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In Justifiable Homicide Cases, Race Disparity Extends To Women, Too

By Nicole Flatow  

"In Justifiable Homicide Cases, Race Disparity Extends To Women, Too"

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Marissa Alexander

Marissa Alexander

CREDIT: Associated Press

Past studies have found that the notorious Stand Your Ground laws that authorize deadly force in self-defense exacerbate racial disparities. Among all cases, the Urban Institute has found that white-on-black homicides are 354 percent more likely to be found justified than white-on-white homicides in states with Stand Your Ground laws.

As Marissa Alexander is facing 60 years in prison in a case in which she unsuccessfully invoked the defense for firing a warning shot during a dispute with her abusive boyfriend, MSNBC looked at racial disparities among women, albeit those who, unlike Alexander, purportedly killed a man in self-defense. While white women with black victims were found justified 13.5 percent of the time, blacks who kill whites are found justified just 2.9 percent of the time, and even whites who kill whites are found justified only 2.6 percent of the time.

“In any situation where a black male is perceived as being the aggressor, you are much more likely to have the homicide considered justifiable,” said John Roman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute who performed the research for msnbc.

MSNBCHomicidesWomen

Significantly, these statistics come from an analysis of FBI data, which does not include Florida. So MSNBC looks to a Tampa Bay Times analysis of Florida. “All the cases where a woman did not succeed in claiming self-defense, including several in which she said she was the victim of rape or other physical abuse, involved white males,” MSNBC’s Irin Carmon notes. “By contrast, among the eight murder cases found justified, half involved women killing black men. Those cases included both intimate partner and stranger violence.”

The story of Marissa Alexander raises questions about the role domestic violence considerations play in Stand Your Ground cases. Prosecutor Angela Corey has eschewed sympathy for Alexander, even amidst public outcry. While Corey’s vigorous prosecution yielded Alexander a 20-year prison sentence the first time she was convicted of assault for firing the gun, she is now seeing three consecutive 20-year terms — a total of 60 years, after Alexander was granted a new trial and released from prison in the interim. By contrast, others in Florida who have been granted immunity in Florida were involved in bar fights or heated altercations.

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