Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is what has allowed many people to literally get away with murder, as we saw in 2012 when George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager whose only crime was having brown skin. But now, the Sunshine State was doubling down on that law — referred to as a license to kill with impunity — by extending it’s courtesy to police officers, who were already heavily protected from criminal prosecution following suspicious shootings.
The Stand Your Ground law, which can be found in multiple states, is egregiously tilted in favor of white people, who make up 36 percent of the nation’s gun owners. And the legal wording describing it is quite troubling.
A “person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony,” the infamous self-defense law states. “A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be.”
Given that description, the Florida Supreme Court thought it would be totally logical to include the state’s police officers in that protective equation, the Associated Press reported.
“Simply put, a law enforcement officer is a ‘person’ whether on duty or off, and irrespective of whether the officer is making an arrest,” Justice Alan Lawson wrote Thursday in the unanimous decision. “In common understanding, ‘person’ refers to a ‘human being,’ which is not occupation-specific and plainly includes human beings serving as law enforcement officers.”
The ruling in the case of a police officer who killed a Black man for having an air rifle (even though Florida is an open carry state) had immediate implications for the state’s cops under similar scrutiny for killing suspects who they claimed they were afraid of.
The news came as a video from 2016 surfaced online and showed an officer shooting Charles Kinsey, an unarmed Black man, in North Miami.
Charles Kinsey, a mental health therapist, was shot by police in North Miami, Florida with his hands in the air. Kinsey, an African-American man, had been retrieving his autistic 23-year-old patient, who had wandered from his group home. Police encountered the pair while searching for an armed suicidal man.
While the cop involved was facing two felony counts of attempted manslaughter and two misdemeanor charges of culpable negligence, those charges could now be dropped with Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling.
With civilians who hid behind the Stand Your Ground law going free for shooting and killing unarmed Black people, the ruling all but eliminated the chance of ever prosecuting a police officer for shooting anybody, no matter what the circumstances are.
The attorney representing the family of Jermaine McBean, the shooting victim at the center of the Florida Supreme Court ruling, told the AP that the decision “sends exactly the wrong message to the country at exactly the wrong time.”
David Schoen continued: “Stand your ground is a bad law and it doesn’t allow a trial jury to hear the evidence and make a decision.” He added, “The entire premise of the decision is based on a lie that is absolutely and indisputably a lie.”
Florida law enforcement, of course, begged to differ.
“It’s a groundbreaking ruling,” Florida defense attorney Eric Schwartzreich said. “Every law enforcement officer in the state of Florida can go to work and do their job and not worry about being second-guessed.”
Why This Matters To Pan-Africans
Chances are, something similar to what is happening in Florida is happening in your state or jurisdiction too.
The system of white supremacy is ever evolving, and we as activist must evolve with it. That means what worked in the past will not continue to work in the future.
Protesting, tweeting, and publicizing are all important, but members of our movement must move beyond these outdated practices to tactics and strategies that protect Black lives.
Here are a few ways that our Chapters have taken action in the face of white supremacy:
Educate Our Communities
It goes without saying that before you can develop and deploy strategies, you must understand the political battlefield. To that effect, there are several books that should be on every Black bookshelf. Many of these titles are available for free as audiobooks, or in ebook format.
Choose any title below and get started. These can also be used as discussion material for chapters and organization meetings.
Form Voting Blocs
A voting bloc is a group of voters that are strongly motivated by a specific common concern or group of concerns to the point that such specific concerns tend to dominate their voting patterns, causing them to vote together in elections. Voting blocs can be organized around issues or ideologies like:
- Gay rights
- Marijuana legalization (i.e. Marijuana Majority)
- American Conservative or Liberal issues
- Environmental issues
- Race (i.e. The National Council of La Raza)
Voting blocs are designed to concentrate the power of the masses who can use their numbers to pass or defeat laws, candidates, and policy.
In Florida, members of the Supreme Court are not elected by the public. However, in most American states, the Governor, Lieutenant governor, Secretary of state, and Attorney general are all elected to their positions. And with the help of a staff, the Governor appoints members of the Supreme Court.
A voting bloc can ensure that elected officials carry out the will of the people – or face a unified force determined to relieve them of their duties.
Organize Political Action Committees, Non Profits, and Advocacy Groups
While voting blocs are powerful tools in our political arsenal, the act of voting itself is the least effective and most passive way of influencing the political process.
The real power lies in being able to choose which candidates or propositions appear on ballots, raising funds on behalf of those candidates, and deploying activists in support of those candidates.
That power can only be gained by organizing your efforts into community think tanks, political action committees (PACs and SuperPACs), and advocacy groups.
Organizations like these are responsible for educating its members on how the political process works, developing strategies, raising money on behalf of candidates, and running ads.
If you are interested in learning more, we give our students an entire political playbook in our Keys to Black Consciousness course. We also break down how to organize 501(c)4 Non Profits, PACs, and Advocacy groups in your area. I encourage you to take the course at your own pace by clicking here.
Replace And Repeal Laws Like Stand Your Ground
As of 2019, Thirty-three states have adopted some form of Stand Your Ground law, according to the American Bar Association. Ten states have introduced bills to repeal or scale back their Stand Your Ground laws this year, and 13 states have pending legislation to strengthen or enact such laws.
Your Chapter or political organization should not only be aware of where your state stands, but should be ready to defeat or weaken legislation in favor of Stand Your Ground laws.
The same goes for other laws that disproportionately affect our communities.
Run Candidates That Align With Pan African Agendas
Members of the Pan African community come together regularly in what are called Pan-African Congresses to develop strategies for the African diaspora.
To date, there have been 8 official, well organized Congresses:
- 1st Pan-African Congress: Held on February 1919 in France
- 2nd Pan-African Congress: Held on August 28, 1921 in England, France, and Belgium
- 3rd Pan-African Congress: Held on the first week of November 1923 in England
- 4th Pan-African Congress: Held on August 21, 1927 in the United States
- 5th Pan-African Congress: Held on October 15, 1945 in England
- 6th Pan-African Congress: Held on June 19, 1974 in Tanzania
- 7th Pan-African Congress: Held on April 3, 1994 in Uganda
- 8th Pan-African Congress: Held on March 4, 2015 in Ghana
During these gatherings, community leaders have set agendas that address issues like:
- Police brutality
- Mass incarceration
- Housing policy
- International relations across the African diaspora
- Voter suppression
- Miseducation in public schools
- and Environmental issues
In the United States, members of the Black community passively listen to politicians telling the audience what they stand for. Instead, we should first clearly articulate the issues that are most important to us and demand that candidates exclusively address those issues.
I have personally never heard a Presidential candidate pressed on reparations for the Black community, putting sanctions on Brazil for slaughtering Black men, women, and children, or punishing police for killing Black children.
Politics is defined as a process that decides who gets what. It is time for members of the Pan-African Movement to define – and fight for – what we want. Until we do, we will continue to be pawned and played.