‘Stand Your Ground Law’ Helps White Defendants More Than it Does Blacks

With the trial of George Zimmerman approaching, “Stand Your Ground” laws and the inconsistency of how they’re implemented are once again falling under scrutiny.

In a piece from Salon this week, Katie Halper provides two examples that illustrate this inconsistency and how it usually falls along racial lines. One example is the case of 70 year-old Ralph Wald who is white, and the other is of 31 year-old mother of three Merissa Alexander, who is black.

On March 10 of this year around midnight, Wald got up from his bed to go to the kitchen and found his wife having sex with his neighbor in their living room. He immediately went back his room, grabbed his shotgun and shot the man three times, killing him. Wald claims that he thought the man was a stranger who had broken in and was raping his wife — despite the fact that the victim had lived next door and had been his wife’s lover for some time. On May 30, after deliberating for two hours, a jury found Wald not guilty.

On August 1, 2010, Marissa Alexander, who was estranged from her abusive husband and had a restraining order against him, went to their former house to get her belongings thinking he was not at home.

The two got into an argument. Alexander says that Gray threatened her and she feared for her life. Gray corroborates Alexander’s story: “I was in a rage. I called her a whore and bitch and … I told her … if I can’t have you, nobody going to have you,” he said, in a deposition. When Alexander retreated into the bathroom, Gray tried to break the door. She ran into the garage, but couldn’t leave because it was locked.  She came back, he said, with a registered gun, which she legally owned, and yelled at him to leave.  Gray recalls, “I told her … I ain’t going nowhere, and so I started walking toward her … I was cursing and all that … and she shot in the air.” Even Gray understands why Alexander fired the warning shot: “If my kids wouldn’t have been there, I probably would have put my hand on her. Probably hit her. I got five baby mommas and I put my hands on every last one of them, except for one … I honestly think she just didn’t want me to put my hands on her anymore so she did what she feel like she have to do to make sure she wouldn’t get hurt, you know. You know, she did what she had to do.” And Gray admits Alexander was acting in self-defense, intending to scare and stop but not harm him: “The gun was never actually pointed at me … The fact is, you know … she never been violent toward me. I was always the one starting it.” Ultimately nobody was hurt. Nobody died. On May 12, 2012, it took a jury 12 minutes to find Alexander guilty of aggravated assault. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

“Both defendants used the defense of “stand your ground,” a Florida law that holds that a person has ‘no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself,’” Halper writes. “The man who shot his wife’s lover to death was successful and walks free. The woman who shot at a wall to scare an abusive husband failed and sits in jail.”

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