Last month, Time Magazine wrote an article titled #BlackLivesMatter Is Winning The Democratic Primary, an ode to the hard work and resilience shown by grassroots activists combating the criminalization and stigmatization of Black Communities around the country. Last week, Presidential Candidate, Jeb Bush took the stage in front of the National Urban League in his home state of Florida with the opportunity to convey the message to people across the country that he and his fellow Republicans take the Movement for Black Lives seriously and are committed to polices that will truly help all Americans. However, he missed a tremendous opportunity to talk about a law that has disproportionately plagued the Black population his state, the Stand Your Ground law.
Stand Your Ground effectively allows citizens to defend themselves, even outside of their own homes with deadly force if they deem necessary. Florida enacted the law in 2005 and since the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, Stand Your Ground has been centered in controversy in the American racial and political consciousness. Although initially intended as a measure of self-defense, we’ve seen the law work to further marginalize black people and allow known killers to walk free.
Mr. Bush talked up his record of building schools and giving opportunities to Black youth in Florida, but how does that help the families of Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis? Both were high school students, now martyrs for those fighting to end systemic oppression while demanding greater equality in our legal system. The lack of mention of Stand Your Ground to a largely Black audience only demonstrated the Bush camp is tone deaf to the issues that our communities face.
In 2010, Marissa Alexander, a then 29-year-old Black woman, mother of three and victim of domestic violence, fired a single warning shot in the air to scare off her abusive husband, she hurt no one. After a trial, it was ruled that Alexander defending herself from her assailant was worthy the mandatory minimum 20-year sentence. After nearly three years of incarceration, countless protests around the country and intervention from the NAACP, Alexander was released in early 2015. Stand Your Ground did not work for Marissa Alexander who was in fact under attack. Instead under a plea deal, she is a convicted felon- a mark that stigmatizes her by making it more difficult to land a job and losing her right to vote– the cornerstone of American democracy. Is this justice? No.
As we approach 2016, we must understand that the politics of respectability must be cast aside. It didn’t matter that Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis were on the path to becoming high school graduates or something beyond. It didn’t matter that Marissa Alexander is a loving mother who was capable of providing for her children. What we saw was instituted policy that did not work for Black people and further, we saw as a Presidential candidate completely ignore a major issue that has been problematic right in his home state.
It its current form, the Stand Your Ground law leaves much to interpretation based on the perception of individual fear and has the capability to legalize the murder of an individual because of implicit bias, prejudice or racism. Nationally, we’ve seen an increase in justified murders and perhaps more troubling, we’ve see a disproportionate number of white on black killings justified. In order for the law to work, we must establish a higher threshold of individual responsibility for those that wish to employ the law on their behalf.
Mr. Bush said that he will work with us to better communities, as our “neighbor or President” but his remarks on Friday were a painful reminder that he doesn’t understand the plight of all his neighbors. He responded to Martin O’Malley’s apology for his “black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter” comment at the Netroots Summit in Arizona by saying “Life is precious. It’s a gift from God.” If he really meant that, he must take a stand against his state’s law and acknowledge that it has destroyed lives and that for black people it upholds inequality.
If Mr. Bush is serious about “working for every vote,” then building the bridge from the community to justice involves the reformation of Stand Your Ground in Florida so that it truly works for everyone. If Mr. Bush is going to be a contender and the candidate for all Americans, he needs to know we’re not just here to win the Democratic Primary, we’re here to win the general election. It’s our duty and Mr. Bush needs to listen.