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Let's Use All the Data This Time: Are Stand Your Ground Laws Racist?

Splitting Stand Your Ground states into two time periods -- pre- and post-enactment -- is the first step in discovering this law’s impact. Since 14 of the 17 Stand Your Ground states enacted their laws in 2006, non-enacting states were split into two time groupings that paralleled the Stand Your Ground group: 2000-2005 and 2006-2011. For each “before” and “after” period, justifiable homicides were totaled by defender and attacker race. This creates two comprehensive “before” and “after” datasets, each covering five to six years, that help determine if there were any significant changes in justifiable homicide trends. These data help answer questions like:

  • How many total justifiable homicides occurred in the years before or after enacting Stand Your Ground?
  • How many of these were performed by black defenders against white attackers, or white defenders against black attackers?
  • Did the composition (percent of total) of these interracial defenses change over time?

Justifiable homicide data serves as an indicator of whether or not Stand Your Ground laws affect black defenders. One drawback with using justifiable homicide data is that the number of incidents is relatively small, and varies annually. Also, some states may go years without reporting an incident. Totaling five or six years together into these before/after pictures helps average out year-to-year variations.

This comprehensive dataset reveals that when compared to non-enacting states, Stand Your Ground states are merely comparable. Since the percent of black defenders killing white attackers is equivalent, Stand Your Ground states aren’t any more “racist” than non-enacting states (see table below showing Justifiable Homicide data collated with Castle Doctrine laws). In other words, it’s relatively uncommon for a black defender to shoot a white attacker, period:


This is also how the Tampa Bay Times misrepresented their data in order to imply that Florida’s Stand Your Ground law favored white defenders: they failed to mention that for most attacks by blacks, the successful Stand Your Ground defenders were black, too. There’s a reasonable explanation for this: Black murder victims get killed by whites only 7% of the time; blacks kill white victims twice as often (14%). Most of the time, murders are intra-racial (blacks kill blacks, 91%; whites kill whites, 83%).

Are blacks free to defend themselves? If not, that would indicate “racial disparity.” Stand Your Ground states are far more egalitarian than non-enacting states, because black defenders account for nearly as many justifiable homicides as whites, but whites in non-enacting states still account for a majority of all justifiable homicides:


Black defenders in Stand Your Ground states accounted for a greater portion of justifiable homicides after enactment, experiencing an increase in justifiable homicides in 11 of 17 states (65%). More Stand Your Ground states experienced increased justifiable homicides against white attackers after enactment. Stand Your Ground didn’t stop law-abiding blacks from defending themselves:


If fewer black defenders killing white attackers indicates racism, then non-enacting states must be “racist,” because black defense against white attackers declined 4.0% between 2006 and 2011, while increasing slightly (0.3%) in Stand Your Ground states.

Another missing context would answer the question: how did private-citizen defenses compare to law enforcement?

If more white police officers killed black attackers after enacting Stand Your Ground, it indicates one of two possibilities. First, if a state is racist regardless of self-defense laws, blaming Stand Your Ground is misleading. Certainly, there are anecdotal reports of institutional racism: for example, NYPD disciplined 17 cops who posted racist Facebook comments about black participants at last year’s West Indian Day Parade.

On the other hand, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder hasn’t announced an investigation into pervasive bigotry among law enforcement.

The second possibility is that if more blacks were killed while attacking law enforcement officers -- who are known to be armed and trained in lethal defense -- this indicates increasingly violent behavior among black attackers. (Since cops had no duty to retreat before Stand Your Ground, enactment only affected private citizens.)

Since enactment, black attackers in Stand Your Ground states accounted for 2.5% more justifiable homicides by cops, and 2.5% more by private citizens. Non-enacting states show similar results: Since 2006, black attackers account for 2.3% more justifiable homicides by private citizens, and 6.5% more by cops.

More interestingly, white cops in non-enacting states experienced an identical (6.5%) increase in the number of justifiable homicides against black attackers. Nobody’s alleging racism over this trend, and for good reason, which brings up another contextual question: has there been a change in who is committing violent attacks requiring defenders to use lethal force?