If Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis weren’t worthy-enough victims for people to push for “Stand your ground” laws to be revised or repealed, Sherdavia Jenkins should be.
In 2006 Sherdavia, 9, was playing with her doll in the courtyard of the Miami housing project where she lived when Damon “Red Rock” Darling and Leroy “Yellowman” LaRose became embroiled in a gunfight—apparently over drugs.
They missed each other but killed Sherdavia.
Yet when Darling had his day in court, he thought he could get away with the child’s slaying by invoking a Florida law that was passed the previous year. Florida’s “Stand your ground” law, versions of which have since been adopted by 24 more states, removes the obligation for a person to retreat first, as opposed to shooting first, if he or she feels threatened in a public place.
Darling he said he feared that LaRose was going to pull a gun on him, so he shot first in self-defense.
It didn’t work for Darling, though. He got 50 years for manslaughter after his “Stand your ground” motion was rejected, first by a judge and later by an appeals court. LaRose pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and got seven years.
While a judge didn’t buy Darling’s “Stand your ground” claim, which would have allowed him to walk free after his violence and recklessness left a child dead, the fact that criminals like him—many of whom operate in poor, predominantly black communities—believe they can use that law to get away with their lawlessness is reason enough for it to be revised or repealed.
And Sherdavia’s slaying is another reason that it should infuriate people when right-wing pundits and others claim that the law is good for black people.
It’s easy for some to think it is, though. According to a 2012 study in the Tampa Bay Times, blacks who invoked “Stand your ground” when they killed someone went free 66 percent of the time, while whites who did the same were exonerated 61 percent of the time.
But that same study also showed that the law is being applied in ways that allow drug dealers and gang members—the types who hang out in neighborhoods like Sherdavia’s—to walk free.
Imagine what Darling would be doing now—and where he would be doing it—if the judge had bought his “Stand your ground” defense.
The thousands who have been marching and rallying against the law in Tallahassee this week—in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s and Jordan Davis’ killings by white men hyped on testosterone and stereotypes—get this. They also get the wrongness of how, for whatever reason, the law never seems to work for black people who aren’t criminals. Marissa Alexander now faces 60 years in prison for firing a gun at her abusive husband in 2012, and Michael Giles is doing 25 years for shooting and wounding some people who jumped on him at a club in 2010.
Still, “Stand your ground” isn’t universally despised by African Americans. A Quinnipiac poll taken last year showed that 37 percent favored it, while 57 percent opposed it.
Also in 2005, all six black Florida state senators supported it, while only four of the 17 black representatives voted in favor of it.
But what that law really means is that instead of putting resources into reversing the conditions that fuel crime in African-American neighborhoods like Sherdavia’s, Florida lawmakers are choosing to put their energies into upholding a confusing law.
They are, in effect, saying that they aren’t going to help fix the violence and the pathology that surrounds these citizens. Nor are they going to fight the poverty with which two-thirds of the state’s black children grapple, or the 35 percent unemployment rate (pdf) that dogs black youths ages 16 to 19—or any of the factors that contribute to their marginalization and misery.
All they’re going to do, it seems, is make it easier for them to shoot one another.
Some who are living in violence-plagued environments may be fine with that. They may believe that “Stand your ground” will make it easier for them to protect themselves. But the irony is that now that same law is allowing criminals like Darling to feel more secure.
That’s why “Stand your ground” is not a gift to African Americans as much as it is an invitation to further devalue black lives by emboldening drug dealers and gang members into thinking that they have an out when they embark on shooting sprees and other violence.
All they have to do is make sure a little girl doesn’t get in the way of the bullets.