Trayvon Martin anniversary: 18,000 have been killed under ‘racist’ Stand Your Ground laws since 2012. Why has nothing changed?

Hundreds of Americans, a disproportionately high number of them Black people, are being shot and killed as a result of controversial “stand your ground” laws that have swept across the nation since the killing of Trayvon Martin, activists say.

A decade after the unarmed Black teenager, walking home from a store, was shot and killed by a neighbourhood watch coordinator who claimed he was acting in self-defence, in a moment that shook the nation, activists say an additional 150 people each month have been killed in gun homicides as a result of laws now in effect in 38 states.

Studies show that people of colour are disproportionately impacted as a result of these laws; in those states where stand your ground is operative either as a result of legislation or case law, homicides in which white shooters kill Black victims are ruled to be justifiable five times more frequently than when the circumstances are reversed.

“Nothing good has come from these laws,” says Allison Anderman, senior counsel for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a group established by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords who was attacked and grievously injured in a mass shooting in 2011.

“A number of studies have shown that they have meaningfully increased firearm homicide rates, and overall homicide rates, that they are racist and are applied in a racially discriminatory manner, most often to exonerate white people who shoot and kill Black people.”

She tells The Independent: “States should repeal them and reinstate the duty to retreat when someone is in a confrontation and can escape without any harm to themselves or others.”

The shooting of the teenager, infamously killed in Florida on 26 February 2012, while wearing a grey hoodie and described by George Zimmerman, the white man who shot him dead after telling a dispatcher he believed he looked “suspicious”, is one of this generation’s epochal moments.

Initially, local police in Sanford decided not to charge Mr Zimmerman, at the time aged 28, citing the state’s stand your ground laws, and the shooter’s assertion he was acting in self defence. Florida was the second state to pass such legislation, after Utah in 1994, and signed it into law in 2005, after lobbying from the National Rifle Association, the gun industry group.

A month after the shooting, it was announced that state and federal authorities had launched their own inquiries.

Speaking from the White House, Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, said the incident had made him think of the safety of his own children. “My main message is, is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” he said.

Mr Zimmerman was eventually charged with second-degree murder. He was found not guilty, a verdict that sparked dismay among large numbers in the country and would lead to the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement by three Black women, who launched a nationwide campaign for racial justice.

That campaign frequently took to the streets in the years that followed, to protest the killing of people such as Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Markeis McGlockton and George Floyd.

Yasser Payne, an associate professor of sociology and Black American studies at the University of Delaware, says the only way America will create a just society is to recognise the centuries of slavery, and pay reparations. He says financial equality will lead to other equity.

“Keep in mind Black America, 50 to 60 per cent of Black America has zero dollars in wealth and that by 2053, the entire community is expected to have  zero dollars in wealth,” he says. “What is preventing us from stopping these police actions, is the fact we are a bottom caste by design, and we are a wealth-less people. We don’t need reform. We don’t like that word. We need our wealth back in the form of Black reparations, and we’ll create our own policing system.”

He says in the short term, changes can be made to policing, especially in smaller cities such as Wilmington, Delaware, where he does much of his research.

But wholesale change requires a recognition of of the role of slavery  and its lingering impact, and financial reparations.

Activists point to several studies that show the impact of stand your ground laws.

One 2019 study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons that compared the five years before states began enacting these laws (2000–2004) to the 13-year period following their enactment (2005–2017), found justifiable firearm homicide rates increased by 55 per cent in states that enacted stand your ground laws. In states where there were no laws, there was an increase of 20 per cent.

Alongside that, a 2013 study published by the Urban League, found that across all states, homicides in which white shooters kill Black victims were deemed justifiable far more frequently than when the situation is reversed.

Parents of those killed by guns, including Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton (wearing a checked hat) helped push the cause of Black Lives Matter

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