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What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: ‘Stand Your Ground’a law that favors white men and increases homicidesnow applies to cops in Florida

  • Is the NYPD’s Special Victims Division prematurely closing sexual assault cases?

  • St. Louis reformer DA hasn’t taken office yet, and his staff already wants to join a police union

  • Statue of Liberty protester found guilty

  • After almost 24 years in prison, Colorado man sentenced at 15 will be released

  • Some immigrants are ordered released, but are held illegally

In the Spotlight

‘Stand Your Ground’a law that favors white men and increases homicidesnow applies to cops in Florida

Last week, Florida’s Supreme Court ruled that “Stand Your Ground” laws apply to police officers. The ruling offers even broader immunity to officers than they already enjoy, making it harder to hold police criminally responsible for killing civilians, even when they had other options than to kill a person. The court held that police officers have the same rights as other Florida residents: “Put simply, a law enforcement officer is a ‘person’ whether on duty or off.” The case before the court stemmed from the 2013 killing of a computer engineer who was mentally ill. The engineer, Jermaine McBean, a 33-year-old Black man, was walking into his apartment complex with an air rifle slung across his shoulders, and people called police after seeing him yell to himself. Three Broward County sheriff’s deputies responded, but McBean apparently could not hear them when when they told him to drop his weapon. He was listening to music with earbuds. One of the deputies, Peter Peraza, claimed that McBean turned and pointed the air rifle at the officers, so he fired three shots, killing him. But witnesses said McBean never pointed a weapon. And after a New York Times examination of the case, Peraza was indicted. He was the first Florida law enforcement officer to be charged in an on-duty killing in decades. [Frances Robles / New York Times]

Peraza claimed Stand Your Ground protection, and it was granted, but an appellate court ruled against him, and the Florida Supreme Court sided with Peraza. In 2012, a Florida officer tried unsuccessfully to claim Stand Your Ground to avoid trial after stomping on a 63-year-old man. The officer, Juan Caamano, went to trial and was acquitted. “Last year, two Miami police officers successfully invoked Stand Your Ground immunity when they were sued for damages in the beating of a man in a wheelchair,” reports Frances Robles for the New York Times. David I. Schoen, an attorney representing McBean’s family, said the ruling was particularly troubling because it placed too much decision-making power on elected local judges, who often depended on support from police unions to win elections: “Every unscrupulous law enforcement officer in Florida who kills a civilian now in suspicious circumstances will say he feared for his life, and even with eyewitnesses saying otherwise, he walks.” [Frances Robles / New York Times]

The 2005 law eliminates a person’s duty to retreat from a dangerous situation and allows them to use deadly force “if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary” to prevent harm or death, shielding people from both criminal and civil liability. It is commonly associated with the 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, who claimed he shot the unarmed teenager in self-defense. Last year, Florida’s law was expanded, shifting the burden of proof from the defense to the prosecution, requiring that the government prove that a person who used deadly force instead of retreating did not act reasonably. [Elizabeth Elkin and Dakin Andone /]

It may come as little surprise that the laws make people less safe, not more. The RAND Corporation conducted a meta analysis of various studies that aimed to measure the impact of Stand Your Ground laws. They found evidence that the laws increase homicide rates, including one study published in JAMA Internal Medicine showing that Florida experienced a significant 24 ­percent increase in total homicides and a 32 percent increase in firearm homicides associated with the enactment of the Stand Your Ground law in 2005. [Lea Xenakis / RAND Corporation]

As if white people did not have enough relative advantages in our criminal justice system, some analyses have shown that Stand Your Ground laws favor white defendants. “The American legal system’s handling of violent self-defense has long favored white, property-owning men,” scholar Caroline Light argued in an op-ed last year. “Nonwhite, female, poor, or gender-nonconforming people have always been more likely to be punished for defending themselves and less likely to see the courts come to their aid when they are harmed.” She cites a study that documents how people perceive Black men as larger and stronger and thus more threatening than they actually are. These biases work their way into this law’s application because “defendants must convince the court that they were truly—reasonably—in fear for their lives in the moment when they used violence. But the concept of ‘reasonable fear’ is anything but value-neutral. Courtrooms are filled with people— judges, jurors, lawyers and witnesses—whose perceptions are shaped by the prejudices and implicit biases of our culture.” [Caroline Light / New York Times]

Light points to the case of Marissa Alexander, a Black Florida woman who fired a warning shot “to fend off an attack from her estranged husband” who had told her, “If I can’t have you, nobody will.” No one was harmed, but Alexander was denied Stand Your Ground immunity and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Then-State Attorney Angela Corey explained that, in her opinion, Alexander “was not in fear” when she fired her weapon, she was “angry.” [Caroline Light / New York Times]

Yesterday, a trial date was set in the Florida case of Michael Drejka, a white man who shot and killed Markeis McGlockton, an unarmed Black man, after McGlockton pushed him to the ground during an argument over parking. The parking lot incident was captured on surveillance camera. Drejka had told authorities he feared being hit again, and the sheriff initially refused to arrest him under the Stand Your Ground law, fearing such an arrest would make his department vulnerable to a lawsuit. Ultimately, the sheriff did arrest Drejka, and he was charged with manslaughter. [Kathryn Varn / Tampa Bay Times]

Stories From The Appeal


Photo illustration by Anagraph. Photo by Bumblee_Dee/Getty Images

Is the NYPD’s Special Victims Division Prematurely Closing Sexual Assault Cases? Advocates say victims are being pressured to sign “withdrawal” forms to quickly close investigations and protect the department from legal liability. [Meg O’Connor]

Stories From Around the Country

St. Louis reformer DA hasn’t taken office yet, and his staff already wants to join a police union: Yesterday, prosecutors and investigators voted to join the St. Louis Police Officers Association. The vote comes weeks before Wesley Bell, a Ferguson City Council member who wants to reform the criminal justice system, is set to take office as the county’s first-ever Black prosecutor. As the Daily Appeal discussed last week, even when supported by voters, progressive prosecutors often face harsh resistance from inside their own offices. “[U]nionizing could make it tough for Bell to implement reforms by providing additional job protections to any prosecutors who refuse to play along,” writes Radley Balko. The vote “mostly seems to be a direct attack on Bell and his promised reforms.” The prosecutorial response to the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown was disparaged in part because the prosecutor “seemed reflexively defensive of cops,” so having “the same union represent both cops and prosecutors certainly won’t help with the public perception—particularly in the black community—that St. Louis prosecutors will always back the cops.” [Radley Balko / Washington Post]

Statue of Liberty protester found guilty: Yesterday, a federal magistrate judge ruled that the activist who scaled the Statue of Liberty on July Fourth is guilty of three misdemeanors: trespassing, interference with agency functions, and disorderly conduct, Therese Patricia Okoumou faces a maximum of 18 months in prison. Okoumou climbed the statue to protest the Trump administration’s family separation policy. She reached only the hem of Liberty’s robes, but the NYPD’s Emergency Service Unit was called, and it removed her and evacuated visitors. Okoumou, a naturalized citizen from Congo, said yesterday, “As long as our children are being placed in cages my moral values call for me to do something about it.” She wore a blue headband that read “I care,” an apparent response to Melania Trump’s tone-deaf border visit outfit. [Claire Lampen / Gothamist]

After almost 24 years in prison, Colorado man sentenced at 15 will be released: Departing Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper commuted six sentences last Friday, all life without parole sentences given to young people. One of those people was Curtis Brooks, who, at age 15, was sentenced to life without parole for his role in a robbery that left one person dead. He has been incarcerated for almost 24 years. Brooks was a homeless boy playing video games at an Aurora mall, where he met up with three boys, and they hatched a plan to steal a car. The plan went awry and another of the boys shot and killed a 24-year-old. Brooks––who, unlike the other boys, had no criminal record––was convicted of felony murder, and received an automatic sentence of life without parole, a sentence that was re-evaluated under a subsequent Supreme Court ruling. Brooks, whose story was covered in The Appeal, counts among his supporters his elementary school principal, a former juror on the case who regrets the conviction, and the original trial and sentencing judge. In prison, Brooks studied philosophy and foreign languages, and committed himself to making amends: “My mission is to vindicate any person that has supported me in any way.” [Andrea Dukakis / Colorado Public Radio]

Some immigrants are ordered released, but are held illegally: New court filings show that since the zero tolerance policy went into effect, more than 20 people have been unlawfully held in custody after they have been ordered released. “Capacity and clerical errors are largely responsible for the delays in releasing people, the documents show,” according to Maya Srikrishnan of the Voice of San Diego. “Every single day in our district there is someone in custody who should not be,” reads a court briefing filed by the Federal Defenders of San Diego. “While the Court has attempted to accommodate the government’s shift in policy, the high volume of prosecutions brought by the government in San Diego and El Centro has led to several challenges,” including attorneys not being able to meet with or even locate their clients. [Maya Srikrishnan / Voice of San Diego]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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