Sunday, December 16, 2012

Race and "Stand Your Ground" Laws

Are “stand your ground” self-defense laws racist? That’s an interesting, but difficult, question to answer.  About one-half of the states have these laws.  Generally, speaking, these laws indicate that people have no duty to retreat before having the option of using force (including deadly) if they “reasonably” fear for their lives or great bodily harm (for themselves or others).  Although there are different nuances among the states in the language, this is the crux of the law.

Is the law racist?  Probably not.  Does the law increase the probability of force being used against Blacks?  Probably so.  Let’s explore this issue.  Prior to stand your ground laws, most states’ self-defense laws were based on something called the “Castle doctrine.”  This doctrine allowed for people to use force (including deadly) in their homes without having a duty to retreat.  They did have the duty to retreat outside of their homes.  The Castle doctrine makes sense.  If there is an intruder in your home, the threat is real, imminent, and having to retreat is no longer reasonable.  Use of force, including deadly force, is a reasonable option in order to protect yourself and the lives of your family.  There is not much of a racial element to the Castle doctrine.

Stand your ground laws, though, remove the “duty to retreat” requirement from places outside of the home.  As long as someone has a legal right to be in the location and have “reasonable” fear for his/her life, force can be used.  Again, force can be used without having a duty to retreat.  What is reasonable?  This is where the element of race/ethnicity is so relevant.  Research (which I will be happy to provide to those interested) shows that young people are viewed more dangerous than older people; males are viewed more dangerous than females; Black are viewed more dangerous than others.  Although these factors, alone, are powerful, the most powerful is the combination of the three: young Black males.  Young Black males are viewed very dangerously, not only in general society, but in important decision points in the criminal justice system (e.g., arrest, sentencing, etc.).  Again, this group is the victim of society’s prejudices.

When young Black males are in society, it presents a fear among many.  This is where the “reasonableness” for fear from stand your ground laws become relevant.  Is it reasonable to fear for your life when in the presence of this group?  Even if words are exchanged or a fight ensues, is it still reasonable to fear for your life?  In the Trayvon Martin case, race appeared to have played a role in why the initial confrontation took place.  In the Jordan Davis case, the shooter felt “threatened” because he “saw” a gun (though there was no gun) in the tinted car of young Black males.  Again, these laws are allowing non-law enforcement citizens to determine “reasonable fear” among a group that research has shown to be viewed dangerous.  People’s unfounded prejudices clearly are playing a role, and state laws create the environment for these prejudices to result in actions.

Unfortunately, because stand your ground laws don’t require a duty to retreat (even when not in your home), people are given the power to determine what is reasonable.  Law enforcement officers are trained extensively on when force can be used, but state legislatures have provided the very untrained general population with the authority to determine this standard when outside of their home, since there is no duty to retreat.  As I mentioned at the beginning, are stand your ground laws racist?  Probably not.  However, do these laws allow for an increased probability of force being used against certain groups?  Take a look at judge for yourself.  What are your thoughts?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Social Class and Right to Work Laws

Unfortunately, Michigan's legislative body passed the Right to Work bill and it was signed into law by the Governor.  Instead of looking at this on the surface, people must look beyond the political rhetoric.  Right to work laws weaken unions, which also mean that collective bargaining is also weakened.  Collective bargaining has been tied to better wages, better healthcare, domestic partner benefits, regular and fair raises, etc.  When workers are not required to pay into the union, but reap the benefits of the union, the available funding for the unions to bargain and fight unfair labor practices will ultimately decrease.  The strength of the unions (based on the number of members) is decreased.  The people who are disproportionately impacted by these laws are the following:
  • Socially/politically disadvantaged Americans
  • Ethnic minorities
  • The “have nots”
In other words, these Americans will be put in the position of having even lower wages, less raises (even cost of living adjustments), fewer benefits, etc.  In a time when cost of living is increasing and state legislative bodies are proposing legislation to decertify unions that don’t have a certain percentage of membership, socially disadvantaged Americans are at a great risk.

There is a sociological/criminological theory called Conflict Theory.  Its basic premise is that laws are written on behalf of the “haves,” in order to control the “have nots.”  We must ask ourselves if Right to Work laws are created in order to allow the “haves” to keep more of their financial capital, given that strong unions threaten that very idea.  Generally speaking, unions serve the needs of the “have nots,” which is comprised of many Americans who are socially disadvantaged.  If unions are weakened, it will have a direct negative impact on these groups.  As mentioned in other posts, the socially disadvantaged are disproportionately comprised of Blacks and Latinos (though a large percentage of Whites are also in this group).  When these groups start having fewer benefits, less take-home pay (given less cost of living adjustments), unfair labor practices, it results in an increased amount of social ills in minority communities.  Again, I strongly encourage people to look beyond the rhetoric and see which groups are more likely to suffer as a result of these laws.

What do you think?  Do you believe Right to Work laws directly (or indirectly) target particular groups?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Real Impact of the Fiscal Cliff

If two federal branches of government (Legislative and Executive) don't reach an agreement soon, we will go over the "Fiscal Cliff."  Unfortunately, this would risk the possibility of sequestration, which is automatic federal spending cuts, along with an expiration of the Bush tax cuts.  For Americans, that means we'll get less from federal programs while bringing home less net pay.

Many (not all) Republicans discuss upper-class Americans and small businesses.  Many (not all) Democrats discuss middle-class Americans.  Why isn't there more of a focus on socially disadvantaged Americans, who are disproportionately more likely to be Black and Latino?  Unfortunately, this group is silenced from multiple salient arenas (e.g., political, economics, social justice, voting, etc.), and the fiscal cliff is no different.  The fiscal cliff will result in legislatively mandated cuts in federal programs that many socially disadvantaged people rely on (e.g., unemployment benefits), given the structural lack of opportunities in those communities.  In an already extremely tough environment, our government representatives will allow this group of Americans to deal with yet another circumstance that limits opportunities and results in additional "symptoms" to social ills (infant mortality, crime, disadvantaged neighborhoods, etc.).  When will people remember this group?

The fiscal cliff and sequestration are extremely important.  We cannot ignore the group of people who will have the hardest time recovering from this drastically difficult circumstance, even if it occurs for only a couple of weeks.  When we see social ills occurring disproportionately in socially disadvantages areas, it's important to remember things like the fiscal cliff and sequestration before people start saying how social ills are based on personal responsibility.

What do you think? Do the fiscal cliff and sequestration have a disproportionately stronger (negative) impact on socially disadvantaged Americans?

Welcome to the Race, Social Class, and Politics' Blog!

I would like to welcome you to my blog!  My goal is to provide a critical look at United States' politics, with a focus on race/ethnicity and social class.  Historically, the role of race and social class in politics was very overt.  For instance, American Indians/Native Americans were legally required to move west of the Mississippi River.  Blacks are written into the Constitution as three-fifths of a person.  Contemporary politics and laws, though, are very different.  The racial/social class impact is much more subtle, where it is not readily identifiable.  The purpose of this blog is to highlight the true impact of American politics and provide insight on the groups that are often underrepresented in discussions.  I look forward to us going through this journey together!