Perhaps you heard already, but George Zimmerman acted in self-defense when he used his gun to kill the unarmed 17 year-old he followed down the street. Contrary to popular perception, Zimmerman’s defense team did not rely on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which A) allows people to use deadly force when they consider themselves at risk of death or great bodily injury, and B) does not require them to retreat from such threats, even when they might reasonably be able to do so. While most states have adopted the so-called Castle Doctrine, which applies to homes, Florida and several others have extended to any lawfully occupied public place the right to use deadly force rather than retreat. Since they did, they have experienced an average 8% increase in homicides and non-negligent manslaughter.
It’s almost as if expanding the range of situations in which it is legal to kill another person encourages more people to try it. Bear in mind that the 8% increase came after state law redefined certain situations that used to be homicide or manslaughter as legal self-defense, meaning that murder went up even after more kinds of killing were classified as not murder. One presumes that general killing went up even more.
One does not know, however, because either statistics do not exist or one is too stupid/lazy to dig them up. Statistics totally exist to support another claim relative to the innocence of George Zimmerman, though: white people who kill black people and claim self-defense are far more likely to be found innocent than black people who make the same claim about killing whites. Props to Ben al-Fowlkes for the link. If you hate links, you can see the broad results of regression analysis below:
Even in a state without a Stand Your Ground law, courts are 250% more likely to accept your self-defense claim if you are white and kill a black person. If you are in an SYG state, though, your odds of successfully claiming that you killed a black person in self-defense shoot up to more than 350% better than if you shot another white person. It doesn’t work if you’re black. In all states, if you kill someone and are black, you are less likely to successfully plead self-defense than defendants in white-on-white crimes.
But what does it mean? You can’t use statistics to prove racial bias in law enforcement, because what if black people are simply more likely to have really done it? In McCleskey v. Kemp, the Supreme Court ruled that a defendant cannot use evidence of systemic discrimination to prove his particular death sentence unconstitutional. Broad statistical evidence doesn’t weigh on individual cases. That’s why it would have been wrong for Zimmerman to identify Trayvon Martin as a person he could kill with impunity, even though conviction data suggests such an assumption was 350% more likely to be true than if Martin were white.
So before we get all up in arms about this Zimmerman-is-innocent thing, let’s imagine how the trial would have played out if a 200-pound black man shot and killed a white teenager in a toney Florida suburb.
Nine times out of ten six times out of 100, the result is exactly the same.
We can’t say Zimmerman was found innocent because he identified as white and killed a black person. His successful self-defense claim contributes to the statistics, but the statistics do not dictate the success of his self-defense claim. By the same token, we can’t say that Zimmerman, while voluntarily patrolling his neighborhood, got out of his car and followed the unarmed person he eventually shot in self-defense because that person was black. His decision contributes to the long statistical history of racial bias in America, but that bias does not dictate the contents of Zimmerman’s heart.
“Punks,” Zimmerman said to the police dispatcher before he started following Martin. “They always get away.” That’s the kind of specious application of broad trends to individual cases that we should be careful to avoid, here. You can’t take what you think you know about things generally and impose it on whatever specific situation is in front of you. George Zimmerman did that, and look how much trouble he got into. None at all, really—so I guess you can’t do that unless you’re white.