After a New York bodega owner was charged with murder for stabbing a man who attacked him in his store, some are calling for a so-called Stand Your Ground law in the Empire State similar to those enacted across the South and Midwest in the last decade.
The store owner, Jose Alba, is charged by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr. for stabbing 34-year-old Austin Simon to death at the Blue Moon Bodega in Harlem on July 1. Simon and his girlfriend were caught on camera arguing with and later attacking Alba before Austin was fatally stabbed. In the wake, Alba’s supporters—including a trade group of bodega owners—are not only arguing that the stabbing was self-defense and therefore he shouldn’t face a murder beef but going a step further. Yesterday they suggested the Stand Your Ground law that would codify the ability of merchants like Alba, or almost anyone, to take another person’s life in New York if they feel threatened.
That’s problematic as fuck.
As a legal concept, Stand Your Ground extends so-called castle doctrine—your lack of a duty to retreat when threatened—from your right to protect your own home from burglars to literally anywhere you could be. Somebody talks shit at a bar? Stand your ground. Don’t like how somebody’s looking at you sideways on the street? Stand your ground.
The concept was popularized in red states in the early 2010s, mainly as legislatures raced to pass ever-more-permissive gun laws in response to NRA lobbying. The idea was that not only should people be able to carry guns anywhere, or everywhere, but that they should be able to use them, too. This had the obvious impact: give a bunch of untrained wimps pistols and tell them it’s OK to shoot anybody who scares them, and you end up with a bunch of George Zimmermans. Stand Your Ground was the legal defense he used to get away with killing with following, starting an altercation with and then killing unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin a decade ago.
Predictably, Stand Your Ground has been used to justify a disproportionate number of Black people, specifically Black men, being gunned down by white people asserting they have no duty to retreat. Probably the most famous recent case was that of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man whose white murderers in a rural Georgia town last year chased and cornered him, shot him dead and recorded themselves doing so, all before trying to use that state’s Stand Your Ground law in their defense. Luckily it failed.
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In an essay this past January, Wake Forest University law professor Kami Chavis examined examined the racial implications of Stand Your Ground, finding that the laws had made it much more dangerous for Black people around the country. “...Valuing Black lives means confronting a gun culture that promotes private vigilantism (as in the shooting death of Arbery), which some white Americans use to justify gun violence against Blacks. Valuing Black lives also means ensuring equal access to self-defense claims and treating similarly-situated defendants similarly,” he wrote.
Now, in the name of a self-defense claim by a bodega owner, some folks want to bring that same deadly concept to the country’s biggest and most dense city. They want to do it right after the Supreme Court throw out New York State’s formerly strict law on who could concealed carry a handgun. What could possibly go wrong?