North Carolina Peace Action is non-profit education and advocacy organization that envisions a world where all beings are free from the threat of war and oppression. We stand together as one human family to resolve conflicts peacefully in all our endeavors and support human rights. Our mission is the abolition of war and oppression around the world, and this must extend to building a culture of peace, and uprooting the causes of all kinds of war and oppression including violence in our own communities.
One of those main causes is the widely held, but mistaken belief that violence is redemptive, that violence saves lives. This belief is apparent in the passage by 25 states, including North Carolina, of “Stand Your Ground” laws (SYG), which allow a person to kill another person, claim self-defense, and be protected from prosecution. This is especially true in states like our home state of North Carolina that also allow persons to carry concealed weapons. These troubling laws encourage gun owners to use their weapons if they fear or believe that another person might harm them rather than retreating, or seeking a nonlethal alternative. As we have seen, in the senseless tragic killings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, both shot to death before their 18th birthdays, SYG laws are making our communities even less safe, and is a painful reminder that racism and racial stereotypes remain a debilitating aspect of our culture.
In the early years of the twentieth century, our Congress failed to pass laws making lynchings of African Americans illegal. Ida B. Wells led the anti-lynching movement of the 20th century. She was a fierce racial justice advocate who documented the horrific ritual lynchings of African Americans in the United States, and her work illustrated that lynchings were used as a tool by white supremacists to terrorize and punish the African American community for competing with whites. Now, in the 21st century we have SYG, essentially a new form of lynching masquerading as self-defense. We believe that fighting to repeal Stand Your Ground is the anti-lynching movement of the 21st century, and in the spirit of Ida B. Wells, NC Peace Action strongly urges our legislatures to repeal SYG in every state where this law exists.
In cultures where racism still prevails, there is racial disparity in how these laws are applied. A study by Richard Florida (The Atlantic Cities in July, 2013) shows that in states with “Stand Your Ground” laws, 35.9% of white on Black shootings are deemed self-defense, but only 3.4% of Black on white have the same verdict—11 times more likely to be self-defense in white on Black shootings.
Equally important is the systemic inequalities inherent in the double standard of gun use and SYG. When a young African American mother from Florida, Marissa Alexander fired a warning shot in the air to fend off her abusive husband—someone who had threatened her life on numerous occasions—she could not have known that she would be sentenced to prison for 20-years. After mass protest and mobilization in support of Alexander, she won a new trial in December 2013, but not before she spent a year in prison. She is now under house arrest awaiting a new trial and Florida prosecutor, Angela Corey, has announced that she will now seek 60 years in prison if Alexander is convicted again. Marrissa killed no one. She fired a warning shot, but unlike George Zimmerman who was acquitted for killing Trayvon Martin and is free and clear today, Marissa Alexander faces 60 years in prison.
Stand Your Ground is bad policy and we implore all of our friends, allies, and peers who believe in peace, justice, democracy, and freedom to stand with NC Peace Action as we “Stand Our Ground” against a system that provides a license to kill Black and Brown people with impunity.
The preamble to our constitution states that we are striving to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic tranquility…” Stand Your Ground laws are based on the worst kinds of fear rather than the common good and do not contribute to justice, or a more perfect union, or tranquility in our nation.
We can do better. We must do better. Morality and the need for all people to live peaceably together demand it.
Submitted by Crystal M. Hayes. Crystal is Assistant Director of North Carolina Peace Action and Clinical Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University in the Department of Social Work.