school’s Criminal Justice Clinic, said in the report.

According to the report, the Stand Your Ground laws reinforce racial bias due to cultural stereotypes about certain racial groups being more threatening. To illustrate, the report noted that when a white shooter kills a Black victim, the shooting was 350 percent more likely to be ruled as justified under “stand your ground,” than if a white shooter killed a white person.

In light of a recent study by researchers from Stanford University showing that white people are more likely to support criminal laws when they are told that the laws are biased against Blacks, it’s unclear how much action states will be willing to take to repeal their Stand Your Ground laws after the release of the ABA report.

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