Trayvon Martin

Under Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' Law, Black and White Defendants Fare Equally Well


Video via The Orlando Sentinel

In my column last week, I noted two complementary narratives that cloud people's understanding of the George Zimmerman case: one about race, the other about the alleged defects of Florida's self-defense law. Last year the Tampa Bay Times tried to get a sense of how these two factors interact by looking at racial patterns in self-defense cases. Its findings belie the idea that the enforcement of Florida's law is biased against black defendants:

The Times analysis found no obvious bias in how black defendants have been treated:

• Whites who invoked the law were charged at the same rate as blacks.

• Whites who went to trial were convicted at the same rate as blacks.

• In mixed-race cases involving fatalities, the outcomes were similar. Four of the five blacks who killed a white went free; five of the six whites who killed a black went free.

• Overall, black defendants went free 66 percent of the time in fatal cases compared to 61 percent for white defendants—a difference explained, in part, by the fact blacks were more likely to kill another black.

That last point relates to a finding that could be seen as evidence of racial bias: While black and white defendants fared equally well, people who killed blacks were more likely to make successful self-defense claims than people who killed whites. "People who killed a black person walked free 73 percent of the time," the Times reported, "while those who killed a white person went free 59 percent of the time." The Times conceded that its analysis "does not prove that race caused the disparity between cases with black and white victims," since "other factors may be at play." For example, "black victims were more likely to be carrying a weapon when they were killed" and "more likely than whites to be committing a crime, such as burglary, at the time."

Critics of Florida's law may seize upon the numbers regarding victims and cite Zimmerman's acquittal as another example of how the criminal justice system values black people's lives less than white people's. But they will find no support in the numbers regarding defendants for the often heard claim that Trayvon Martin would have been arrested immediately and ultimately convicted if he had shot Zimmerman instead of the other way around. And as Reason Contributing Editor Walter Olson notes in a recent essay, anyone who is concerned about racial disparities in the justice system should think twice before responding to Zimmerman's acquittal by supporting legal changes that would make it easier to convict people and send them to prison.

It may be risky drawing any firm conclusions from these numbers, since self-defense claims involving the use of lethal force are pretty rare. The Times found a total of 192 such cases since 2005, or less than 20 a year, which is less than 2 percent of all homicides in Florida. When you get into subgroup analyses, the numbers are tiny. For example, the Times identified "only 26 completed cases in which a black person was killed and only eight fatalities with a Hispanic victim."

The other thing to note about these cases is that it's not clear to what extent, if at all, the new features of Florida's law, such as eliminating the duty to retreat for people attacked outside their homes, affected the outcomes. It is therefore misleading to call them "stand your ground" cases, as the Times does.

Addendum: Speaking of misleading journalistic references to "stand your ground," NPR host Robin Young yesterday explained its relevance to Zimmerman's acquittal this way: "The law was not used by the Zimmerman defense team, but it infused the case." That gloss (which Robert Woolley brought to my attention) is reminiscent of New York Times reporter Cara Buckley's assertion that the trial was "spotlighting Florida's Stand Your Ground law," even though "that law has not been invoked in this case." Attorney General Eric Holder was a bit subtler on Tuesday, saying "it's time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense," although that issue is "separate and apart from the case that has drawn the nation's attention."

 [Thanks to John Banzhaf for the tip.]

NEXT: UK Plans Tax Breaks for Shale Gas Drillers

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The most pernicious idea I have heard coming from Progressives who use big words but really are not all that smart is the notion that all of this “process” manifests as a disparate impact on minority victims. To wit: the fact that we cannot consider the 15 minutes prior to the Zimmerman/Martin conflict to mean all that much is somehow biased, and we need to expand the definition of ???something??? to ensure that victims are heard.

    Kirsten Powers, for example, went on about this last night on the Hannity Radio Show (ugh, yes, I know). And I have seen it crop up more often lately, saying something to the effect of:

    We see that the law is a convention that the last few seconds mean everything and the previous 15 minutes mean nothing, and feel that those conventions have not been drawn in black people’s favor.

    That’s seriously what they are going for here. The only sensical reply is that quote from A Man For All Seasons.

    1. But they “feel” something, and that’s all that matters. Because they’re emotion-driven morons, and the farthest thing from rational. I don’t give a fuck what they “feel”. At all.

    2. Someone is dead. The only allowable witnesses should be those who feel bad about it.

    3. One of my favorites is “A grown man confronted an unarmed black teenager and the black teenager ended up dead”. The simple fact that Martin was black and unarmed means Zimmerman must be guilty of murder.

      1. “A middle-aged, overweight man confronted a six-foot, 17-year-old football player and…”

        Not quite the same ring, is it?

    4. We see that the law is a convention that the last few seconds mean everything and the previous 15 minutes mean nothing

      “the previous 15 minutes”?! We *are* talking racism here. Don’t you mean the previous 15 *centuries*?

    5. …those conventions have not been drawn in black people’s favor.

      It’s the law, it’s not supposed to be drawn in anyone’s favor, you stupid cunt.

  2. But what about that one Florida case we never hear about in which a black woman was convicted for firing a warning shot at her ex-husband into the ceiling when she returned to their house with a pistol to confront him was menaced in her own home?

  3. Sort of on topic.
    Oakland CA had riots supposedly over the Zimmerman trial. So we get a damaged proggy restaurant with a propensity to ignore Obozo’s role in black incarceration and a chance to show ignorance re: A2.…..673553.php

    1. *barf*

    2. Next up: Proggies tell rape victims to thank their rapists.

    3. False consciousness indeed.

    4. “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”

    5. I wish I didn’t have to register to read the article. Love Chip Johnson.

      Why I will never live in Oakland again:

  4. Who is that white guy on the lap top?

    1. I think the craziest thing I have ever heard is when the media called Zimmerman white.


      1. I couldn’t tell, with all the blood on those photos from the scene, I was unable to make an ethnic determination with regards to the subject.

      2. At what point do Hispanics wake up and realize that progs can reclassify them as white and thus the enemy at any time?

        1. They don’t.

          Seriously. People don’t ever believe their friends are capable of turning on them until it happens.

          1. And of course black people know Zimmerman was Hispanic. There have been several “this is for Trayvon” attacks on Hispanics in the last week. The whole thing is insane.

        2. East Asians calling for them on line 2 from California.

      3. He was acting White when he hunted down a little Black Boy and killed him and that is what counts.

      4. Zimmerman became an honorary white man the moment he murdered that Black child.
        Whiteness is a status conferred on racial oppressors as a reward for upholding the racist social order.Didn’t you learn anything in your liberal arts coursework?

      5. But he talks like a white guy, so his skin color doesn’t count. He is officially white.

        I think it would be amusing (not really) if white supremacists took this as a cause c?l?bre to call for greater persecution of Hispanics, since this Latino savage obviously got away with murder.

  5. Putting black people in prison for defending themselves against life-threatening attacks, on the ground that they could have run away, is a small price to pay for advancing the Narrative.

    1. That’s racist, too. Unless they were defending themselves against black attackers, but that never happens. Racist.

  6. The law was not used by the Zimmerman defense team, but it infused the case.

    A claim so bullshitty it uses the language of homeopathic medicine.

  7. [Thanks to John Banzhaf for the tip.]

    Cocks head to the side in confusion and puzzlement.

  8. Is there some new talking point about Stand Your Ground being used by “gangsters” to openly carry out executions and walk free?
    Or did I just imagine that?

    1. It’s a new talking point for the country, but old for the Tampa Bay Times. There have been cases of acquittals in situations that smell like drug deals gone bad, and in a shoot-out it becomes difficult to identify the first aggressor. Either way Red/Blue Statists will never admit that the driving force in those cases is the drug war.

    2. Pretty much. Some people are freaking out because it means the state actually has to prove a case of murder instead of just being able to say, “Well, you didn’t run away as fast as you could before literally being trapped in a corner, so, murder.” This freaks them out because they think nobody should have a gun, everybody with a gun is just itching to commit murder, etc., so SYG is just a cover for bloodthirsty vigilantes.

  9. I think that one of the reasons progressives have been hammering so relentlessly on the race angle is that doing so obscures the fact that the events at the center of this case pretty much drove a truck through one of their favorite arguments against gun rights in regards to self-defense. They very often maintain that with a firearm in your possession while being attacked you are more likely to injure or kill yourself with it or have it stripped from you by the attacker during the struggle than you are of successfully defending yourself, and this pronouncement is almost always made with no supporting evidence. This case completely flies in the face of their theory, and this being such a high profile case makes it all that much more important for progressives to ignore this aspect of it.

  10. Anyone else get the feeling that we’re reaching the point where the extreme left, and their lackeys in the media, have cried racism so much that the word is losing it’s meaning among normal people?

    And I don’t mean among crazies like us, or the lefty nuts in comments sections around the web. I’m talking of those that politics holds little interest and may only vote in presidential elections.

    1. I think it is losing its appeal. That is why they are acting increasingly insane. Going insane is the only way they can have any hope of getting their message across.

      1. Your comment is racism straight up.

      2. I think when you talk about an incident that to a normal person had little to do with race as if it was the holocaust of minorities by the klan, normal people start to wonder about your sanity.

  11. You have all these facts and figures, but they can’t withstand the Progressive’s heartfelt feelings.

  12. I look forward to the proggies’ genuine befuddlement and disbelief when the civil rights charges don’t stick either. They perceive what happened as immoral, so clearly it must also be illegal. They just can’t conceive that the two ideas are different.

  13. Robin Young is the Dzokhar Tsarnaev-sympathesizer. It’s difficult to understand what kind of depravity would make someone oppose providing tax funds to NPR.

    1. Ok, let me be more direct: Young is a twat and a moral idiot.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.