How ‘stand your ground’ laws promote violence and racial resentment

Protesters attend a rally for Black teen Ralph Yarl in front of U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Missouri.
Chase Castor—Getty Images

Happy Friday. Let’s talk about fear.

Within the past week, three shootings occurred, all tied to what appear to be simple mistakes. A group of high school cheerleaders stopped at a supermarket in Texas. A man shot two of them in the parking lot after one accidentally mistook his car for her own. Separately, a man shot and killed a 20-year-old woman after she and three friends turned into the wrong driveway in upstate New York. There’s more. A 16-year-old boy rang the wrong doorbell in search of his siblings in Missouri. The homeowner shot him in the head, then again while he lay on the ground.

None of these young people were an actual threat. But this horrific trend exemplifies what happens when a culture of fear, entitlement, and a deadly disregard for gun violence turns the centuries-old “stand your ground” self-defense principle into a justification for aggression. 

“What stand your ground laws have done is take this into the public sphere and tell anyone and everyone that if they feel the slightest provocation, they can use lethal force without retreating, even if they can do so safely without harm to anyone,” Allison Anderman, senior counsel and director of local policy at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, tells NPR. Stand your ground laws also promote racist violence, she says. “There have been studies showing that when a white person kills a Black person, it is 281% more likely that the killing will be found justified than when a white person kills another white person.”

We now live in a world that has turned the fear of the other—Hispanic hordes at the border, Muslim terrorists, Black criminals, and Asians spreading disease—into a profitable form of political and media theater that stokes virulent racial resentment. In fact, a new study shows that just tuning into Fox News, the poster child for this form of coverage, might be enough to activate racial bias. It’s racism and confirmation bias run amok.

Coincidentally, Fox News was the channel of choice for 84-year-old Andrew Lester, who shot Ralph Yarl, the Black teen who mistakenly rang his doorbell looking to fetch his younger twin brothers. Lester’s grandson, Klint Ludwig, says that in the last few years, his grandfather had become immersed in “a 24-hour news cycle of fear and paranoia.” Ludwig describes it as a lethal recipe of gun culture combined with “stock Fox News, conservative American stuff. It’s ‘anybody who gets an abortion is a murderer, and ‘fatherless Black families are the reason why crime exists in this country.’”

And then, a Black boy rang his doorbell.

Somehow, Yarl survived the attack. Lester was not initially charged, but police took him into custody after widespread local protests and wall-to-wall media coverage.

Yes, let’s talk about fear—because I promise you, your Black and brown colleagues are feeling it these days. But we all need to really think this through. Who do we fear and why? Who does it serve when we are afraid of the “other?”

Ellen McGirt

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Ruth Umoh.

On Point

BlackRock has a diversity problem
According to a new audit from former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, BlackRock is losing senior Black and Latinx leaders so fast that it cannot make any headway on its diversity goals. Hat tip to the firm for doing the audit and publicizing the findings. What happens next is what matters most.

We lost more than blue check marks
I remember seeing then-FEMA chief Craig Fugate at a conference in 2009, talking about one of the surprising use cases of the micro-blogging service known as Twitter. At the first sign of a natural disaster, he would open Twitter and scan for posts from people and agencies on the ground, and he could get a good first impression of what was happening. According to Juliette Kayyem, faculty chair of the homeland security program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, global disaster response is now so embedded into Twitter that its current disarray makes everyone less safe.
The Atlantic

Black spectators report racist policing at Boston Marathon
A video posted on social media appears to capture the over-policing of Black spectators at a specific cheer zone, preventing them from viewing the runners on the course. The video was reposted by runner, activist, and author of Running While Black Alison Mariella Désir, with the caption: "THIS IS WHAT IT IS TO BE BLACK AT THE BOSTON MARATHON."
Runners World

Harvard program aims to develop Black women leaders in South
Twenty-five women have been tapped to be a part of the inaugural class of the Power, Innovation, and Leadership executive education program at the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. Among them are advocates, public servants, and formerly incarcerated women. The program is designed to support leaders working to empower Black girls and women. “If you change the world for a Black girl, you will literally change the world,” says program creator LaTosha Brown, cofounder of Black Voters Matter.
The 19th*


On Background

Some descendants of victims of the 1923 Rosewood massacre received reparations. Did it help?
The answer appears to be complicated. Rosewood, a thriving Black community in Northern Florida, was set upon and burned to the ground by an all-white mob in 1923. A 1994 law passed by the state’s legislature allowed descendants to go to colleges in Florida tuition-free, the first such form of official reparations in the U.S. The scheme has been a blessing and a burden for some students. “We’re not doing this just for us,” says one recipient, speaking during a low point in her six-year pharmacy doctorate program. “You always have to be the best and prove a point simply because of who you are and what your family has gone through.” The Florida program is a test case for other reparations arrangements. “If I mess this up, I mess it up for me and my cousins and people I don’t even know," she says.
Washington Post

Parting Words

“Justin Pearson wasn’t white. That’s probably how he got into Bowdoin in the first place. But he did a fantastic impression of it...That was the old Justin Pearson before his ‘transition.’ He’s turned himself from a crypto white kid into the modern incarnation of Martin Luther King Jr. himself.”

Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson discussing Tennessee Democratic Rep. Justin Pearson, who had been temporarily expelled from his position for protesting gun violence

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