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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The awful repercussions of "Stand Your Ground"

by David Atkins

The shooting of Trayvon Martin has justifiably put a focus on the insanity of "Stand Your Ground" gun laws. With reports in that George Zimmerman is in custody and will be charged with 2nd-degree murder leading to a raft of right-wing outrage, it's important to remember that the Right's rush to defend Zimmerman comes not only out of racial resentment, but out of a fear that these Wild West gun laws might be re-examined.

CNN has done stories focusing on other problematic cases in which Stand Your Ground has played a role. One of more troubling may be the recent shootings in Tulsa:

One possible motive that has been raised in the Tulsa Good Friday shooting spree, which left three dead and two critically wounded, is the 2010 killing of suspect Jacob England‘s father, Carl England, allegedly by Pernell Jefferson. Reporting on that 2010 incident has been unclear, but a review of contemporaneous news accounts and court records show echoes and shadows of the killing of Trayvon Martin, including an apparent connection to the “Stand Your Ground” laws that Martin’s case has put into focus.

Jacob England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 37, were arrested Sunday for a Good Friday shooting spree that left 3 people dead, and two critically wounded. All of the victims were black people, and Jacob England’s Facebook page contained a message, posted Thursday, which read “Today is two years that my dad has been gone, shot by a fucking nigger.”

Coming, as it does, in the midst of a media firestorm over the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the Tulsa shootings are sure to become part of the heated national dialogue on race and justice. The 2010 shooting of Jacob England’s father is likely to figure prominently in that discussion.

The alleged perpetrator's father was shot after a violent confrontation that left him dead. The shooter received a light six-year sentence rather than the much more serious charges that would have entailed without Oklahoma's Stand Your Ground law:

Pernell Jefferson was charged with First Degree Attempted Burglary and felony firearms possession. He pleaded not guilty, and those charges are still pending. On May 27, 2010, he was sentenced to a term of 6 years in prison for violating the terms of a suspended sentence on an earlier conviction for Felonious Pointing of a Weapon, a sentence he’s still serving. He’s scheduled for trial on the weapons and attempted burglary charges in May.

Still unclear from the reporting is how that initial scuffle started, but from there, the sequence is that Jefferson was hit with a baseball bat, tried to break into the apartment, then left after issuing a threat to go get a gun and “settle the dispute.” Carl England and Damien Neal went looking for Pernell Jefferson, England attacked him, and Jefferson shot England. Despite his earlier threats, police apparently determined that Jefferson acted in self-defense, and charged him, instead, with the weapons charge and the attempted break-in.

Oklahoma enacted a “Stand Your Ground” law in 2006, without which Pernell Jefferson probably would have been charged for the shooting. Rather than shooting England, Jefferson could have run away, called the police, fired a warning shot, or simply brandished the weapon at him. Under Stand Your Ground, though, he had “no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

There may be little in America today that is doing more damage to race relations in the U.S. than these murderous gun laws. Perhaps if racist whites began to understand that they're the ones getting shot, too, things might change. But I wouldn't count on it: a lot of these people are eager for a racial shooting war to start so that they can "solve America's problems." As my delightful gun-owner next door neighbor once said to me, "If we'd only sent them all back to Africa after the Civil War, we wouldn't have all these problems today." I have no doubt what he thinks the proper solution is now, and I'm certain these controversies aren't unwelcome for guys like him.