There have been several shootings and killings of unarmed black men and women in America today by police and private citizens who all for the most part say their actions were justified under the law. From state to state, there appears to be loopholes in these justifiable homicide laws that allow people to get away with murder, or misconduct under “stand your ground laws.” This matter needs immediate attention and action to change the verbiage, providing a clearer meaning of the law(s). Today in black communities, across the nation frustration levels and tensions are increasingly on the up rise. These communities and their leaders are angry and fed up with government officials and law enforcement agencies, because the number of young black men being killed by police officers and ordinary citizens are increasing from state to state. City leaders and top police administrators have failed to mend broken relationships and the trust of their communities. Are legislators who write “stand your ground laws” making a statement to say it’s alright to shoot and kill black people? These types of open ended loopholes in the law(s) that inadvertently say it’s ok to shoot and kill black people under the disguise of “imminent danger” must be corrected. The purpose of this research paper is to bring to light that better and clearer verbiage is needed to define the terms “stand your ground” and” imminent danger” or eliminate these types of laws altogether. We must put an end to Americans killing Americans.
Keywords: loopholes, stand your ground, imminent danger, fear, legally occupied, retreating.
As I sat in my living room watching CNN Broadcast News, they were reporting a shooting that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri. As I turned the volume up, I learned that a black teenage boy was shot to death by a local white police officer in Ferguson. Right away I heard the newscaster trying to make sense of it all as he shared his concerns about whether or not the officer was protected under Missouri’s “stand-your-ground” law or if the verbiage in the law “imminent danger” would be interpreted as self-defense. I thought to myself, “here we go again, another black person murdered!” My anger did not focus so much on the race of the shooter as it was more on the law itself. Something must be done about the “verbiage” in the law(s) that says all one needs is just a reasonable amount of fear, shoot first, and your protected all under the disguise of “imminent” danger.
Method of Analysis
In the Ferguson shooting there are two different versions describing the struggle between the police officer and the teen. One version is given by the police officer who described what went on in his mind and how he felt during the time of the incident. The other version is the point of view of the victim’s friend, eye witness account of what he says is murder by a Ferguson police officer. They read as follows:
Version #1: The police officer stated that two teens were walking in the middle of the street as he drove by, words were exchanged and the officer backed his vehicle up to the teens. As he was talking to them, one of the teen’s attacked him and attempted to pull the officer out of his vehicle through the driver’s side window. In doing so, the teen tried to reach for his service weapon. A shot was fired inside the vehicle and the teen fled. Fearing for his life, the officer exited his vehicle and fired several shots at the teen killing him (McLaughlin, 2014).
Version #2: Eye witness Dorian Johnson, friend of the unarmed victim (Michael Brown), reported that the police stopped them in the street for no apparent reason. Words were exchanged and the officer backed up his car almost hitting them. He states that the police officer tried to open his car door, but because the car was so close to them, the door bounced off of their legs and re-closed on the officer. At some point a struggle ensued between the police officer and the teen (police tried to pull the teen inside the car through the driver’s side window). The teen (Brown) broke free of the police officer and began running away. While still running away, the police officer fired several shots striking Brown several times as he tried to surrender. His lifeless body lay dead in the middle of the street while his friend, (who had ran and hid behind a park car), Johnson, looked on scared and in disbelief. (McLaughlin, 2014).
Protection. For the most part, this type of incident would have been an open and shut case but now it may come down to whose version is the correct one. If the police officer’s version is correct, he will be protected under what is called the Castle Doctrine. Under this doctrine deadly force can be used to justify homicide only in cases when a person reasonably fears “imminent” danger of death or serious bodily harm to oneself or another (Creekmore, 2013). If the eye witness account(s) versions are correct, then there is a great possible that Brown may have been murdered.
Verbiage/Language. Although the circumstances surrounding this case is mostly centered on race and the shooting of an unarmed teen (white vs. black), however, it will be a court of law that will decide whose right and whose wrong. Before anyone can get to the truth, at the root of the law is the verbiage (language) in which the law was written using such words as; “imminent danger”, “retreat”, “fear”, “threatened” and or “legally occupied.”
The state of Missouri does not have a “stand-your-ground” law, they have what is called the Castle Doctrine. Approximately forty six states have incorporated some form of the doctrines’ verbiage into law (Creekmore, 2013).
Definition. Missouri Revised Statutes 563.031. 1, states: “A person may, subject to the provisions of subsection 2 of this section, use physical force upon another person when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes such force to be necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful force by such other person, unless: (1) He or she reasonably believes that such deadly force is necessary to protect himself, or herself or her unborn child, or another against death, serious physical injury, or any forcible felony” (Missouri Revised Statutes, 2013).
Origin. The Castle Doctrine is considered common law of English beliefs. Most of the laws in the United States were derived from these principles, such as self-defense laws. Under common law, one has a “duty to retreat” before using lethal force. Similarly, self-defense is something either granted or born out of necessity. It can only be justified for self-help or in place of the government not being there to protect them. It is based on the pillars of greatness, exists in the right now, and is only for prevention (Samaha, 2011). The Castle Doctrine principles mainly provided protection to a person who was threatened by a person outside the home.
In 2005, Florida was one of the first states to make revisions to Castle Doctrine laws. Today, the verbiage in the “stand-your-ground” laws and Castle Doctrine laws have been revised to provide protection outside the home, such as in a car or any place that a person have a legal right to be and as a result, eliminated the option to retreat.
Loopholes. Correspondingly, a person can now say that they were afraid because they felt that their life was in danger from an attacker or intruder, and then claim “self-defense” as was the case with Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman of Florida. Zimmerman a white ex-neighborhood watch member sees a young black male (17 years old) wearing a hoodie who he thought looked suspicious walking through an apartment complex. Zimmerman follows the teen and eventually struggles with him and later shoots and kills Trayvon. The teen lost his life under the legal term of “self-defense,” Castle Doctrine,” “stand-your-ground,” or is it murder? Who can prove beyond a reasonable doubt what another person may be thinking or feels while being faced with danger! So how does one revise the law(s) so that words such as “imminent danger” can still provide its’ protection under the law without being manipulated to justify murder?
With “stand-your-ground” laws and Castle Doctrine laws in place in most states, it is almost impossible to determine Mens rea. Purposely, knowingly, recklessly and negligently are the four states of mind of Mens rea (Samaha, 2011). If laws are written to determine culpability, why are these types of laws on the books? To answer this very important question, research points in the direction of organized groups made up of individuals who influence policymakers and share common objectives better known as special interest groups.
Problem, special interest groups and lobbyist. Interest groups for example, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and similar lobbyist groups, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), are in it for the money and control by “selling your rights and interest to the highest bidder” (ALEC, 2014). Also, according to “Exposed” ALEC, the NRA served as corporate chair for public safety and elections in 2011. Knowing this now, does this information shed more light on why Castle Doctrine laws and “stand-your-ground” laws are written, in which the manner they are.
Overall, the collaboration between big business and legislatures have been going on in secret for decades. Citizens really need to pay attention to whom and what their politicians involve themselves in or with. It’s our politicians, special interest groups and lobbyist that have issued a license and shoot and kill black men and women under the disguise of “imminent danger” not the police. There are those who are opportunist, who misuse and manipulate “stand-your-ground” laws and “Castle Doctrine” laws, for personal gain in one form or another. They deprive other law abiding citizens of their legal rights, making it harder for the true meaning of “self-defense” laws to be undermined.
Under the circumstances, the only real way to correct these “loopholes” or eliminate the verbiage altogether, one must know the rules and how to play the game. The rules are simple, the average citizens must play an active role by voting in both primary and general elections, develop watch-dog committees, attend state and city meetings, create special interest groups with voting power, protest, picket, and seek media coverage for all injustices that occur. Hopefully, this will help put an end to “Americans Killing Americans.” Because contrary to popular belief, white men and women are not being killed, black people are. In particular, black men and women are Americans too!
Alcindor, Y. (2014, September 3). WWLTV. Retrieved from Family: Louisiana man shot while handcuffed did not comit suicide: http://www.wwltv.com/story/local/2014/10/18/14794240/
ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interest in State Legislatures. (2014, September 18). Retrieved from People For the American Way: http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/alec-the-voice-of-corporate-special-interests-state-legislatures
Chuck, E. (2013, July 18). Flordia had first Stand Your Ground law, other states followed in 'rapid succession'. Retrieved from NBC NEWS: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/other/florida-had-first-stand-your-ground-law-other-states-followed-f6C10672364
Creekmore, M. (2013, July 17). States With Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine Law. Retrieved from The Survivalist blog: http://www.thesurvivalistblog.net/states-stand-ground-castle-doctrine-Laws
Democracy, T. C. (2005, September). American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC Exposed. Castle Doctrine Act. Retrieved from Alecexposed: http://alecexposed.org/w/images/7/7e/7J2-Castle_Doctrine_Act_Exposed.PDF
Library, C. (2014, 02 22). Trayvon Martin Shooting Fast Facts. Retrieved from Cnn.US: http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/05/us/trayvon-martin-shooting-fast-facts/
McLaughlin, E. C. (2014, August 15). What we know about Michael Brown's shooting. Retrieved from CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/11/us/missouri-ferguson-michael-brown-what-we-know/
Rucke, K. (2013, november 6). Mint Press News. Retrieved from US Police Have Killed Over 5,000 Civilians Since 9/11: http://www.mintpressnews.com/us-police-murdered-5000-innocent-civilians-since-911/172029/
Samaha, J. (2011). Criminal law State v. Phipps. Belmont, CA: Wasworth, cengage learning (10th ED). p. 175-204.
Use of force in defense of Persons Chapter 563 Defense of Justification section 563.031. (2013, August 28). Retrieved from Missouri Revised Statutes: http://www.moga.mo.gov/statutes/C500-599/5630000031.HTM
Woodfill, D. (2014, August 15). Phoenix police shoot, and kill woman during mental-health call. Retrieved from AZ Central: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/phoenix/2014/08/14/phoenix-officer-involved-shooting-mental-health-abrk/14085607/