Why Stand Your Ground Laws Should Stand No More

By Justin Morrow, Toronto FC Full Back and Players Coalition Supporter

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Justin Morrow, a native of Cleveland, is a full back with the Toronto FC and Players Coalition Supporter.

In May of this year, the country reeled as we watched a video of two men hunting down and then killing Ahmaud Arbery, and then learned that the prosecutor on the case believed that the state’s stand your ground laws justified this horrific killing. Arbery’s murder was the latest in a long line of cases where killers invoked “stand your ground laws” to avoid liability for what clearly constituted race-based violence. We all know Trayvon Martin’s case, but the list is long. There is Markeis McGlockton, shot and killed in Florida after merely shoving an aggressive man away from his girlfriend. There is Bo Morrison, shot and killed by a homeowner who discovered the unarmed 20-year old on his porch one morning, fleeing from a party that had underage drinking. In case after case, a person who poses no lethal threat, and often no threat at all, ends up dead; the person who took their life says he nonetheless felt threatened and goes home, a free man. Usually, the victim is Black, with “danger” or “threat” serving as code for “Black.”

As people continue to demand massive change to a broken legal system that imposes little accountability for the loss of Black lives, last week the Ohio legislature decided to proceed in the opposite direction by expanding this deeply flawed law. People in Ohio already had a right to use self-defense, with the simple long-standing duty to retreat if reasonably possible before taking another person’s life.

Without meaningful debate or public input, the legislature swept away that requirement, and if the Governor signs the bill, people here can shoot without trying to defuse a conflict, determine if there is a real threat, or back away no matter how safe it would be to do so. It is not just that the law will justify taking the law into one’s own hands; we also all know who will be allowed to invoke this lenient law, who will not, and who it will harm. The Governor can veto this bill, and he should.

Stand your ground laws have no place in a civilized society. First, stand your ground laws do not require people to preserve human life first by trying to retreat or even ensuring that the person they think poses a risk actually does. The consequences of removing this requirement are dire — we saw them in the Arbery case. Mr. Arbery was out for a run, he had no gun, he posed no threat. His killers didn’t wait around to bother to find out if he had any means of harming them or motive to do so, they simply chased him down and shot him. For months, stand your ground laws provided the prosecutor cover to let them get away with their horrific act, until the video was released and the public took to the streets. These laws still might give them an escape from justice, as his killers will certainly raise that defense at trial.

The laws also have a racially disparate impact, like most laws and sentences in this country’s legal system. According to one study performed by researchers at the Urban Institute, when the shooter and victim are of the same race, 11 percent or less of the shootings are ruled justifiable. Yet when the shooter is Black and the victim white, the number drops to merely three percent. And when the shooter is white and the victim is Black, however, the rate leaps to an astounding 34 percent. Although those disparities are not entirely attributable to stand your ground laws, the study unsurprisingly found that they made the gap worse.

There is also evidence that stand your ground laws increase homicide rates. Homicides and gun violence are already increasing at an alarming rate in this country, as people fall deeper into poverty and are home and away from schools and jobs — all circumstances known to drive increased violence. We should be addressing these risk factors and working towards programs that decrease the root causes of violent crime, not passing a law we know will increase it.

There are no good reasons to sign this bill into law, and certainly not without meaningful public input and discussion. We need to look for solutions that will help end violence rather than implement laws that will expand people’s ability to cause harm and further entrench the already-massive racial disparities that run rampant in our criminal system. As the year winds down, so too should this bill. I hope the Governor will exercise his veto power immediately.

Players Coalition is structured as an independent 501(c)(3) (charity) and 501(c)(4) (advocacy) organization, working with professional athletes, coaches and owners across leagues to improve social justice and racial equality in our country.

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