5 racially charged self-defense cases that echo Zimmerman
Zimmerman's acquittal has drawn attention to other self-defense trials--and the racial biases they reveal
By Katie McDonough
Invoking Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law did little to protect Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old African-American mother of three, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison after she fired a warning shot to ward off her husband during a domestic violence incident. Alexander, who had a protective order out against her husband, aimed her shot at the ceiling, injuring no one.
Alexander maintained throughout the trial that she was acting in self-defense, but was convicted on three counts of aggravated assault in 2011. And despite the fact that she had no prior record, she was given the harsh sentence of 20 years because of the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing requirements.
In 2005, John McNeil received a phone call from his son reporting that 19-year-old Brian Epp was trespassing in the backyard of the family’s Georgia home, wielding a box cutter. McNeil, a black man, returned home, called the police and told Epp, a white man, to leave. He then fired a warning shot into the ground, but Epp continued to approach. McNeil then shot Epp, killing him.
Witnesses corroborated McNeil’s account of events, and police initially ruled he acted in self-defense. But months later, the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office brought murder charges against him and won a conviction. McNeil was sentenced to life in prison.
In February 2013, after spending six years in prison, McNeil’s case was reconsidered and he pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of manslaughter and released on time served and 13 years probation.
A Racial Disparity in Justified Killings?
Roman examined Supplementary Homicide Reports submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation between 2005 and 2010. He posted his findings on the Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blog.
Roman found that “the difference between rates of justifiable rulings in cases with a white shooter and a black victim and cases with a black shooter and a white victim are astonishing.”
In cases in which both the shooter and victim are white, the shooting is ruled to be justified less than 2 percent of the time, according to Roman. If the shooter is black and the victim is white, the shooting considered justified about 1 percent of the time.
“However, if the shooter is white and the victim is black, it is ruled justified in 9.5 percent of cases in non-Stand Your Ground (SYG) states. In SYG states, the rate is even higher—almost 17 percent,” writes Roman.
In cases in which the shooter and victim are strangers and neither is law enforcement the disparity is even larger. Roman found that in cases with black shooters and white victims, less than 3 percent were ruled justified. But when the roles are reversed, 29 percent in non-SYG states were ruled justified, and almost 36 percent in SYG states.
America’s summer of hate
From George Zimmerman to Paula Deen, KTVU's awful Asian jokes to "Big Brother," it's been one hot, racist summer
By Mary Elizabeth Williams
And as a white woman, I have had many of the same advantages that Paula Deen does. Deen, who has spent the summer making weak statements about how she doesn’t “condone” racism while swaggeringly insisting, “I is what I is, and I’m not changing.” Deen, who, let’s remember here, is the subject of a lawsuit not for her casual use of racial epithets or weird romantic vision of a distant era but for her behavior, for “patterns of disrespect and degradation of people that she deems to be inferior.”
As a white woman, I don’t have to put up with the attitudes of contestants on “Big Brother” who toss around slurs about their African-American housemates and whisper that Asians should shut up and “go make some rice.” As a white woman, I look not so different from KTVU reporter Tori Campbell, who on Friday unblinkingly rattled off a series of juvenile, insulting fake names for the pilots of Asiana crash from a teleprompter, who didn’t pause for even a moment to question their authenticity. That’s white privilege in action for you, right there.
Inside George Zimmerman’s brain
A video game-like experiment studies how we make assumptions--and may unlock how to prevent more such killings
By Maya Wiley
Over 2 million people have taken a similar test, the Implicit Associations Test. Participants have to push buttons identifying a face with a judgment, like “good” or “bad.” Almost 88 percent of the tens of thousands of white participants react to a Black face as “bad” and a white face as “good.” This is a subconscious preference for whites. And 42 percent of Blacks do as well.
This is implicit bias—the prejudices we carry that we aren’t even aware of but which profoundly influence our emotions and reactions to other people. As Correll has explained, the shooter bias of his studies “come not from what you personally believe or want to believe, but from long-standing associations drilled into our heads every time we go to the movies or pick up a newspaper or hear a joke.”
Juror B37 from George Zimmerman’s trial has said in the media that she and her fellow jurors did not think that George Zimmerman’s behavior—following Trayvon Martin because he didn’t know him, considering him an “F*ing punk” and dialing and trailing the Black youth, then allegedly fearing for his life and shooting Trayvon Martin—had anything to do with race. At the same time, the juror said she believed that Trayvon was doing something strange, looking in houses at night. Based on what we know of implicit bias, both Zimmerman and Juror B37 have exhibit indications of implicit bias. They may not “see race”—that is, they may not be conscious of how their brains are processing the visual information that Trayvon Martin is Black. But what we know about our brains and race tells us that subconscious bias was as influential the night that Trayvon Martin was killed as it was the night that George Zimmerman was acquitted.