Killing in Self-Defense: You Better Be White

Black defendants rarely get a ruling of justifiable homicide, whether the victim is white or black.

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But is this proof of bias? Not necessarily, according to Frontline:

So the disparity is clear. But the figures don't yet prove bias. As Roman points out, the data doesn't show the circumstances behind the killings, for example whether the people who were shot were involved in home invasions or in a confrontation on the street.

Additionally, there are far fewer white-on-black shootings in the FBI data -- only 25 total in both the Stand Your Ground and non-Stand Your Ground states. In fact, the small sample size is one of the reasons Roman conducted a regression analysis, which determines the statistical likelihood of whether the killings will be found justifiable.

Anecdotally, we can name the names -- Oscar Grant III, James Byrd, Amadou Diallo, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin -- some killed by police, others by civilians. Sometimes the perpetrators were punished, as in the case of Byrd's lynching. Others were sentenced, but leniently, like former police officer Johannes Mehserle, who killed Oscar Grant. He received two years with credit for time served and served only 11 months. Trayvon's killer is now free, and it's yet to be seen what will happen to Michael Dunn, who shot Florida teen Jordan Davis over an alleged dispute involving "loud music."

So the fact that black life, again, isn't valued as much as the lives of others -- and that if you're a black person claiming self-defense, you are unlikely to be believed -- is not shocking. It's depressing, but a depressing reality that we have lived under for centuries.

How can these statistics be surprising when post-Reconstruction lynchings were rampant? There were rarely arrests, and almost never any trials. Just death. And how can anyone raise an eyebrow after witnessing the 1950s and '60s, when, even if, on the off-chance, someone who killed a civil rights worker or any black person did end up in court, that person was unlikely to be punished? After all, all these black victims had dared to "step out of line," "not know their place" or "be uppity," which is all code for "They were acting like they had rights or something." And you can't have black people acting, thinking, living, breathing, being a free people.

They might marry your daughter, and their kid might become president of the United States. Can't have that.

Privilege is real. White privilege is especially real, especially when it comes to our courts of law, especially when it comes to death. No matter if you're the victim or the perp, if you want justice, the only thing you don't want to be is the black one.

Danielle C. Belton is a freelance journalist and TV writer, founder of the blog blacksnob.com and editor-at-large of Clutch magazine.

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