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Fresh Scrutiny Of Stand Your Ground Laws After Acquittal In Trayvon Martin Killing


In the wake of last year's shooting of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, attention turned to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which promoted the controversial Stand Your Ground law that was cited in Zimmerman's defense. ALEC brings together state lawmakers and corporations to craft model legislation benefiting business interests.

Since Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder charges on Saturday, ALEC is once again getting attention for its role in the passage of Stand Your Ground laws. Today at least 21 states* have laws on the books saying there is no duty to retreat from an attacker in any place where one is lawfully present. And at least nine of those states** include specific "stand your ground" language, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Such laws are especially popular in the South, which is home to 11 of the 21 "no duty to retreat" laws and six of the nine laws that specifically use "stand your ground" wording.

The instructions to the jury in Zimmerman's trial referenced the state's Stand Your Ground law (emphasis added):

statement released after Zimmerman's acquittal, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous called on the U.S. Department of Justice to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman — and also called for repealing Stand Your Ground laws:

added his voice to the call for repeal of Stand Your Ground laws:

renewed the call for corporate sponsors to withdraw from ALEC in response to the Stand Your Ground controversy:

49 corporations and six nonprofits have publicly announced they were leaving ALEC. Among them are a number of corporations with headquarters in the South, including Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, Bank of America, and ConocoPhillips. But scores of other corporations continue their association with the group, including South-based Duke Energy, ExxonMobil, Georgia-Pacific, International Paper, Marathon Oil and Norfolk Southern Railway.

Intensifying the controversy over such laws is the racial bias in their application. An analysis of FBI crime data released last year by the Urban Institute found that in homicides resembling the Martin case, where there was a single shooting victim and a single shooter who were both civilians and strangers, just 10.9 percent were ruled to be justifiable homicides. But in Stand Your Ground states, 13.6 percent were found to be justified, compared to only 7.2 percent in non-Stand Your Ground states.

The analysis also found that the scenario with the highest probability of being ruled a justifiable homicide involves a white civilian shooter who is older than and a stranger to a black victim. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is a multiracial Latina from Peru, while Martin was African-American.

As Lisa Wade observed at the Sociological Images blog:

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** Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. 

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