With Trayvon Martin’s mother sitting just across from him, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) claimed that Stand Your Ground is beneficial for African-Americans. At the Tuesday Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing, Cruz claimed, “In Florida, the data show that African-American defendants have availed themselves of the Stand Your Ground law more frequently than Anglo defendants.” Indirectly citing a Daily Caller story that said black defendants were successful in 55 percent of fatal cases compared to 53 percent of whites, Cruz said this “isn’t about inflaming racial tensions though some might try to use it to do that.”
Shortly after Cruz described Stand Your Ground as protecting innocent victims from violent aggressors, Sybrina Fulton and Lucia McBath, the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, delivered emotional testimony about their murdered children.
GOP witness John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, also argued Cruz’s point at length. “Poor blacks who live in high-crime urban areas are not only the most likely victims of crime, they are also the ones who benefit the most from Stand Your Ground laws,” he said according to prepared testimony. Later, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he found Lott’s argument “compelling,” and that he did not see how the law “has a racial injustice about it.”
This is an oversimplified, if not misleading, portrayal of the racial disparity in Stand Your Ground. It looks only at the rate of successful Florida claims based on the shooter’s race, which indeed is slightly higher for black shooters than white shooters.
By no means does this mean blacks “benefit” under the law.
A report from the Congressional Research Service on inter-racial shootings nationwide shows disparity at work. Without looking specifically at Stand Your Ground, CRS found a clear racial disparity in shootings that were ruled to be justified, as well as an increase in cases of justifiable white-on-black homicides after states began enacting the ALEC model legislation in 2005. According to the report, white-on-black shootings were considered justified far more often than black-on-white shootings.
The same data that Florida Cruz cited also shows that killers are far more likely to go free when their victims are black. In those cases with black or Hispanic victims, the killings were found justified by the Stand Your Ground law 78 percent of the time, compared to 56 percent in cases with white victims. The racial disparity among victims has also been confirmed by other studies, like the Urban Institute’s finding that in Stand Your Ground states, white-on-black homicides are 354 percent more likely to be ruled justified than white-on-white homicides.