Tag: trayvon martin

Distrust of Justice System also Affects Black Americans’ Views on Public Health Measures

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog “interviews political scientists Jon Hurwitz and Mark Peffley about their book on how blacks and whites perceive the criminal justice system, and what it implies for Trayvon Martin’s death, George Zimmerman’s acquittal, and the aftermath.” An excerpt, quoting Hurwitz/Peffley:

We asked whether it’s a “serious problem” in their community that police “stop and question blacks far more often than whites” or that police “care more about crimes against whites than minorities.” On average, 70 percent of blacks, but only 17 percent of whites, considered these serious problems…[W]hile about 25 percent of whites disagreed with the statement that the “courts give all a fair trial,” more than 60 percent of African Americans disagreed. Repeatedly, using every possible barometer, we found that blacks doubted the fairness of the justice system much more than whites…

Much of the difference comes down to either personal or vicarious experiences that people have with police and the courts. We found that African Americans, especially younger black men, were far more likely than whites to report being treated unfairly by the police because of their race. In fact, a recent Gallup Poll found that one of every four black men under age 35 said that the police have treated them unfairly during the last 30 days.

This excerpt reminded me of a data point I included in the health care chapter I wrote for the Encyclopedia of Libertarianism:

A 2004 survey published in the journal Health Affairs hints at one way [public-health] powers could be abused. Amid widespread concern about bioterrorism, roughly equal shares of white and black Americans expressed support for quarantines to contain a serious contagious disease. When subsequently asked whether they would support a compulsory quarantine, where the authorities would have the power to arrest violators, 25% of whites changed their minds, whereas 51% of blacks did, indicating an awareness that these policies would not necessarily be fairly implemented.

It also reminded me of this John McWhorter speech, reprinted in the Winter 2011 issue of Cato’s Letter, where he argues the war on drugs is behind “the strained relationship between young black men and police forces,” and racial progress requires ending the drug war.

Massad Ayoob on Stand Your Ground, Police Chiefs, and Trayvon Martin

Massad Ayoob is a well known authority on firearms, police work, and the rules pertaining to the use of deadly force.  He recently spoke at a Cato policy forum on the Stand Your Ground controversy.   In this podcast interview, I ask Ayoob about a range of subjects–myths surrounding guns and self-defense, why the police lobby against Stand Your Ground laws, and the Trayvon Martin shooting.  Ayoob has trained thousands of police officers and civilians in the use of firearms and is one of the most sought after expert witnesses in criminal and civil trials that involve firearms and self-defense.  Good stuff.

Other recent developments on the Stand Your Gound controversy include this John Lott article and interview.  And this  Reuters story about George Zimmerman is well worth reading.  And finally,  did you hear that Benjamin Crump, attorney for the Trayvon Martin family, says Florida’s Stand Your Ground law does not apply to the Martin incident?    I wish he’d said that clearly a month ago, but better late than never.

More here.

Democracy EXPOSED!

I found a release put out by the American Legislative Exchange Council today a little too meek. So let’s talk about the debate around ALEC, a group I’ve been involved with as a volunteer advisor since before I joined Cato. (The Communications and Technology Task Force used to be called “Telecommunications and Information Technology,” but that didn’t work well in our acronym-happy world.) ALEC is under seige because of alleged ties between its backing of “Stand Your Ground” laws and the Trayvon Martin case, in which a young black man was killed by a neighborhood watch officer of…uncertain ethnic background.

Tim Lynch and Walter Olson have made us aware that the Martin tragedy does not actually implicate Stand Your Ground. Tim has also made us aware of a case in which Stand Your Ground is implicated, that of an elderly Detroit man who shot and killed an 18-year-old entering his home armed with a handgun at 1:30 a.m.

There’s no question, as Tim said, that Zimmerman’s taking of Trayvon Martin’s life warrants intense scrutiny. (The very latest: Prosecutors intend to charge Zimmerman.) While that plays out, Cato will address self-defense law and gun rights at an event entitled “’Stand Your Ground’ Laws: Self-Defense or License to Kill?” on April 23rd, which I encourage you to attend or watch.

But ALEC is an odd target for scrutiny of the quality it’s getting. ALEC describes itself as dedicated to “the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.” Toward this end it “enlist[s] state legislators from all parties and members of the private sector who share ALEC’s mission.”

Anti-ALEC site ALECExposed.org characterizes things differently:

Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called “model bills” reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations. In ALEC’s own words, corporations have “a VOICE and a VOTE” on specific changes to the law that are then proposed in your state. DO YOU?

It’s very exciting stuff—the idea that people would organize themselves to affect the public policies of their states and nation.

The latter characterization of ALEC doesn’t square very well with the Trayvon Martin case, though. The ALECExposed site itself emphasizes that the National Rifle Association works through ALEC to promote and defend Stand Your Ground and other gun rights and self-defense laws. The NRA is a corporation, yes, but it’s an issue advocacy organization. It’s no more the huge or global corporation ALECExposed aims at than the Center for Media and Democracy, hosts of ALECExposed.

The point is made, though: Corporations are trying to influence our public policy! And they are working closely with state legislators to do it!

The horror.

I’ve looked, and there is no NCSLExposed.org. (Domain available!) The National Conference of State Legislatures is a similar group to ALEC: larger, center-left, and government-funded. In 2010, $10 million of NCSL’s $16.8 million general fund came from state legislatures. Most of the remainder comes from grants from federal agencies such as the federal Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Energy, and Transportation, and from private foundations.

Here, let me re-phrase that:

Through the government-funded National Conference of State Legislatures, governments and foundations try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. Their efforts reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge governments and corporations. In NCSL’s own words, it is an advocate for the interests of state governments before Congress and federal agencies. IS IT AN ADVOCATE FOR YOU?

I’ve done my best to make NCSL sound malign, though it’s not. Neither is ALEC malign. I agree with some of what both organizations do, and I disagree with some of what both organizations do.

And I suppose that reveals the trouble with the trouble with ALEC. It is a highly selective attack on one organization that has the peculiar quality of advancing the aims of the business sector, of libertarians, and conservatives. A larger organization that advances the aims of the government sector enjoys no attention in current debate. The hundreds of other organizations that advance the aims of various other sectors—unions, for example—not a peep. Even though RIGHT NOW unions are trying to influence public policy in ways they believe will help workers!

The First Amendment’s protections for freedom of speech, association, and petition of the government have in their background a vision for how our political society should work. Anybody should get to say anything they want, and anybody should organize however they want to advocate for the governing policies they want.

The opponents of ALEC’s positions should advocate the substantive polices they prefer, and they are certainly within their rights to do it in whatever way they prefer. Politics never runs out of ways to disappoint, though, and as a person who tries to deal with the substance of issues, working across partisan and ideological lines, I am amazed at and disappointed by the incoherence of the attack on ALEC.

And I am also disturbed by its anti-democratic and anti-speech quality. The implication I take from the attack on ALEC is that some groups, representing some interests, should not be able to participate in making our nation’s and states’ public policies.

There is one ray of light in all this: NCSL is featuring its concerns with REAL ID, the national ID law, on its homepage. And ALECExposed has a posted a buffoonishly marked-up version of ALEC’s 2007 resolution against REAL ID. NCSL would evidently back the implementation of a national ID if Congress were to fund it. Given its principles, ALEC would not.

Even this debate may help inform the public.

Stand Your Ground: Law and Evidence

One objection that has been raised repeatedly against the “Stand Your Ground” laws is that gun owners can kill a person and then all we have is the shooter’s side of the story!  The police will then have nothing to go on and so people are going to easily get away with murder. It seems to me that that objection just plays on the average person’s ignorance of the criminal law and how it works in practice.

Here’s an item about a killing from today’s Washington Post.  A jury must decide whether a stabbing was self-defense or manslaughter.  Excerpt:

Did a District woman stab her ex-boyfriend to death because he refused to roll over and share the bed? Or was the woman, who had allegedly been abused by the man before, fearful for her life and protecting herself?

That’s what a jury will have to decide in a trial that began Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court. Patricia A. Cave, 50, is charged with voluntary manslaughter while armed in the June 2 death of Lamont Warren, 36.

Prosecutors plan to use Cave’s words against her. After Cave was arrested, she told detectives in a videotaped interview — a portion of which was played for the seven-man, seven-woman jury — that when Warren visited her on the night he was killed, she allowed him to sleep in her bed while she smoked, drank and watched television in the living room.

When she returned to her bed, she told the detectives, she found Warren sprawled on top of her covers. “I said, ‘Can you get on the couch or just scoot over?’ ”

Cave said Warren refused to roll over and began berating her. Then, she said, he grabbed her by the throat and choked her. Cave said she reached for a knife on her nightstand, the two started wrestling and the knife plunged into Warren’s chest.

Although Warren was able to seek assistance from a neighbor in a nearby apartment, there’s no indication that we got his “side of the story.” All we have is Cave’s account! Why isn’t this case receiving more attention?!  Maybe because it is receiving the level of attention it deserves–local crime trial, metro section.

In this previous post, I argue that the Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws apply to a limited set of situations–home invasions and cases where a person is under attack.  In those situations, should we be surprised by the dearth of witnesses? No, because criminals choose the time, place, and victim–and they often choose to strike when the victim is alone and the police are not on the scene. So is it sensible to repeal Stand Your Ground laws, designed to help the innocent, because of evidentiary problems brought about by the criminal attackers? I don’t think so.  Critics of the SYG law need to come up with a better argument than that because the evidence problem they point to is not unique to the SYG law.  True, detectives and prosecutors like cases that have videotapes and great witnesses who saw the whole thing, but that rarely happens and they deal with it by introducing other evidence to support their case for a criminal conviction in situations where a self-defense claim is contrived.

This paper has lots of examples of ordinary people using guns to defend themselves in a variety of circumstances.  Related item here.

The Trayvon Martin Shooting: Just the Facts

Americans use guns to thwart a lot of crime, very often without having to fire the weapon. When citizens do use deadly force, the legal system will adjudicate whether that force was lawful or unlawful. With respect to the Trayvon Martin case, our  focus thus far has been on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law and what role, if any, it has played in that case. I have concluded that there is no connection between that law and the Martin shooting at all. The Stand Your Ground law  simply does not apply—so other legal principles will govern the legality of George Zimmerman’s conduct. My legal analysis will be published in an article next week. Walter Olson has related thoughts here.

With new developments in the case coming to light almost every day, it is difficult for outside observers to do anything but speculate. To take but one example, initially it seemed as if the Stanford police did a cursory investigation the night of the shooting. It seemed as if they simply accepted Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense and let him go. That would have been inexcusable. Yesterday, however, there was a report that Zimmerman was handcuffed, taken to the station, and questioned for about five hours. And the police questioned him again at the scene the following day. This is not to say that that was the best way to handle the matter; it is just to point out how we are getting new pieces of information each day. Today the  Associated Press has this helpful article that cuts through the charges and counter-charges and  simply summarizes what we know so far.

The central point to keep in mind is that deadly force is serious business. George Zimmerman took a life. Intense scrutiny into what happened is warranted.

The Myths and Realities of ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws

In recent days a great deal of ill-informed commentary has appeared about the “stand your ground” self-defense law enacted in Florida and many other states since 2005 (earlier) and how if at all it applies to the February 26 confrontation between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. The Orlando Sentinel invited me to sort things out for readers and the resulting op-ed is here.

Much of the piece is devoted to clearing away myths:

Let’s start with one of the most common misreadings of the law, namely that (in the words of Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne) it sets out a rule of “Feel threatened, just shoot.” Florida law justifies lethal self-defense in a public place only under reasonable belief that force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.

Belief that’s not reasonable is of no account. No wonder, according to Sentinel reporting, Central Florida police regularly arrest people who try to claim self-defense after committing violent acts, and courts regularly convict them. That’s consistent with the “stand your ground” law.

The best-known provision of “stand your ground” rejects the so-called “duty to retreat.” Under that rule, prosecutors could sometimes overcome an otherwise valid claim of self-defense by arguing that you could have safely fled your attacker.

But — to clear up another misconception — the old duty of retreat would not have put Zimmerman at fault for following Trayvon around the neighborhood. Instead it came into play only when a confrontation had boiled up to a point of imminent violence.

Evidence remains inconclusive on some crucial points, in particular what happened immediately before the two men got into a scuffle in which Martin inflicted injuries on Zimmerman, who then shot him. (Jacob Sullum has a good summary of the current state of reporting, which is changing rapidly.) Under most likely scenarios, however, Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence as a substantive matter is the same under Stand Your Ground as under Florida’s pre-2005 law, because the prosecutors’ case probably would not hinge on the “duty to retreat.” The 2005 law does afford him some procedural advantages, however; and it also has a number of other provisions (applying to immunity in defense of property and of third parties’ safety, for example) that may well be worth a second look but are not relevant to the Martin/Zimmerman case.

On the key legal issue of “provocation” as it applies to violent fights, by the way, Michael Mannheimer has a very useful post at PrawfsBlawg. You can read my new Orlando Sentinel piece here.