Georgia Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Stand Your Ground Repeal Bill
(APN) ATLANTA — On February 05, 2014, the Georgia Senate Judiciary (Non-Civil) Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 280, a bill introduced by State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) to repeal Georgia’s existing Stand Your Ground law.
The Moral Monday Georgia Coalition and other activists packed the hearing room.
“We asked the Committee Chairman for a full and fair hearing. We got a hearing but it was not full or fair,” Sen. Fort said after the hearing, referring to Chairman Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro).
SB 280 calls for the repeal of the statute, commonly known as Stand Your Ground (SYG), relating to no duty to retreat prior to the use of deadly force.
“What I meant by a full and fair hearing was that we had an opportunity to be heard and to be heard in a substantive way. That didn’t happen,” Fort said.
“It has been reported back to me that the Chairman is talking about next session or a Study Committee, and that’s just not going to be acceptable. That’s not acceptable. It’s frustrating because today would have been the nineteenth birthday of Trayvon Martin,” Fort said.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, Martin is a Black, male teenager who was killed in Florida by a man who used an SYG defense in court to avoid charges, in a case that was decided in 2013.
To be honest with you, I just feel for things to have been done this way, that this is disrespectful to the community that has this as their concern. I’m very disappointed, very disappointed, and going to do my best to make sure it doesn’t stand,” Fort said.
A recent study, “Stand Your Ground Laws, Homicides and Injuries” by a Georgia State University doctoral student, Chandler McClellan, argues that SYG laws in Georgia and around the U.S. have made citizens less safe.
“Stand Your Ground states have more homicides than other states,” the McClellan study states, although this does not establish causation.
Sen. Fort told the story of a seventy-two year-old Alzheimer’s sufferer in North Georgia who wandered one night into a neighbor’s yard. The neighbor came out of his house and shot Ronald Westbrook, killing him, Fort said in his testimony before the Committee.
Janice Mathis, of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the Citizenship Education Fund, was the only person other than Sen. Fort permitted to speak at the hearing.
Her testimony was limited to five minutes with an opportunity to respond briefly to two questions.
“What we are talking about is the use of deadly force. When is deadly force and the use of a firearm appropriate when you are not in your home? When we are in the street or at a movie theater, what constitutes sufficient provocation for you to pull out a gun and take the risk of ending someone’s life? That is the question you have to ask yourself and frankly for all of us,” Mathis said.
Mathis pointed to what appears to be unequal application of SYG laws across jurisdictions.
“Superior Court judges in Georgia don’t know what to do with the [SYG] legislation. In Charlton County, [Georgia], you get one case where a man tries to use Stand Your Ground in the fatal shooting of a man who comes into a nightclub with a weapon drawn. He [the man who came in] looks like he is about to shoot. The defendant shot and killed the guy. He can’t use Stand Your Ground. He is serving life plus ten years right now,” Mathis said.
Sen. Fort told the story of a defendant who he said used a SYG defense and was exonerated without a trial.
“When you set up Stand Your Ground as an affirmative defense to homicide you are short circuiting some of the checks and balances that are supposed to catch problems. If they claim self-defense, let them prove it,” Fort said.
“Self-defense has for one thousand years of jurisprudence had time to sort out what is and what is not reasonable and appropriate for citizens. This law serves almost like a virus when you can’t move one piece of the system without upsetting it all,” Mathis said.