Problems with Stand Your Ground

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By Vyash Nandlal

IN this Local Government Campaign, UNC leader, Kamla Persad -Bissessar, has focused on the national issue of crime and proposed a curious solution which comes with its own problems.

This is the mass granting of Firearm Users’ Licenses (FULs) to citizens in tandem with a “stand your ground” law. It appears to be welcomed by some while many have expressed serious concern and outright rejection of this policy.

I would like to examine the issue of “stand your ground” laws briefly, while taking careful note of its impacts in jurisdictions where it already exits.

Firstly, what is the “stand your ground” principle and how does it work? Attorney Jagdeo Singh, gave an excellent legal explanation in a recent column, stating, “The conceptual core of the notion of ‘stand your ground’ lies in the principle that a person does not have an obligation to retreat in the face of a grave and imminent attack.

Rather, this principle allows such a person to use a proportionate amount of force to repel and resist a perceived deadly attack.”

Interestingly, Mr Singh posits that such a law is unnecessary in Trinidad and Tobago since according to him, “the common law in relation to self-defence has at its heart the underlying fundamental notions of the “stand your ground principle.”

While versions of “stand your ground” laws exist in several countries, it is in the US where the application is held under a microscope.

In many US states, “stand your ground” laws, exist with some laws specifically stating, that an individual may, “stand his or her ground.”

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While this may sound all well and good, when combined with lax state laws, which lead to a proliferation of firearms in private and public places, such as in Florida, you get a potentially dangerous situation occurring.

These laws have become increasingly criticised in many states with opponents claiming it to be a “shoot first” law. A former Miami police chief John F Timoney, in 2005, called the law dangerous and uncalled for, claiming that, “whether it be trick or treaters or children playing in the yard of someone who doesn’t want it, or simply a drunk person knocking on the wrong door, it encourages people to use deadly force where it shouldn’t be used.”

He added, “laws like ‘stand your ground’ give citizens unfettered power and discretion with no accountability. It is a recipe for disaster.”

Unfortunately, these states are rife with many examples where “stand your ground” has gone horribly wrong. In so doing it has also exposed the application of these laws to be tinged with the racial profiling, biases and discriminatory patterns.

Just this April, in Missouri , 16 year old Ralph Yarl, an African American teen, was on his way to pick up his brothers.

However, he went to the wrong address and rang the doorbell. The 84-years-old white homeowner, came out and shot the teenager in his head, then shot him again, no questions asked, claiming he felt threatened.

In Ohio in 2022, a 36 year old white homeowner shot and killed another African American teen, 13-year-old Sinzae Reed, claiming he feared for his life, utilising “stand your ground” as a defence.

The sad case of Treyvon Martin, another African American teen, still cuts deep. He was followed by George Zimmerman, a white male who ignored 911’s advice and continued to follow and engage the teen, on the grounds that he looked suspicious.

In the ensuing altercation, the teen was shot and killed, sparking a massive national outrage over the killing and bringing the controversial “stand your ground” laws into focus, for its perceived use in racially targeting and profiling as well as giving an excuse for indiscriminate killings.

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This is exactly why I am very apprehensive when I hear Mrs Kamla Persad Bissessar proposing a law called “stand your ground” in Trinidad and Tobago, while combining it with the proliferation of legal guns through FULs.

This is the exact recipe which has led to tragedies and apparent racially motivated killings in the US. Further, I heard her recently using very incendiary language such as, “light them up” and “empty the clip”.

Worst of all was hearing her say, “they were Red and Ready and now is dead and bloody”. This particularly gave me
chills because everyone knows that “Red and Ready” is a PNM slogan. What exactly is Mrs Persad-Bissessar implying here?

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Trinidad and Tobago is a racially diverse country and especially on the political platforms the race dog-whistle gets blown often.

I recall in the aftermath of the 2015 and 2020 general elections, the disgusting and disturbing racist rants which dominated social media and went on without condemnation. I raise this to say that despite the majority of us living in harmony, there still exists the divisive and disturbed minority.

My fear is that “stand your ground” laws may now arm individuals and give them the legal defence to perpetrate violence motivated by these nefarious notions, which is the last thing this country needs at this time.

I urge Mrs Persad-Bissessar to tone down her incendiary rhetoric and reexamine this proposed policy which has far reaching consequences in the hands of malevolent and irresponsible individuals.

Vyash Nandlal hold a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and an MSc in International Finance. He has more than 12 years’ experience in the field of economic research and analysis. He currently works as an economic researcher and advisor in the Office of the Prime Minister and sits on the boards of several state and non-profit organisations. The opinions and comments expressed by him are not necessarily those of AZP News, a Division of Complete Image Limited.


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