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While Its Critics Disagree, Stand Your Ground-Related Bill Supporters Say It’s 'Color Blind'

MGN Online

Will a Stand Your Ground-related bill starting to move through the legislature have a disproportionate impact on minorities? While opponents of the bill appear to think so, supporters insist the bill is “color blind.”

During a pre-trial immunity hearing for Stand Your Ground cases, the accused must convince a judge their self-defense claim is legitimate to avoid a trial. But, under a bill by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), that burden would be shifted to prosecutors in Stand Your Ground cases.

During the bill’s first committee hearing, Sen. Randolph Bracy (D-Orlando) raised concerns about the measure’s potential effect on minorities.

“If you look at certain studies, it shows that black and latino victims…[it’s] more likely to be justified when someone kills a person of color and then claims Stand Your Ground,” he said. “I think our concern is that there will be more people that will not face punishment in those instances. Can you just speak to that concern?”

Credit Florida Channel
Florida Channel
Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) speaking during his bill's first hearing Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But, Bradley said Stand Your Ground has so far been good for a lot of people, including minorities.

“I remember the Tampa Bay Times did a review of a bunch of cases and ultimately concluded that both black and white individuals equally availed themselves of Stand Your Ground and were equally successful as they went through the process,” he responded.

But, citing FBI statistics, Katie Browder—a survivor of gun violence—didn’t appear convinced. She represents the Florida chapter of Moms Demands Action For Gun Sense in America.

“And, for communities of color—for whom these laws have a disproportionate impact—controlling for other factors, Florida Stand Your Ground cases with minority victims are half as likely to lead to convictions, compared to cases with white victims,” she said. “And, when white shooters kill black victims, the resulting homicides are deemed justifiable 11 times more frequently than when the shooter is black and the victim is white.”

And, Paul de Revere took that argument a step further.

“This bill—what you’re taking up here today—and including Stand Your Ground is racist,” he said, to the lawmaking panel. “Period. It is racist. I’m a white person, telling you this. It’s racist. It just is. Thank you.”

Credit Sascha Cordner / WFSU-FM
Lucy McBath (right) joined by Michelle Gajda (left), the Volunteer Chapter Leader with the Florida Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Both came to the Capitol Tuesday in opposition of the Stand Your Ground-related bill.

Like she did in 2015, Lucia McBath came to Tallahassee to speak against the measure again. She’s the mother of Jordan Davis, the black Jacksonville teen who was fatally shot multiple times over a loud music dispute. Michael Dunn, the white man responsible, had claimed self-defense.

“I think it should be embarrassing to them that here they are considering that after the death of Trayvon Martin, after the death of Jordan, that they would be the second state to introduce an expansion of Stand Your Ground outside of Minnesota, which did last year,” said McBath, speaking to WFSU. “I think it’s a tragedy to all the sons and daughters and people that have died senselessly in this state under these laws and I think they’re disproportionately because minorities are affected the most.”

But, not everyone feels that way. Some, like Luis Valdez, say the majority of the Florida Supreme Court Justices got it wrong in 2015 when they decided to keep the pre-trial immunity hearing the way it is. The bill stems from the dissenting opinion.

“As a member of the Hispanic community, as a 10-year veteran of the law enforcement community, I am 100 percent in favor of this bill, and I think you need to [be] too,” Valdez said. “When seconds matter, cops like me are minutes away. This bill repairs what the Florida Supreme Court did in 2015. It’s a travesty that the public as a whole has to prove innocence when our entire constitutional basis is innocent until proven guilty.”

And, Valdez said bill opponents don’t speak for all minorities.

“I spent five years as a patrol officer in Miami-Dade,” he added. “In that time period, I’ve went to enough calls where I saw enough people in the minority community who were scared to arm themselves because of the legal challenges they faced. The fact that people were disarmed and have to rely on the state for protection is a travesty and an insult. It’s not right! As uno latino, as a minority, it’s not right.”

Still, Bradley maintained his bill is meant to benefit everyone.

“So, I would simply suggest that there is nothing in this bill that talks about black or white or latino. This is a color blind bill. Everyone has the right to self-defense, and this simply makes sure that right is fully realized under Florida law, no matter what is the color of your skin.”

His measure passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 5-4 with Democrats opposed. It has one more stop before heading to the Senate floor. Meanwhile, its House version has not yet had a hearing.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.