African Ancestry Committee Voices Concern About Stand Your Ground Law

HNP Communications In the Headlines

Three Provincial entities recently collaborated in preparing a statement that encourages a review of the Castle Doctrine law usually referred to as the Stand Your Ground law.  The text below, written by the HNP African Ancestry Committee, was endorsed last  month by both the HNP Hispanic Ministry Committee and the HNP Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Directorate.  It urges states that “have these laws on the books to take another look at the implications for increased fatalities and the unintentional repercussions of criminal stereotyping.”

The Holy Name Province African-Ancestry Committee has prayerfully discerned the need to address the intent, language and potentially deadly outcomes of Castle Doctrine laws in the United States. Castle Doctrine, more commonly known as Stand Your Ground Law, has been codified in 24 states as of this writing.  Stand Your Ground Laws state a person may use deadly force in self-defense with no obligation to retreat when there is reasonable belief of a threat. In such a situation, a person is considered justified in using deadly force and the Stand your Ground Law may be used as a defense to criminal charges and civil suit.

In light of the Feb. 26, 2012 fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager from South Florida and the probable use of the Stand Your Ground Law defense, the committee has taken the position of no confidence in the righteousness and just administration of these types of laws.

Standing Against Injustice
We stand in favor of intense scrutiny of these laws up to and including eventual repeal. This position is based on a study of the facts surrounding these laws and in light of personal and organizational commitment to follow Christ in all things. The great prayer of St. Francis of Assisi in matters of human dignity and justice is clear and so is the call to action – “Lord make me an instrument of your peace.”  We must stand against injustice wherever we find it.

This doctrine inherently has sizeable flaws due to increased homicides rates since they have been put on the books of many states. The conceivable variability of interpretations of the law and the potential for deadly harm against some of the most marginalized individuals in our country – citizens who are stereotyped and even wrongfully profiled as dangerous because of gender, age, skin color, clothing and geography — create the basis for justifiable doubt.

We have examined both crime statistics and scholarly articles on criminal stereotyping that point to a highly probable combination of factors that can lead to far more harm than the Stand Your Ground laws intend. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.” We believe a new direction is required for the sake of achieving this righteously bold vision.

A March 2012 analysis of Florida Department of Law Enforcement data shows that deaths due to self defense have increased by over 200%. According to statistics obtained by Dave Sutta, a reporter with the local CBS affiliate in Miami, there were 12 justifiable homicide deaths between the years of 2000-2004. Since 2005 when the law went into effect through 2010, there have been 35 justifiable homicide deaths, an increase of 283%. In comparison to these alarming numbers, states without such laws experienced only a 4.2 percent increase.

Looking at Implications of Law 
The Florida governor and several state lawmakers are calling for a review of the law. This trend is spreading across the country since the killing of Trayvon Martin. This data is just an example of how a law initially developed to empower the public in the face of imminent danger has led to the fatal disempowerment of its victims. The data seems to suggest that the law gives broad rights to kill with nothing more than a perception of danger. This law is too broad as it can create situations of the rights of citizens being trampled on without the other side of the story being told.

The African Ancestry Committee supports the notion of all states that have these laws on the books taking another look at the implications for increased fatalities and the unintentional repercussions of criminal stereotyping. The committee members believe that behavioral change is critical and that examining the statistics and the impacts of bias can lead to meaningful change in how justice is measured out in the United States. More importantly,  we hold  that all human life is sacred and that laws should be enacted to protect human life and not to legalize the taking of a human life.


Editor’s note:  David Hyman, OFM, is chair of the HNP African Ancestry Committee.The chairs of the Province’s Hispanic Ministry Committee and JPIC Directorate are Christopher Posch, OFM,  and Russell Testa, respectively.