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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(The Root) -- It doesn't hurt to have a little white privilege on your side.

If you can get it.

And George Zimmerman got the most out of what privilege he had after being found not guilty in the murder of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. After the verdict, Zimmerman's attorneys held a press conference, and attorney Mark O'Mara, while answering a reporter's question, remarked that if Zimmerman had been black, "He never would've been charged with a crime."

O'Mara couldn't be more wrong.

I don't know which justice system O'Mara's been operating in, but black people are more likely to get a conviction no matter who they kill -- black or white -- even if they claim self-defense. Especially since most of them can't afford O'Mara to represent them in the first place.

There is no privilege in claiming self-defense while black -- even when killing another black person. When the verdict came down not guilty, Zimmerman had not just the jury but also statistics on his side.

A 2012 study by PBS's Frontline is getting a second look post-Zimmerman's exoneration, and it reveals that if you're going to kill in self-defense in America, you'd better be white. By analyzing data from a study by John Roman, senior analyst at the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center, Frontline found that in "Stand your ground" states, white people who kill black people are 354 percent more likely to be found justified in their killings. And it doesn't get much better in non-"Stand your ground" states, where that number goes down only to 250 percent.

But even when it comes to black-on-black crime or black-on-white crime, a black defendant is unlikely to get a self-defense ruling in his or her favor, whether or not the state has "Stand your ground" laws on the books, as shown in this graph.

Source: PBS.org

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