Stand your ground … unless you’re Black

New Stand Your Ground laws can be disastrous for the racial divide in Florida. Photo courtesy Kevin Whipple

Gov. Ron DeSantis pushes to expand the already controversial “Stand Your Ground” statutes in Florida. This new legislation could suppress Black voices and disproportionately affect the livelihood of African Americans in Florida.

DeSantis’ proposal for an expansion of what critics call the “shoot first” laws comes as response to several protests turned riots that occurred earlier this year in response to the unlawful killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. 

Currently, the law allows for the use of lethal force if a threat is perceived by any person who is not engaging in criminal activity and is in any place a person has a right to be.

The expansion of the vague law seeks to include the justification of lethal force against any person who causes the interruption, or impairment, of a business and those involved in looting, which is a burglary within 500 feet of a “violent or disorderly assembly.”

The new amendment to the SYG laws, as part of DeSantis’ “anti-mob” legislation, specifically targets Black Floridians, whether intentional or not.

First, it seeks to suppress Black residents’ first amendment right to protest.

DeSantis’ proposal stemmed directly from Black Lives Matter protests that took over many large cities across the country. Writing legislation that specifically details the contents of these demonstrations is not only wrong, but very telling.

It is unfair to label protests for certain causes as “mob-like” and “disorderly” before they even occur; none of the organized protests were planned to be violent anywhere in the country, but rather happened to turn into political statements based off of responses from local police and government entities.

Threatening to have people arrested and possibly killed for participating in protests won’t encourage safe communication between Black Floridians and lawmakers, but ultimately quell them altogether.

Jairus Williams, a fourth year student at Florida A&M University, isn’t in favor of expanding the law. 

“I believe that this new law that Governor DeSantis is proposing is absolutely awful,” says Williams. “As an educator and youth development counselor for the U.S. Navy, we teach students to make their voices heard and stand for what they believe in. If students are seeing their big brothers, sisters, cousins and relatives get shot because they are exercising their first amendment right, it defeats the purpose of everything that we have taught them.”

The SYG laws are also very subjective, making it easy for any person to get off on defense for what they perceive to be a threat.

Caroline Light is a director in undergraduate studies at Harvard University, who obtained a doctorate in history with a focus on gender, race, and sexuality in the U.S. South. She spoke briefly with NBC News on the stand your ground laws following the death of Markeis McGlockton.

“What people say is a reasonable threat has everything to do with the different kinds of dominant society’s assumptions with who is a criminal, who is a stranger, who is a criminal threat, and how that plays out in court,” Light said. 

There have been many studies conducted that declare the darker a person is, the more dangerous they are believed to be. This is even more true for darker men than darker women.

Since Black people are the face of this movement, these laws also unintentionally imply African Americans as the main threat to communities.

Bringing the BLM movement into the fold, protests seen this summer will only reinforce that groups of African Americans are “mobbish,” dangerous and can be perceived as a threat.

 According to research conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, SYG laws tend to exacerbate systemic racism.

In Florida, SYG cases clearly echoed the existence of racial bias with 63.5% of Black adolescents killed by guns rising to a striking 72% after the passing of the mandates.

Furthermore, these laws tend to negatively impact Black residents with almost 45% of all SYG cases involving a white perpetrator and Black victim being deemed justified, with nearly 10% being justified with a Black perpetrator and white victim.

Light also sheds knowledge on how these laws affect Black women.

“Not only do the stand your ground laws make it easier for, usually white men, to shoot and kill those people they perceive as being a criminal threat, disproportionately Black and brown men, it also makes it more difficult for women of any race and class background to find immunity and to find protection in standing their ground against those who are truly threatening to them,” Light added in the documentary with NBC News.

 It is clear that the expansion of the SYG law will negatively affect Black Floridians. Especially in such a polarized state after the 2020 election, I think it would be careless to enact such a mandate that would see the increased homicides of African Americans in Florida.