In the aftermath of the Michael Dunn verdict, where Dunn, a white man was allowed to get away with, at least for now, the killing of Jordan Davis, a black 17 year old teen, many ponder what do we do now and how do we respond. In many ways, the criminal justice system in the south is going back to the Jim Crow days where many southern states would not convict a white man for killing a black man. Apparently, in the 21st century, it is still difficult to obtain a verdict against a white man for killing a black teen, if the George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn cases are any indicators. But these cases are not just occurring in Florida.
While the days of Emmett Till and whistling or winking at a white woman and getting killed without any justice may appear to be gone, they have been replaced with blacks being killed for wearing a hoodie while walking home from the store, playing loud music in a car, asking for help in a white neighborhood as in the cases of Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell and in other words for doing nothing. Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell were all in a place where they had a legal right to be. Neither of them were doing anything illegal or had a weapon. And just like in Jim Crow days, justice seems elusive for the perpetrators of their deaths.
In the case of Jonathan Ferrell, a partial North Carolina Grand Jury refused to initially indict the white police officer who plowed 12 shots at him while he was running towards the officer, with hands outstretched, to ask for help after a serious car crash. Ferrell was a graduate of Florida A and M and working in Charlotte while engaged to be married. Subsequently, the state resubmitted his case to a full Grand Jury who indicted the officer with voluntary manslaughter. Ferrell’s case and the one of Renisha McBride are pending. McBride, like Ferrell, first came knocking on the door of a white person in a predominately white suburb outside of Detroit, Michigan. For her actions in seeking help when she was also stranded due to car issues, she was shot and killed by Theodore Wafer, a white man, who claimed to be in fear of his life. Michigan has a similar Stand Your Ground law.
During Jim Crow days, blacks were aware of some actions that might trigger a white shooting. Many living in the Jim Crow south knew to never look a white person in the eye when addressing or speaking to them; knew to address all whites even children with sir and mam; never whistle or wink at a white woman; never act uppidity towards whites, whatever that term may have meant to southern whites and never disrespect a white person, for whatever that means. And today, the acts for which a black person will be killed by a white person have no boundaries, just like in the Jim Crow south. It’s as if every act and every black person is open season in the north and the south. And just like whites seemed to justify acts of the Jim Crow era on the laws of segregation, now many whites justify the cowardly killing of innocent blacks on the laws of Stand Your Ground and self -defense.
Just like the Jim Crow laws of segregation, Stand Your Ground laws should not be used as a means for open killing season on young blacks. And, like the Jim Crow segregation laws, the Stand Your Ground laws which vary in about 26 states must be fought. As long as these laws exist and racial bias co-exist in the criminal justice system, these Stand Your Ground laws will be used as justification for many whites saying they feared for their life and shot in self- defense. Florida’s Stand Your Ground law means that as long as a person is in a place where they have a legal right to be, he/she has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he/she reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself/herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Jonathan Ferrell must be the focus to move towards ending Stand Your Ground laws, just as much as the Civil Rights era and killing of Emmett Till helped to propel the end of Jim Crow and segregation laws in the south. We cannot let the deaths of young black men, women and teens be in vain. Until we do something to change the law, there will be no justice, no peace for these victims.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who has tried murders, attempt murders, robberies, drug, sex offense and economic crimes with a high conviction rate. She provides legal commentary for BET News, TV One, RT America, CBC- Canadian, Sky News and Fox, NBC and CBS affiliates. She also contributes to the Huffington Post and the Women’s Media Center.