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It has been almost two weeks since a jury of six women found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter.  It has been over a year since Trayvon Martin, a then 17-year-old boy, was tragically shot and killed as he walked from a Florida convenience store to his stepmother’s townhouse. Forty-four days later, Trayvon’s killer, George Zimmerman, was finally arrested because the public demanded justice.

While some have already moved on to discuss the royal baby, politicians’ sex lives, and more, this issue remains at the forefront of the minds of many African Americans and other racial minorities. People of color know all too well that racial discrimination, stereotyping, and profiling are still prevalent in America. They know racial discrimination exists because they experience it on a consistent and ongoing  basis, from small slights to overt expressions. Their experiences with racial prejudice inform how they view Trayvon’s murder and Zimmerman’s trial, making it even more baffling when one juror commented that race never came up during jury deliberations.

Hopefully the Zimmerman verdict will spark not only an honest and frank discussion about race and institutional racism in our country, but also long overdue systemic changes that will build trust between our communities and within our legal system. Our legal system and the growing number of “stand your ground laws,” made infamous when Trayvon was gunned down, need to be critically addressed.

These “stand your ground” laws extend the castle doctrine, which allows one to use deadly force when defending one’s “castle,” to places outside the home.  Although Zimmerman alleged traditional self-defense, he benefited from a jury instruction, which stated that he “had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

Florida was the first state to pass such a law in 2005 and now at least 22 states have “stand your ground laws” that potentially increase violence and wrongful deaths based on misunderstandings, miscommunication, and racial prejudices. These laws give citizens unfettered power and discretion with no accountability. Homicides categorized as justifiable have nearly tripled since the law went into effect. These laws have contributed to an atmosphere of vigilante justice in our society, and when combined with an individual’s racial prejudices, create tragic results.

See full map of states with stand your ground and castle doctrine laws here.

What’s more, the application of stand your ground laws appears to be uneven at best.  In Jacksonville, FL, Marissa Alexander attempted to use Stand Your Ground as a defense for firing warning shots against her allegedly abusive husband. Instead, she received a 20-year prison sentence. The jury took 12 minutes to deliberate.

As President Obama poignantly questioned in a recent speech regarding Trayvon Martin, “If we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?” Similarly, United States Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. characterized these laws as senseless and noted that Stand Your Ground Laws undermine public safety “by allowing, and perhaps encouraging, violent situations to escalate in public.”

Just as the public outcry after Trayvon’s death pushed for the arrest and prosecution of George Zimmerman, the public must continue to demand justice so that these troubling stand your ground laws do not get passed in more state legislatures, and the existing ones are expeditiously repealed.  We must stand our ground.

Barbara R. Arnwine is president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The Lawyers’ Committee is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963.  For more information, please visit

Yen Vinh Tran, Public Service Fellow for Lawyer’ Committee’s Public Policy Project, contributed to this op-ed.


7 thoughts on “ALERT: Does the ‘Stand Your Ground Law’ Reign in YOUR State? Read On

  1. {Still think I’m mental or overprotective}
    ABC NEWS: School Gunman Took Hostages, Car May Have Bombs

    KKK School Threat /Two knifes (Knifes don’t make a gun sound, but they kill)
    Children Withdrawn from School
    Need legal help!

    Look at my beautiful children GOD blessed me with! We have to hold the School District accountable. We have to keep children safe.rjohnson4ob (at) gmail (dot) com

  2. Rayar Johnson on said:

    August 12,2013

    Please, Please Help us! In the February 14,2013 Wayne County Newspaper,( Front Page) It tells of the school violations and bullying and harassment my children have suffered in the WCSD,Mississippi. But, it did not mention that the latest of those threats were from the school KKK note. Now, this same girl where two knifes were found on her is back at school and sitting behind my child on their bus.
    This is not the first racial discrimination . My kids have a right to a safe school environment.
    The WCSD said they would handle it and they would prosecute and she would not be back on that campus. They would not tell me one court date no notification, just it’s been handled. 911 did not even send an officer at my request the day of.
    The children are shocked and scared. I beg for justice. I do not know why help for justice is so hard. They are not going back to school until they are represented. This is sad that anyone would think we are okay with this.

  3. As a black man, I hope Florida lawmakers stand their ground and keep their SYG law intact. Blacks need to protest and work towards preventing black on black genocide in this country instead of channeling so much energy to Florida and the Zimmerman case. Will Weatherford’s announcement to revisit the SYG law in the fall was an open invitation for cockroaches, Al and Jesse, to extend fanning the flames in Florida while at the same time continuing to exploit the situation to further line their pockets at the expense of black folks dumb enough to listen to and follow two jackasses

  4. Louise Graham on said:

    Charter School v. Public School, Please have your research team look into the research study that was done by Sanford University on charter school. It is all about the money. Charter school are for profit business. The average teacher in charter schools have less than 5 years of teaching experiences, most of them are run by family members, people you do not have an educational background, i.e. Universal Companies in Philadelphia, PA Kenneth Gamble songwriter. School choice is a Republican George Bush bright idea, and we know what a great thinker he was. Please lets not be fool about charter school, most of them are non union schools. Read the history of the teaching profession prior to unions in public education. Remember black teachers were paid a different scale as white teacher for years.

  5. jenni3 on said:

    ust before I looked at the bank draft 4 $4266, I didn’t believe that…my… best friend was actualey making money in their spare time at their computer.. there sisters roommate haz done this for under twelve months and as of now repayed the depts on there cottage and purchased a brand new Audi Quattro. go to,…….

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