Do Stand Your Ground laws worsen racial disparities?

By John Roman :: August 8th, 2012

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A couple of months ago my colleague Mitch Downey and I wrote about how Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws distort the justice system: in states with SYG laws, homicides are twice as likely to be deemed “justified.” In the process of writing that post, we found that there were also substantial racial disparities in justifiable-homicide rulings.

Overall, shootings are ruled justifiable in only 1.5 percent of cases. However, the rate goes up substantially in those cases for which Stand Your Ground laws purport to protect innocent shooters. Specifically, in cases where the victim and the shooter are strangers and a handgun is used, a homicide is ruled justifiable in about 10 percent of cases.

Across the country, when the shooter is white and the victim is white, the percentage of shootings ruled justifiable is a little more than 11 percent. When the shooter is black and the victim is black, about 8 percent of homicides are ruled justifiable.

Now, when the shooter is white and the victim is black, the justifiable homicide rate is 34 percent. When the situation is reversed and the shooter is black and the victim is white, shootings are ruled to be justifiable in only slightly more than 3 percent of cases.

There are many reasons—potentially including legitimate reasons—why this racial disparity exists. It could be that the typical homicide is just different in each case. It could be that black-on-white homicides tend to be street crimes that turn deadly, whereas the white-on-black shootings could be lethal defense in home invasions.

The data we used, the 2005-2009 Supplemental Homicide Reports from the FBI, do not allow us to test this hypothesis. But a racial disparity that large clearly warrants more attention, and we welcome the recent decision by the U.S. Council on Human Rights to investigate the differences.

We were recently contacted by PBS Frontline, who posed a very interesting question: do SYG laws make the racial disparities better or worse?

We used a statistical technique called regression analysis to look at the relationship between the races of the victim and the shooter and justifiable homicide rulings. This method finds the same results as above—black shooters are far less likely to be found justified in a shooting, and shootings with a black victim are far more likely to be ruled justified.

The answers suggest that SYG laws make justice harder to come by all the way around. Compared with white-on-white shootings in states that do not have an SYG law, we find the following:

  • A white-on-white shooting is less likely to be ruled justified in a state with an SYG law.
  • A black-on-white shooting is also less likely to be ruled justified in an SYG state.
  • However, a white-on-black shooting is more likely to be ruled justified in an SYG state.

Finally, we ask whether the racial disparities remain in SYG states. Compared with a white-on-white shooting in an SYG state

  • black-on-black shootings and black-on-white shootings are less likely to be ruled justified, but
  • white-on-black shootings are more likely to be ruled justified.

Overall, SYG laws do not appear to reduce racial disparities and in important ways make them more pronounced. This is why, in our opinion, they are bad laws.

Tomorrow: Expanding the use of DNA as a crime-solving tool

23Comments

  1. Guest Voz: Do Stand Your Ground Laws Worsen Racial Disparities? | Latina Lista  ::  5:40 pm on August 8th, 2012:

    [...] Guest Voz: Do Stand Your Ground Laws Worsen Racial Disparities? Marisa Treviño | August 8, 2012 | 0 Comments By John Roman MetroTrends Blog [...]

  2. Killing Of Another Unarmed Florida Teen Reignites Push to Repeal ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws | WestPenn Journal  ::  11:48 pm on December 4th, 2012:

    [...] are understood by legislators or gun owners, Robinson said. They have also produced another kind of unequal justice, he [...]

  3. Killing Of Another Unarmed Florida Teen Reignites Push to Repeal ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws | Elm River Free Press  ::  12:12 am on December 5th, 2012:

    [...] are understood by legislators or gun owners, Robinson said. They have also produced another kind of unequal justice, he [...]

  4. Killing Of Another Unarmed Florida Teen Reignites Push to Repeal ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws | News Talk One  ::  1:47 am on December 5th, 2012:

    [...] are understood by legislators or gun owners, Robinson said. They have also produced another kind of unequal justice, he [...]

  5. Florida: Jordan Davis murder sparks new protests of racist “Stand Your Ground” killing spree « Frontlines of Revolutionary Struggle  ::  4:00 am on December 5th, 2012:

    [...] are understood by legislators or gun owners, Robinson said. They have also produced another kind of unequal justice, he [...]

  6. Killing Of Another Unarmed Florida Teen Reignites Push to Repeal ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws | Screw Cable  ::  4:12 am on December 5th, 2012:

    [...] are understood by legislators or gun owners, Robinson said. They have also produced another kind of unequal justice, he [...]

  7. Killing Of Another Unarmed Florida Teen Reignites Push to Repeal ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws | Political Ration  ::  4:49 am on December 5th, 2012:

    [...] are understood by legislators or gun owners, Robinson said. They have also produced another kind of unequal justice, he [...]

  8. Killing Of Another Unarmed Florida Teen Reignites Push to Repeal ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws « CrimeAlertBlog.Com  ::  10:00 am on December 5th, 2012:

    [...] are understood by legislators or gun owners, Robinson said. They have also produced another kind of unequal justice, he [...]

  9. Stand Your Ground laws and racial bias  ::  1:28 pm on June 5th, 2013:

    [...] SYG laws change how often shootings are ruled to be justified and that they are associated with racial disparities in justifiable homicide [...]

  10. ABA Hears Stand Your Ground Testimony in Philadelphia – Small Claim Court Law  ::  11:36 pm on June 7th, 2013:

    [...] justifiable homicide rates vary widely by race — when a white shooter kills a black victim, the act is ruled justifiable 34 percent of the time. For black-on-white killings, the same is true in but 3 percent of [...]

  11. George Zimmerman is found Not Guilty – Page 9  ::  3:53 pm on July 14th, 2013:

    [...] A&M did a study on the SYG results using different scenarios. Stand Your Ground Laws and Racial Disparities % of cases where the jury found the SYG rule was applicable ie the shooting was justified: white [...]

  12. The George Zimmerman Trial: Resources for Educators | Kim Pearson – Part 1  ::  1:13 pm on July 15th, 2013:

    [...] Stand Your Ground laws increase racial bias in cases of justifiable homicide. John Roman’s analysis includes data for white-on-white crimes (h/t Diane [...]

  13. “My darkest hour” « MomsRising Blog  ::  6:35 pm on July 15th, 2013:

    [...] is that there are huge racial disparities within our criminal justice system.  According to an Urban Institute study, when white shooters kill black victims, 34 percent of the resulting homicides are deemed [...]

  14. No More Trayvons, No More Georges | Opine Season  ::  7:01 am on July 16th, 2013:

    [...] racial disparities in these “justifiable homicide rulings.” A study by researchers at the Urban Institute pointed to the [...]

  15. Stand Your Ground: Bad in Theory, Bad in Practice | What the Hell is Water?  ::  5:53 pm on July 16th, 2013:

    [...] Your Ground states. In the Stand Your Ground states, when white shooters kill black victims, 34 percent of the resulting homicides are deemed justifiable, while only 3 percent of deaths are ruled [...]

  16. Florida Will Hold Hearings On ‘Stand Your Ground’ This Fall  ::  9:36 pm on August 4th, 2013:

    [...] found twice as many homicides are deemed justifiable in “Stand Your Ground” states. The studies found no reason to think the laws do anything to reverse the large racial disparities that exist when homicides are [...]

  17. Florida to Hold Hearings On ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law This Fall — The Good Men Project  ::  3:31 pm on August 6th, 2013:

    [...] found twice as many homicides are deemed justifiable in “Stand Your Ground” states. The studies found no reason to think the laws do anything to reverse the large racial disparities that exist when homicides are [...]

  18. For Florida shooter, black= 'threat' | ChannelsChannels  ::  1:38 pm on February 12th, 2014:

    [...] that in the “Stand Your Ground” states, when white shooters kill black people, “34% of the resulting homicides are deemed justifiable. Only 3% of deaths are ruled justifiable when the shooter is black and the victim is white.” [...]

  19. For Florida shooter, black='threat' | Robinson's RetailRobinson's Retail  ::  4:38 pm on February 12th, 2014:

    [...] that in the “Stand Your Ground” states, when white shooters kill black people, “34% of the resulting homicides are deemed justifiable. Only 3% of deaths are ruled justifiable when the shooter is black and the victim is white.” [...]

  20. Florida shooter saw black, thought ‘threat’The Warri Post | The Warri Post  ::  4:50 pm on February 12th, 2014:

    [...] that in a “Stand Your Ground” states, when white shooters kill black people, “34% of a ensuing homicides are deemed justifiable. Only 3% of deaths are ruled pardonable when a shooter is black and a plant is white.” And [...]

  21. For Florida shooter, black='threat' | ChannelsChannels  ::  6:58 pm on February 12th, 2014:

    [...] that in the “Stand Your Ground” states, when white shooters kill black people, “34% of the resulting homicides are deemed justifiable. Only 3% of deaths are ruled justifiable when the shooter is black and the victim is white.” [...]

  22. Fear of Black Faces. | I'll Explain Later.  ::  11:17 am on February 19th, 2014:

    [...] phrase “biased toward blacks,” really caught my eye… when you consider the tremendous racial disparity in stand your ground defenses, it just doesn’t hold water.  Also consider Trayvon Martin, [...]

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