Before Changing "Stand Your Ground" Laws, Political Culture Must Be Changed

July 30, 2013
Written by Russell Roberts in
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Stand Your Ground Graphic
Rescinding "Stand Your Ground" laws will require that the nation examines its historical and political history of how it has regarded and treated blacks under the laws of the land. Photo Credit:

The controversial jury verdict of "not guilty" in the Trayvon Martin case has sparked calls to change the "Stand Your Ground" laws that provided the flashpoint for the incident. However, nobody is examining the political environment that has caused those laws to be passed in the first place.

Racist laws are nothing new to the United States. This has been ongoing in America ever since the U.S. Constitution declared a slave to be three-fifths of a person.

During and immediately after the massive social upheaval of the Civil War, there was a brief window when blacks enjoyed an equal footing with whites under the law, when the mood in Washington, D.C. was all about equality. The cry of "Forty Acres and A Mule" referred to redistribution of confiscated Confederate land to former slaves, and the Freedmen's Bureau was the federal agency in charge of land redistribution.

But upon the death of Lincoln, Andrew Johnson became president and former Confederates soon began coming back into power as the Southern states slipped back into the Union. Once Reconstruction ended, wealthy, powerful politicians were on top again and the political climate was ideal to enact racist Jim Crow laws that disenfranchised and discriminated against blacks.

History of Jim Crow graphic

Today the political environment seems eerily similar to that of the post-Civil War years. After the massive social upheaval of the civil rights era, the country seems to be retreating into a protective shell.

The Supreme Court is rolling back voting rights law. Voter identification laws - thinly described efforts to disenfranchise the poor and the powerless - are present in over a dozen states and spreading. A recent far-reaching North Carolina study illustrated that voter ID laws do, indeed, have a disparate impact on non-white and Democratic voters, just like everybody thought.

In this type of political environment, it is hardly surprising that the rich and powerful who inhabit state legislatures pass "Stand Your Ground" laws that favor them and their ilk while discriminating against the poor and minorities.

Change the laws? Not until the political culture changes.

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