Howard University

Howard Law Students Prepare Statement for Stand Your Ground Hearing

Howard Law students were mobilized and ready to attend the Senate’s September 17 hearing on Stand Your Ground Laws. However, due to the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, the hearing was postponed until further notice.

Statement for the Record

Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights
Hearing on “Stand Your Ground” Laws
Civil Rights and Public Safety Implications of the Expanded Use of Deadly Force
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Dirksen Senate Building Room 226

Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Cruz and Members of Congress:

After the death of Trayvon Martin, police failed to charge Martin’s shooter, claiming that they could not arrest him because of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. It took public outrage and six weeks before a special prosecutor brought charges against George Zimmerman. Howard University students helped publicize the case.

As Howard law students immediately recognized, there were racial aspects to the police department and prosecutor’s initial refusal to arrest or charge Zimmerman. It harkened back to a period in this country when black men and boys were killed without any judicial response. Various graduate and undergraduate students within Howard formed “Howard Students for Justice.” Students used social media outlets, such as Twitter and Facebook, to inform the world about the shooting and Stand Your Ground law’s racial impact. Within a few hours, our efforts helped raise awareness nationwide and gained increased media attention. Additionally, the student coalition created a two-and-a-half minute video called “Am I Suspicious” to highlight the complexity of determining reasonable fear within the context of Stand Your Ground laws. The video consisted of students dressed in hooded sweatshirts, similar to Trayvon Martin’s appearance at the time of his encounter with George Zimmerman. The “Am I Suspicious” campaign challenged viewers to look beyond stereotypes of African Americans and was viewed over 350,000 times on YouTube within a week.

The campaign and coalition efforts helped illuminate discussions on the intersection of race and the application of Stand Your Ground laws. Presently, the Howard Students for Justice Facebook group is used as a forum for open dialogue concerning student perspectives on present day social justice issues. Stand Your Ground laws continue to be a recurring topic on the forum.

Stand Your Ground Laws pose a great threat to our civil rights because of the racial bias associated with invoking these laws. We object to Stand Your Ground laws because they allow civilians to act upon their unreasonable fears and use deadly force to resolve problems that should be handled by law enforcement. We live in a society of mistaken beliefs and stereotypes. The enactment of Stand Your Ground laws allow for racial profiling and we fear that those with racist attitudes will use the law as an excuse to shoot innocent people.

Consider Trayvon Martin’s situation. The teenager could not win by running away (he tried) or resisting the force against him (he tried). He was racially profiled and killed. Since many students at Howard law school look like Trayvon Martin and dress like Trayvon Martin, we feel that the Stand Your Ground laws make us vulnerable to people who might do us harm.

The Due Process Clause of The United States Constitution states that no one should be deprived of their life or liberty without having been found guilty of a crime. Stand Your Ground laws erode the legitimacy of our criminal justice system and our Constitution by placing the authority to deprive another human being of their life into the hands of untrained individuals. More lives will be lost if we continue to give untrained civilians the authority to take the law into their own hands.

In 2005, Florida became the first state to pass a Stand Your Ground law, as codified at §776.013 of the Florida Statute. There have been 130 Florida cases where parties invoked Stand Your Ground. Of these cases, more than 70 percent involved a killing, but only 28 of the cases went to trial, and only 19 of those resulted in a guilty verdict. Those numbers suggest that many individuals were able to use Stand Your Ground laws as a way to steer clear from criminal charges.

We are in favor of state legislation that will prevent future killings like Trayvon Martin’s. Florida State Senator Chris Smith’s legislation, for example, attempts to amend the worst aspects of Stand Your Ground and also limit vigilantism in neighborhood watch programs. We recommend that federal law enforcement agencies be required to conduct prompt, thorough and reasonable investigations of self-defense claims to ensure that Stand Your Ground laws are not used to violate civil rights or serve as a guise for unchecked vigilante violence. Civilians should not revenge wrongs that have been committed against them. Allowing civilians to act as vigilantes will continue to harm minorities and minority communities. Our friends, family members, colleagues, and our own lives are being impacted by Stand Your Ground laws.

The students of Howard University School of Law would like to thank you, Chairman Durbin, and your Committee. While this is primarily a state issue, this Committee can shed light on the injustice and also consider the equal protection challenges posed by these civil rights challenges.

Howard University was chartered in 1867 to provide academic opportunities for promising African Americans. Today, the School of Law continues to fulfill its mission by producing skilled professionals capable of achieving positions of leadership in law, business, government, education and public service. These leaders are also advocates dedicated to solving the difficult challenges facing our communities and ensuring justice for all. In this vein, the Howard University School of Law student body submits this statement for the record to address the implications of the expansion of deadly force through “Stand Your Ground” laws.

Please note that this submission is the personal opinion of students that attend Howard University School of Law. This submission is not an official position of Howard University School of Law or Howard University.

Sincerely In Service,

Edward Hill
President, Student Bar Association
Howard University School of Law

Liliane B. Bedford
Graduate Student Trustee
Howard University School of Law

Amanda A. Butler-Jones
President, Class of 2014
Howard University School of Law

Whitnee Goins
President, Class of 2015 Howard University School of Law

Durriyyah Rose
President, Criminal Law Society
Howard University School of Law

Sierra M. Wallace
Vice President, Criminal Law Society
Howard University School of Law

Ashley Sawyer
Class of 2014
Howard University School of Law