Trayvon and Tulsa: Gun Policy Hurts Blacks

Do "Stand your ground" laws amount to a "racial tax"?

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Tulsa Police Department

In February, black Florida teen Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman in a shooting widely suspected to have been motivated by racial bias. This week, two men in a white pickup truck shot five people in one of Tulsa's predominantly black neighborhoods in a possible act of retaliation for the murder of one of their fathers by a black man.

Reflecting upon these two cases, Slate's Emily Bazelon talked to an expert who says that gun laws like "Stand your ground" encourage vigilantism in a way that constitutes a "racial tax":

You can think, then, of legislation like Florida’s Stand Your Ground law -- which makes it all too easy to escape a murder conviction, or even charge, with a claim of self-defense -- as imposing what [Stanford Law Professor Richard Thomas] Ford calls a “racial tax.” He says, “We can predict that the vigilantes these laws encourage are more likely to be reckless, incompetent, and frankly, racist, than the police.”

Oklahoma has a Stand Your Ground law as well, passed in 2006. Mediaite speculates that it’s because of that law that Pernell Jefferson wasn’t charged with shooting Carl England. I’m not sure that’s right, but it seems plausible—and it suggests that what we’re seeing in Tulsa is how Stand Your Ground laws not only get vigilantes off the hook but fuel the anger that drives them to begin with.

One of the fears in the wake of Martin’s death has been that people in Sanford will take justice into their own hands to avenge the teenager’s killing. Now in Oklahoma, in the person of Jacob England, we could be seeing just such an avenger. It’s scary enough to know that there are vigilantes in our midst. It’s scarier still to think that our public policy encourages them.

Read more at Slate.

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