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Stand your ground: A law or a license to kill?

William Covington | 5/2/2012, 5 p.m.

Wallace remembers arguing intensely to anyone who would listen that the Stand Your Ground law, combined with the existence of racial profiling, was a recipe for mayhem that was capable of causing legal homicide against people of color. Using such a law, an individual could easily kill someone and, with a decent attorney, get away with it. She pointed out that a Stand Your Ground law would further polarize the nation and expose flaws in the law in reference to simple cultural ethnic differences like body gestures, attire, response to questioning by an armed individual.

Already, Wallace stated, more killings of African Americans have been ruled justifiable homicides than the killings of members of any other ethnic group in the nation. However, most of these homicides are a result of Black-on-Black crime. Oddly, the law has been turned on its ear. Drug dealers and gang members often use the law to escape prosecution from murder on the basis of self-defense.

"This [law] is being used in many, many cases," Florida state Senator Chris Smith told the Miami Herald. "This is being used with a prostitute killing her john, this is being used in gang fights, this is being used everywhere."

Wallace contended that the law would aid powerful right-wing lobbies like the National Rifle Association.

She discussed the problem of fear.

Fear is generally described as a basic emotion occurring in response to an arousal or sensation that invokes a unique response within each individual. Fear of certain people or situations can be learned and is easily explained by theories of conditioning. The level or degree of fear an individual perceives is dependent on his or her personal history and the circuitry of the brain. Personal fear ranges in degrees from mild caution to extreme phobias that could cause disassociation reaction. Wallace's concerns were that the array of ways that a claim of reasonable fear could be interpreted and processed provides extraordinary opportunities for misinterpretation.

Wallace believes that advocates of the Stand Your Ground laws would likely view standardization of the concept of reasonable fear favorably. They would realize that by employing a standard delineation, the possibilities of misuse of the genuine intent of the law are lessened tremendously.

Jody David Armour, Ph.D., a USC Law School professor, was asked his views on the law. "When one looks at self-defense laws you would think typically that you can only use legal force to avert a lethal attack, but there are stipulatory principles built into the self-defense law in different states," he said. "Florida is one of them.

"That allows you to use the self-defense law even when your life isn't in danger, just to stand your ground. So it's not only when your life is in danger, but also when you think that you're threatened . . .," he said. "This is a bombshell when you take into account how Black males are seen as a threat throughout the nation by Whites. Whether it's a learned behavior from media or culture, the self-defense law could lead to open season on African American males, whose presence may intimidate others."