AKRON, Ohio – Black Ohio leaders are sounding the alarm over a change in state self-defense law that would extend the use of force to public places and no longer force people to withdraw from confrontations in public before being able to exert lethal force.
In 2008, lawmakers enacted the “Castle Doctrine,” which removed the requirement to withdraw before resorting to force only when the threatened person is at home or in a car.
Senate Bill 175, which comes into effect Tuesday, removes the requirement to withdraw from the revised Ohio code and extends the use of force to public places like streets, parking lots and grocery stores.
“This ‘no obligation to retreat’ is a ‘shoot first’ law that will allow the use of lethal force by individuals who believe their lives are in danger wherever they are. The bill goes completely too far and threatens the lives of black people and makes the people of Ohio less safe overall, ”said minority representative in the House of Representatives Emilia Sykes, describing an atmosphere contempt in the state legislature for the perspectives of lawmakers who represent voters of color.
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Supporters of the new law argue that it enacts common sense reform and aims to give Ohio victims the opportunity to defend themselves where danger looms. Opponents say the law allows people to kill other people with impunity.
Critics say that removing the obligation to opt out leads to the devaluation of life. Too often, they add, those whose lives are devalued are black civilians.
“The ‘stand your ground’ bill, historically, nationally, has not been a bill that has protected black people from vigilantism or racism,” said Rev. Ray Greene Jr., director. executive of Freedom BLOC, a political activism group advocating for Northeast Ohio’s black community and former incarcerated residents.
“It does not ensure the safety of the community. It provides security for white males and white males only, ”Greene added.
In recent years, laws on the ground have become associated with high-profile incidents of violence, particularly in Florida, which passed the country’s first measure in 2005.
It was the law in Sanford, Fla., Which police cited as the reason they failed to arrest George Zimmerman after shooting Trayvon Martin, 17, in 2012. At trial, Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense. A jury then acquitted him.
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Supporters of the Ohio version of the stand your ground legislation argue that people should be able to defend themselves where they feel threatened.
Dean Rieck, executive director of the Buckeye Firearms Association, a state gun rights group that lobbied for passage of the bill, stressed that SB 175 does not affect the norm for the use of lethal force in self-defense situations.
“It doesn’t give anyone additional rights. It does not change in any way when you can or cannot use lethal force. … You must have an honest and reasonable fear of death and serious bodily harm before you can use lethal force like a gun, ”said Rieck.
Rieck said Ohio’s retirement duty places “an additional artificial burden” on people trying to defend themselves in violent situations.
Rieck suggested the measure could reduce crime and bring justice to victims of gun violence, regardless of race.
“The prediction that this is going to cause a lot of chaos is really not going to come true. … The retreat requirement has been removed from many other states. It has never been a problem. … We don’t expect that to be a problem here either, ”he said.
But data from other states where your basic laws have been implemented shows evidence of both an increase in gun violence and racial disparities in enforcement.
Between 2005 and 2011, the number of homicides involving black victims deemed justifiable more than doubled in states that stand, according to a July 2020 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Giffords Law Center.
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Another Urban Institute study found that “a white shooter who kills a black victim is 350% more likely to be found justified than if the same white shooter killed a white victim.”
A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health this year, which analyzed 32 studies of law enforcement in the field, found that “in at least some states in the United States, notably Florida, the laws on maintaining has been racial bias in the application of legal protections. “
Alexa Yakubovich, one of the study’s lead investigators and postdoctoral researcher at the MAP Center for Urban Health Solutions at Unity Health Toronto and the University of Toronto, said there was no supporting evidence. the claim that your basic laws protect people from crime.
Race of victims is “one of the most important predictors of the outcome of self-defense cases,” said Yakubovich, cases involving white victims consistently more likely to end in convictions as opposed to non-white victims. .
“Not only does it matter if the victim is white, but it also matters that the person claiming to be defending themselves is a racial minority,” she added.
State Senators Tim Shaffer and Terry Johnson, who sponsored the bill, along with many other Republican lawmakers, and Rep. Kyle Koehler – who drafted the language around removing the obligation to retreat – did not respond to Akron Beacon interview requests. Journal, which is part of the USA TODAY network.
Lawmakers who opposed the bill have expressed disappointment with its passage, given studies that point to its misdeeds elsewhere.
“Why else would you want this type of legislation in Ohio than to have the same results in other states?” There really is no other justifiable answer, ”said minority representative in the State House of Representatives, Emilia Sykes.
Gov. Mike DeWine’s signing of the bill drew widespread criticism from civil rights groups, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio.
Darius Frierson, gun instructor and president of the Black Gun Owners Association of Ohio, said laws don’t exist in a vacuum and context matters.
“We do so much community work because we know what it’s like to be here where you don’t know if a justice system is right for you. We know what it’s like to be an African American man or woman and dealing with a cop. You just don’t know. … Especially when you have a gun in play, ”Frierson said.
Follow Seyma Bayram on Twitter: @ SeymaBayram0.