The Effects of the Castle Doctrine on Community Policing: Do “Stand Your Ground Laws Create Distrust between the Police and Minorities

This post is actually a research paper I wrote for a criminal class while in undergrad. It is about the “Stand Your Ground” law that has been under a great deal of public scrutiny since the death of Travon Martin in 2012.

On February 25, 2012 at approximately 7:09 pm, George Zimmerman called the Sanford, Florida police department to report “suspicious behavior” by Trayvon Martin. Mr. Zimmerman was advised by the police dispatcher to refrain from following Martin after telling the dispatcher that Martin had started running. Around the same time Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend called him on his cell phone (Surge, Robertson, & Alverez, 2012). They talked for approximately three minutes. In the course of their conversation, Martin informed his girlfriend that he spotted a strange man following him. She advised him to run and overheard him exchange words with George Zimmerman, overheard sounds of pushing, and then his headset went silent. After trying to call him back, she couldn’t reach him (Surge, Robertson, & Alverez, 2012). At approximately the same time, neighbors began to call 911 to report an altercation they overheard (and in some cases saw) between Martin and Zimmerman. By the time police arrived, the altercation was over and Martin was dead from a gun shot to the chest from Zimmerman’s gun (Stutzman, 2012). All of this, including the police taking George Zimmerman to the police station to question him, took place in less than three hours (Stutzman, 2012).

On August 1, 2010, Marissa Alexander’s husband became enraged after discovering text messages that she had written to her ex-husband and began strangling her (Hadad, 2012) (WJXT-TV, 2012). After getting loose from his grip, she ran to the garage intending to get in her truck and drive away. When she made it to the garage, she discovered that she forgot her keys in the house. Sensing that going back into the house would lead to another altercation, she grabbed her gun for protection. When she re-entered the house her husband threatened to kill her, so she shot a warning shot into the air to scare him. When he heard the shot, her husband took his two children and left. Her husband admitted, at the time, to having a history of violence against women. He admits to beating all of his five “baby mamas” and says that he once beat Alexander so bad that he put her in the hospital and wound up in jail. Even though no one was hurt or killed in this incident, Marissa Alexander now sits in jail and could face twenty years in prison (Hadad, 2012) (WJXT-TV, 2012).

The purpose of this research is not retry the above cases but examine a controversial piece of legislature that they have in common. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Because of this law, George Zimmerman almost avoided arrest and trial for his part in the death in the death of Trayvon Martin. Marissa Alexander tried to use this law in her case to avoid prosecution, and the court threw it out in her case. Both of these incidents took place in the state of Florida.

Senate Bill 436 was signed into law in April of 2005 by Governor Jeb Bush. The law is meant to expand and explain the self-defense rights of citizen’s of the state of Florida against violent attackers (Wallace, 2006). “Stand Your Ground” laws state that a “person may use force in self-defense when there is a reasonable belief of a threat, without obligation to retreat first” (Jansen & Nugent-Borakove, 2007). Florida’s version of the law allows for deadly force in cases where the victim has reason to believe that his/her life is in danger (Jansen & Nugent-Borakove, 2007). Twenty-three of fifty states have enacted some sort of castle doctrine legislation from 2005 to 2008 (Boots, Bihari, & Elliot, 2009). Eleven states have considered castle doctrine legislation since 2005 but have yet to pass it (Boots, Bihari, & Elliot, 2009).

Castle doctrine, the formal name for “Stand Your Ground “laws, has its origins in English common law when a man’s home was considered to be his “castle” (Jansen & Nugent-Borakove, 2007). The whole idea was that home was considered to be a sanctuary from danger and each man has a right or duty to protect it. This doctrine gave men (and women) the right to use force, even deadly force; in order to make sure his “sanctuary” was (is) protected against intruders (Jansen & Nugent-Borakove, 2007). In 1914, Judge Benjamin N. Cardozo instituted the “no obligation to retreat” portion of the doctrine. According to research, castle doctrine seems to have ties to the Second Amendment “right to bear arms” (Boots, Bihari, & Elliot, 2009).

Florida’s expansion includes the right to use force anywhere the person has a right to be. And it forbids the arrest of any person the police determine to have acted in self-defense. This means that the police can make the decision, at the scene of the confrontation, that arrest isn’t necessary because the person acted in self-defense. The law also gives the person criminal or civil immunity and offers attorney’s fees, courts costs, and compensation for loss of income, and all expenses incurred by the person in defense of any civil action by the injured party or his family in the event of the his/her death. The law is not supposed to apply if the person is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after committing a forcible felony or initially provokes the use of force against him/herself unless they’ve exhausted every reasonable means to escape danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great harm to the assailant (Jansen & Nugent-Borakove, 2007). Or if “in good faith” they withdrew from physical contact with the assailant and made it clear to the assailant that they desire to withdraw and terminate the use of force (Jansen & Nugent-Borakove, 2007).

The problem seems to be that a lot of cases where defendants that use “Stand Your Ground” laws were cases where the defendant was advised by police dispatchers not to confront the suspect (Horn vs. State) (Boots, Bihari, & Elliot, 2009), or shoot at people who are a threat to them selves or others (Montanez vs. State)(Wallace, 2006), or shoot at people who haven’t threatened them and really mean them no harm at all and wanted to ask them a question (Quaggin vs. State) (Jansen & Nugent-Borakove, 2007). One major concern is that the laws don’t really deter criminal behavior and might increase vigilantism. One study found that justified homicide is on the rise since 2005 (Boots, Bihari, & Elliot, 2009) showing a slight increase from 2003 to 2007. Justified homicides involving a firearm (the weapon of choice in most “Stand Your Ground” cases) have also increased steadily since 2005 with 75% to 82% of justified homicides involving the use of a firearm (Boots, Bihari, & Elliot, 2009). An interesting fact is Florida was the first state to enact new castle doctrine laws in response to NRA lobbying in 2005 (Boots, Bihari, & Elliot, 2009).

At first glance, castle doctrine law reads like a good law for those who are actually defending their lives. Researchers are currently examining whether or not the expansions to castle doctrine law are of any benefit to domestic violence victims (like Marissa Alexander) and only one study deals with this matter (Jansen & Nugent-Borakove, 2007). And according to that study, there seemed to be no direct benefit to women who live with their batterers (Jansen & Nugent-Borakove, 2007). The complication seems to stem from whether or not a woman’s response to her attacker is reasonable and the study indicated the law seemed to ignore the dynamics of ongoing abuse (Jansen & Nugent-Borakove, 2007).

The effects on community policing have already been seen with both Trayvon Martin’s case and that of Marissa Alexander in that it seems open old wounds of racial injustice and concerns about uneven application of the law, especially along racial and class lines.

Works Cited

Boots, D. P., Bihari, J., & Elliot, E. (2009). The State of the Castle: An Overview of Recent Trends in State Castle Doctrine. Criminal Justice Review, 515-535.

Hadad, C. (2012, April 24). “Stand Your Ground” law under scruntiny in Domestic Violence Case. CNN.com, pp. 1-2.

Jansen, S., & Nugent-Borakove, M. (2007). Expansions to the Castle Doctrine: Implications for Policy and Practice. National District Attorneys Association (pp. 3-23). Alexandria,Va.: National District Attorneys Association.

Kuo, V. (2012, March 15). Fatal shooting of Florida teen turned over to State Attorney. CNN.com, pp. 1-2.

Stutzman, R. (2012, April 2). Trayvon Martin facts vs. Rumors. Orlando Sentinel, pp. 1-3.

Surge, D. B., Robertson, C., & Alverez, L. (2012, April 1). Race, Tragedy and Outrage Collide After a Shot in Florida. New York Times, pp. 1-7.

Wallace, P. A. (2006, Fall). Stand Your Ground: New Challenges for Forensic Psychologists. The Forensic Examiner, pp. 37-41.

WJXT-TV. (2012, April). As Supporters Rally, Woman Asks for New Trial . MSN.com, p. 1.

Good News: Jesus Is Not Nice | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Next week I’ll be posting again to continue writing  my series ” The Single Black Woman Conundrum”. Meanwhile, in keeping with my prominse to keep timely and newsworthy content, I’m postin this article from Christianity Today. Let me know what you think. Have a blessed weekend.  Good News: Jesus Is Not Nice | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

The Single Black Woman Conundrum Pt. 5a : How much of the problem is us ?

I’m going to write about a situation that most of us have found ourselves in at one time or another. Here’s the scenario, boy meets girl, boy likes girl, girl doesn’t like boy back (chemistry), dismisses boy’s romantic overtures and promptly banishes boy  into, you guessed it, THE FRIEND ZONE!!! THE FRIEND ZONE  is the place where perfectly good men who just didn’t have enough chemistry/swag/money/penis/you name it get sent when they don’t fit our superficial criteria of what kind of man we want.  Many men hate the friend zone and I understand why (having been there a few times my own self ). Because really, who wants to be told that they’re not good enough to date you, then have to listen to all your relationship problems and on top of that have to give you advice and have to act like it doesn’t bother them that you’re with someone else. I’ve been on both sides of this coin, so I can  speak with some authority from both sides of it. As the guilty party, should you sacrifice qualities that aren’t must haves, but  for you make a relationship really nice to be in. And is it really fair to the offended party if you do? I don’t know about you, but, I’ve always been of the mind that BOTH parties in a relationship should mutually think that each other is the bees knees (translation: all that and a bag of chips). And I don’t want no one acting like they are doing me a favor by giving me a “CHANCE” to be in a relationship with them (as if?!?).  On the other hand, do you really want to spend the rest of your life having to deal with the very things that made you turn them down in the first place? How much should you overlook  just to say you’re in a relationship (or married). How picky is too picky? And if you’re the friend, how long do you pine away wishing that the person would just give you a “CHANCE” to prove that you could be “the one?” I decided to make this one a two parter (possibly a miniseries). I feel “led” to stay on this one for a minute.

                                                        In His Name,

                                                          AnjanetteSpeak

The Single Black Woman Conundrum Pt. 4 : What happened to Women being Loosed???

    11And there was a woman there who for eighteen years had had an [f]infirmity caused by a spirit ([g]a demon of sickness). She was [h]bent completely forward and utterly unable to straighten herself up or to [i]look upward.

    12And when Jesus saw her, He called [her to Him] and said to her, Woman, you are released from your infirmity!

    13Then He laid [His] hands on her, and instantly she was made straight, and she [j]recognized and thanked and praised God.

    14But the [k]leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the crowd, There are six days on which work ought to be done; so come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.(A)

    15But the Lord replied to him, saying, You playactors (hypocrites)! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead it out to water it?

    16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?

    17Even as He said this, all His opponents were put to shame, and all the people were rejoicing over all the glorious things that were being done by Him.

This is one of those pesky times when you think you have a scripture all picked out that would serve your purpose and you realize that it doesn’t say what you thought it said (how humbling) but as you read it, you realize that it fits still the topic at hand (it’s all good).  When I started this series, I wrote about three differing scenarios that illustrate some of the many viewpoints that single black women face in their journey through this thing called life. The scenario I’d like to tackle today is the issue of the “black church” and it’s attitude towards single black women.

Sometime during the summer, a fellow blogger  and twitter acquaintance of mine wrote an article charging the “black church” with the state of  “keeping black women single”. And depending on you ask, some agreed with her, others, not so much. Before I tell you my thoughts about whether not I personally fault “black church” as a whole, I have  an illustration I’d like to show you first. It’s concerning our heroine in the above scripture.  As you notice, a demon has her bound. So bound that she’s bent over and can’t lift her head to look up and see the world around her. And she’s been in this state for EIGHTEEN YEARS!!! Jesus takes one look at her and says to her “Woman, you are released from your infirmity!” (for the King James fans  “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity” in keeping with the book by Bishop T.D. Jakes with the same name). In verse 14 of this text the ruler of the ruler of the synagogue is indignant over Jesus healing her on the sabbath (sometimes even a leader can hate on you). To which Jesus replied “You playactors (hypocrites)! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead it out to water it?And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?

Now you may wonder why I would choose to use this scripture about a women being bound by a demon of infirmity in conjunction with my single sisters. Am referring to singleness as a state of bondage?? Of course not.  I’m single  and do believe that once a person commits to enjoying the rich rewards that come with their “gift of singleness” there’s no more rewarding time in the life of a believing person. However what if I wanted to be married and felt like it was held up by some type of interference????? Hmmmm…. What if I thought “the church” was the reason for this “hold up”???? Hmmmm…. You see one the promises of the gospel message is that the oppressed should be delivered (Luke 4 :18).  Like Jesus stated above about our heroine paraphrasing ” Doesn’t she, being a child of covenant, have a right to be set free???” After all this poor woman had bowed over for EIGHTEEN YEARS!!!!” And she obviously knew there was a problem or she wouldn’t have presented herself to Jesus in the first place. Marinate on that thought while I move on…..

Let me first answer that while I don’t agree that “black church” all by itself keeps black women single, some have suggested that certain teachings are the problem (not being unequally yoked with an unbeliever”, not having sex until marriage, among others). But anyone who is saved and seen the consequences of just these two violations, alone can attest to the fact that the fallout from compromising God’s standards for our sexuality and marriage standards is enough to keep a person single the rest of their life. As Joyce Myer has stated “There’s nothing in heaven that is better than a good marriage, but there’s nothing in hell that is worse than a bad one”. Notice  I said “God’s standard” and the “black church’s ” standard. The two are not always synonymous. They should be. But they aren’t and that’s part of the problem. The other part of the problem is the one I am addressing today.

Let me start by saying that it really makes me wince when I hear people say “black church” because ALL Christians are a part of the Body/Bride of Christ which includes being part of THE CHURCH (the ecclesia or “called out ones”)universal.  So no matter whose membership role you’re on, you are a member of a worldwide organization whose membership is ever increasing and is not part of this present world. Anyway, reigning in my inner preacher, to just  say nonchalantly that black church doesn’t keep black women single is just as bad as saying it does. Why, because both are blanket statements that don’t take in to account that even though we are  part of the universal church, each assembly is different . So because one assembly has a healthy relationship with its Pastor/ leader doesn’t mean every assembly has that testimony. And every unhealthy assembly ain’t black!!! Many women of all ethnic persuasions complain about these  same issues.  And no I don’t believe the answer is to leave church as Ms. Cooper stated in her article. First of all, not all single women of any particular persuasion are feeling “pressed” to marry. Secondly, when a child thinks the answer to problems at home is to runaway from that home, I’m tempted to investigate that home to make sure that child ain’t being abused (yeah I said it). Everyone who leaves home ain’t leaving out of rebellion. Some conditions in some homes are so unbearable that some children need to be placed elsewhere (foster care, adopted out, what have you). Such as the church. Some church atmospheres are so oppressive and corrupt that even a beautiful thing like getting married can become  a power struggle (know this firsthand, unfortunately). It ought not to be among the seed of Abraham.

 Like our heroine in the above scripture,  many women feel “bound” because they want to marry and feel as though they are being “kept single.” In some cases it may be that they are marrying “beneath their privilege” (it ain’t God’s best person or situation for them).  In some cases however, it’s the work of a dysfunctional home environment (Pastor too controlling  or worse). The beautiful thing about Jesus (the author and finisher our faith) is that He truly is the answer to all of our problems. Just like He was able to bring healing our above heroine, He can bring healing to this situation as well.  I’m going address how in my next post next week. I’m going to discuss another issue that is concerning me in the whole Single Black Woman Conundrum .