Professor McLaurin Questions Reduction of Law Enforcement Role
Photo right: A group of members from Suffolk Law’s Black Law Student Association gathered recently as part of a national solidarity movement in response to the Trayvon Martin case.
As part of a week-long nationwide “Stand Against Racism” program, Boston YWCA hosted a panel discussion on Stand Your Ground legislation at its Clarendon Street headquarters on Thursday, April 26.
Suffolk University Law School Associate Clinical Professor Kim McLaurin joined Simmons School of Social Work Associate Professor Gary Bailey, and Boston YWCA President and CEO Sylvia Ferrell-Jones to examine Stand Your Ground laws in place in 24 states, and currently under consideration in Massachusetts. Andrea Kramer, President of the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts, served as moderator.
“This issue is very much on people’s minds in the light of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida,” said Ferrell-Jones, referring to the deadly shooting of unarmed black teenager Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. The case has highlighted Florida’s 2005 law permitting citizens to use lethal force against anyone they fear might “inflict great bodily injury or death” on them, or a third party.
In the five months following the passage of the Stand Your Ground legislation in Florida, said McLaurin, the statute was invoked 13 times in the shootings of 13 black men. Ten of the men died, and no arrests were made, she said. Far from being unique, Martin’s case is “unfortunately the norm,” said McLaurin. Stand Your Ground laws go “well beyond societal norms of self defense,” in giving people the right to meet non-excessive force with deadly force, on the grounds of a perceived threat, she said. In most cases, they also preclude arrest, prosecution or civil action, and “they take control of investigation and fact-gathering out of the hands of law enforcement.”
Professor Bailey argued that “the context here is racial profiling and the history of race—who is privileged, or not privileged, to be afraid.” He pointed to the role of the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in promoting “cookie-cutter” Stand Your Ground legislation nationwide.
“This issue is not new, and it’s not going away,” said Ferrell-Jones, recalling a talk she gave 18 years ago “about how we feel threatened, simply on sight, by people we don’t know,” particularly if they happen to be young, male and black. “What would this say about our communities if our legislature decides it’s all right for us to walk around, or ride our bicycles, or drive our cars, armed, to be able to stand our ground if we feel threatened?” she asked. The morning’s discussion, she said, should be seen as part of a community-wide debate about the “risks we face if we have this kind of law enacted in Massachusetts.”