The Florida Supreme Court handed a significant victory to the gun lobby and police Thursday, ruling that officers can use the state’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law as defense if they kill citizens while on duty.
Stand Your Ground is a self-defense law implemented in Florida in 2005 that justifies lethal force if a perceived threat is detected.
Because the original law granted protections to all “persons” in Florida without providing any exceptions or distinctions, police officers in the line of duty can use the law to defend themselves on the job.
“Put simply, a law enforcement officer is a ‘person’ whether on duty or off, and irrespective of whether the officer is making an arrest,” Florida Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson, a Gov. Rick Scott (R) appointee, wrote. “Although neither of the two statues defines the word ‘person,’ it must be given its ‘plain and ordinary’ meaning.”
Florida Supreme Court unanimously rules police officers can use "stand your ground" as a defense in shooting cases, shielding themselves from prosecution https://t.co/9bXZyAoMrw pic.twitter.com/qwgA4JZmWz
— Danny Rivero (@TooMuchMe) December 13, 2018
The case involved a Broward County sheriff’s deputy officer named Peter Peraza, who fatally shot a 33-year-old information technology worker named Jermaine McBean in 2013. McBean was walking home with an unloaded air rifle which a witness thought was real and subsequently called the police. Peraza arrived on the scene and shot McBean in what he claimed was self-defense.
In their 7-0 ruling, the judges stated that Peraza was “immune from criminal prosecution.”
The ruling is a big win for Florida Republicans and the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) top lobbyist in the state, Marion Hammer, who essentially wrote the Stand Your Ground law.
The state supreme court’s ruling also sets a precarious precedent.
Billy Townsend, a member of the Polk County School Board in Florida, tweeted Thursday, “Are you going to tell an armed teacher or staff member they can’t invoke ‘Stand Your Ground’ in the classroom or disciplinary setting? When police can do it anywhere?”
Literally breaking now. Are you going to tell an armed teacher or staff member they can't invoke "Stand your Ground" in the classroom in a disciplinary setting? When police can do it anywhere? @SheriffPinellas @EducationFL @FLSchoolBoards https://t.co/glsm4eO66m pic.twitter.com/FtsjJ3DM14
— Billy Townsend (@BillyTownsendEd) December 13, 2018
In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that claimed the lives of 17 people earlier this year, multiple school districts across the state proposed arming trained teachers and staff to prevent another mass shooting on school grounds.
Stand Your Ground has historically and consistently proven itself to be a racist law that explicitly puts the lives of black and brown individuals at risk. An investigation published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2016 linked the law to surge in homicides statewide.
Less than six months ago, unarmed 28-year-old Markeis McGlockton was fatally shot over a parking spot in Clearwater, Florida. He was buying candy for his toddler, who was in the car when he was shot.
Thanks to the Stand Your Ground law, the gunman did not face charges for killing McGlockton.
“I don’t make the law. I enforce the law,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at press conference announcing the gunman wouldn’t face charges. “The law in the state of Florida today is that people have a right to stand their ground and have a right to defend themselves when they believe that they are in harm.”
Stand Your Ground first gained notoriety after George Zimmerman shot and killed unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012. The law was cited in Zimmerman’s defense during the trial that resulted in his acquittal.
Former Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum (D) announced during his campaign that one of the first issues he would tackle as governor would be the repeal of Stand Your Ground.
“We all know that based on the color of my skin I present a certain threat. A certain level of threat that might cause someone to have the power to snuff out my life or my children’s lives,” he told a mourning crowd in Clearwater.
“That is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable in this state, it’s unacceptable in this country, it’s unacceptable in civilized society and the law has to be repealed.”
Gillum lost to former congressman Ron DeSantis (R), who has said he supports the rights of Floridians to defend themselves against aggressors.