Hoyer vows to tackle stand your ground laws

The trial of a man convicted of attempted murder in the death of a Florida teenager raises concerns about race and judicial equality, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Thursday. 

Hoyer, who said he was deeply concerned about the outcome of the Florida trial, became one of the first congressional leaders to comment on the case, in which Michael Dunn fired a handgun into a car full of teenagers, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

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Hoyer said the country must reevaluate so-called “stand your ground” laws and ask whether they make communities less safe. 

“There can be no denying that the racial disparities found in recent ‘stand your ground’ cases is alarming,” Hoyer said.

The Florida altercation began with a fight over loud music coming from the vehicle carrying Davis. Davis was African American while Dunn is white. 

Dunn, 47, said he was acting in self-defense when he fired into a car full of teenagers in 2012. He said he believed he saw a shotgun aimed at him. However, the gun was never found and the other witnesses in the car testified they never had one. 

A mistrial was declared on the charge of first-degree murder after the jury deadlocked.

Followers of the Davis case have compared it to the 2013 trial of George Zimmerman, who was found not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin. 

Neither defense directly involved Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which gives people wide discrepancy to use deadly force if they feel threatened. But the law shadowed both trials, which has led to calls for change in Florida and Washington, D.C.

Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, wrote an op-ed in USA Today on Thursday that said the law was the reason her son was dead.

“Florida's permissive gun laws and its culture of ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ is why a stranger shot my child,” wrote McBath, who accused Dunn of overreacting over the dispute about loud music 

“‘Stand your ground’ laws empower emotional people to end an argument with a gun, and until these laws are rolled back we will continue to suffer more senseless tragedies like the one my family has endured,” she wrote.

White defendants accused of killing black victims are more often found by juries to be acting in self-defense, according to statistics cited by Hoyer, who said he still believes the U.S. justice system is the best in world.   

“When 73 percent of white defendants who have killed African American victims in Florida are found to have acted ‘justifiably’ but 59 percent were acquitted when the victim was white, we ought to be asking tough questions about whether justice in these cases is truly blind,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer said he would continue to work with the Congressional Black Caucus to promote equal justice and ensure “stand your ground” laws do not erode it.  

“This means taking a hard look at whether ‘stand your ground’ laws serve the best interests of justice or whether they undermine it and make our communities less safe,” he said.  

Dunn has yet to be sentenced but could face up to 60 years in prison for attempted murder. Prosecutors have said they will likely retry the first-degree murder charge as well.