Self-defense is a valid and necessary segment of the law. A person has a right to defend herself. A person also has a right to defend her family and others.
South Carolina, like Florida, follows the Common Law justification of self-defense. A person is justified in using force, even deadly force, to protect herself or her family. When a person is justified in that particular act, even killing a person, she has not committed a crime.
One important factor in self-defense is that the person claiming self-defense is not the aggressor. In South Carolina, a person is immune from criminal prosecution and from civil liability when he defends himself. The recent case of State of Florida v. Zimmerman involved the defense of self-defense. This case was disturbing on many levels.
The most disturbing aspect of the case was the media’s and some people’s obsession with race. The truth is that if the decedent, Martin, were the same skin color as Zimmerman, the media and other people would not be interested in this case. If Zimmerman and Martin were black people, the media and others would not be interested in the case. The truth is that black males kill black males and black females on a regular basis. Black males are the primary victims of homicide and violent crimes and black males are the offenders.
Black males are killed more by black males than by non-black perpetrators. Yet, no one is staging protests, no one is marching, no one is complaining.
Is it because that is all right? It is all right for a black person to kill a black person? That is acceptable behavior. That violence is condoned.
However, when a non-black person kills a black person, racism and prejudice are the culprits and the media must make a circus out of it.
The telling part of the Zimmerman case was the media’s use of these phrases, “white Hispanic,” and “identifies himself as Hispanic.”
I have never heard or read those phrases by news reporters before this case. Did Martin “identify himself as black”? Not everything in this country boils down to color. And since the media could not craft their story on the “black” versus “white” theme because Zimmerman is Latino, the reporters had to find a way to get the divisive race issue to the forefront — now, Zimmerman is not simply Hispanic, he is a “white” Hispanic.
Is President Barack Obama a black Caucasian, a white black, a white Negro, or a white African-American (since his father was a native African)?
In North Charleston, Maraleius Birdsong, a 20-year-old black male, was out delivering pizza and he was killed by two black males in 2012. No camera crews or reporters barreled down here to cover this incident. The two males were 18 years old. They called Birdsong, ordering a pizza in order to rob him. They shot Birdsong in the head; the killers took $38 and the food.
Last month, according to North Charleston Police, a black male killed his former girlfriend, Zakiya Lawson (who was also black), before killing himself. Lawson was working and had five children. This month, three black males were killed at a motorcycle equipment store in North Charleston. The suspects are black males. No national news crews; no non-stop coverage on television.
Oh, yes, these decedents were black and their suspected killers were black. This happens every day. No news here.
I began this article stating the necessity of self-defense. I will conclude with that premise. South Carolina’s recognition of the right of people to protect themselves and their families makes sense. South Carolinians and those who visit our state do not need to live in fear of criminals and others seeking to engage in criminal conduct. South Carolinians and visitors are not required to retreat when they are in their homes or any other place where they have a right to be. People are not required to retreat in the face of intrusion or attack.
The true discussion need not be about the right of self-defense. The discussion needs to be about how to reduce the number of black people killing black people, how to reduce the number of gangs, and how to reduce the proliferation of drugs in our country. The Bureau of Justice, in its 2011 report, found that 93 percent of black victims were killed by black people. Males are more likely to be involved in drug- and gang-related homicides, 90.5 and 94.6 percent, respectively, than other types of homicides. Gang violence accounted for 1 percent of homicides in 1980; that violence increased to 6 percent in 2008.
The ones black males should fear that may bring their death are black males.
Walter Crawford Kelly said, “Resolve then, that on this ground ... we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us.”
Drugs, gangs and lack of education are the culprits claiming the lives of black males in our country. The media and others need to address these issues and we will see a positive change.
Debra J. Gammons is a Charleston attorney and faculty member at the Charleston School of Law.
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