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Stand Your Ground Laws & Implicit Bias. Professor john a. powell Executive Director, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion University of California, Berkeley

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stand your ground laws implicit bias

Stand Your Ground Laws & Implicit Bias

Professor john a. powell

Executive Director, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society

Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion

University of California, Berkeley

American Bar Association| San Francisco, California — August 9, 2013

evolution of self defense law
Evolution of Self-Defense Law
  • Self-defense law: finding balance between society’s interest in letting people protect themselves and not encouraging unnecessary bloodshed
  • 19th century Common law focused on necessity: basic rule was that force could be used when necessary for protection of self and family
  • Distinction between use of non-deadly and deadly force
    • Some states also have a duty to retreat
evolution of self defense law cont
Evolution of Self-Defense Law cont.
  • Castle law(“An Englishman’s home is his castle”): citizens have broad rights to defend their homes against intruders
    • The original duty to retreat was rejected and you had the right to use deadly force if your “castle” was invaded
    • In the streets, however, there is no such right
  • In the U.S., the self-defense balance is set less toward civility and more toward robust use of force
  • The trend from common law deviated with Castle laws: Stand Your Ground lawsnow brings Castle laws into the streets

 Your castle was your person, and your right to use deadly force traveled with you

impact of stand your ground laws
Impact of Stand Your Ground Laws
  • 31 states have Stand Your Ground laws or variants
  • Key studies: Georgia State University and the Series by the Tampa Bay Times
    • Homicides are up in SYG states, though they’re down almost everywhere else
    • More than 500 people have died from such shootings
    • Since its passage in Florida eight years ago, self-defense killings have more than tripled in the state
        • Drug dealers were using the new law to stage shootouts in the streets
  • “People who’ve been through the legal system are going to be more seasoned to using the law. And it doesn’t take a master of fiction to turn a homicide into Stand Your Ground.”
  • – Kendall Coffey, former federal prosecutor in South Florida
guns and race
Guns and Race
  • Second Amendment: while primarily used for the British disarming local militias, the fear of slave uprisings was a consideration behind its passage
  • By the time the Constitution was ratified, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred in the South (Hartmann 2013)
  • In the South, “Guns became synonymous with personal protection against grasping federal government that could and would run unwelcome legislation down the throats of people,as well as personal protection against criminals, associated so closely and for so long in the white mind, with African Americans” (Feldman 2004, 294)
guns and race cont
Guns and Race cont.

Stand Your Ground states…

  • Have higher percentages of black populations
  • Are more likely to have a Republican governor
  • Have a higher incarceration rate and a larger number of law enforcement agents
  • Have higher poverty rates

( McClellan & Tekin 2012, 15)

implicit bias or ib
Implicit Bias or IB
  • The mind naturally makes associations: this is intelligence and human
  • I/B isnegative associations that people unknowingly hold,which can be inconsistent with conscious beliefs
  • I/B influences ourfeelings,judgments, and perceptions
  • Implicit Association Test (IAT) introduced in 1998: currently there are 15
    • Shooter Test/Weapons IAT
    • Subconscious association of African American criminality and stereotypes of black criminality
    • Blink—diallo shooting—we can expect not just from police but civilians
implicit bias or ib cont
Implicit Bias or IB cont.

A recent study documents that negative stereotypes of blacks are commonplace in American culture. The BEAGLE (Bound Encoding of the Aggregate Language Environment) Project constructed a data base of about 10 million words from a sample of books, newspapers and other materials that is a good representation of American culture and equivalent to what the average college-level student would read in his or her lifetime (Verhaeghen, Aikman, & Van Gulick, 2011). Statistical analysis of the associative strength between pairs of words revealed the following order of the frequency of the pairing of the word black with these 10 words in American culture: poor, violent, religious, lazy, cheerful, dangerous, charming, merry, ignorant and musical. Thus, the negative stereotypes of blacks in the GSS (violent, lazy, dangerous and unintelligent) probably reflects how often Americans have seen or heard these words paired with black over their lifetime.

Verhaeghen, P., Aikman, S. N., & Van Gulick, A. E. (2011).

Prime and prejudice: Co-occurrence in the culture as a source of automatic stereotype priming. British Journal of Social Psychology, 50(3), 501-518.

impacts of implicit bias
Impacts of Implicit Bias
  • Implicit bias can “leak” into everyday interactions
  • For example, “microagression” and subtle body language affect interpersonal interactions
    • “Self-fulfilling prophecy” emerges when nonverbal behaviors, such as interpersonal distance, eye contact, and forward lean by an “interviewer” in a simulated job interview are reciprocated with either nervousness or confidence by the interviewee (Word, Zanna, & Cooper)
  • Cumulatively, these interactions reinforce or exacerbate already existing inequalities within and across systems

What are the implications of SYG laws in a country with growing racial anxiety?

implications of implicit bias criminal juvenile justice
Implications of Implicit Bias: Criminal & Juvenile Justice
  • Dehumanization
    • Implicit associations between black men/boys and apes/gorillas
  • Stop & Frisks
    • Blacks and Hispanics in New York City are more likely to be stopped and frisked by police, even after controlling for neighborhood and race/ethnic group crime rates, than Whites
  • Shooter Bias
    • Police officers more likely to mistake object in hand of black suspects for a gun, and more likely to mistake a gun in the hands of white suspects for a harmless object
  • Sentencing
    • Blacks and Hispanics receive longer sentences; whites are more likely to receive leniency

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appendix implicit bias racial anxiety
Appendix:Implicit Bias & Racial Anxiety

Solotaroff, P. (2013, April 25). A Most American Way to Die. Rolling Stone. Retrieved August 6, 2013, from