(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Ahead of a Congressional hearing today on "Stand Your Ground" laws, Amnesty International USA called on the U.S. government to investigate whether such laws have led to higher deaths from gun violence and increased racial bias in criminal proceedings. The human rights organization also urged state legislatures to repeal existing "Stand Your Ground" laws, saying they undermine human rights.
In testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights hearing, Amnesty International USA Executive Director Steven W. Hawkins said: "Stand Your Ground" laws "pervert the concept of self-defense," when they are used to "protect perpetrators, rather than victims of violence. Stand-your-ground laws allow private individuals to be held to a lower standard on the use of deadly force than law enforcement officers."
"Amnesty International is alarmed by mounting evidence suggesting that "Stand Your Ground" laws may encourage the use of deadly force in situations where it is not warranted, for example, where such force is not used as a last resort," said Hawkins.
A 2012 study by Texas A&M University found that homicides increased by 7 to 9 percent in 23 states with "Stand Your Ground" laws, resulting in 500 to 700 more homicides each year.
In addition, said Hawkins, research suggests that "Stand Your Ground" laws may legitimize racial bias in the criminal justice systems of the states where they are in place.
A recent study by the Urban Institute of 22 states with "Stand Your Ground" laws showed that the shooting of a black person by a white person was found justifiable 17 percent of the time, while the shooting of a white person by a black person was deemed justifiable just over 1 percent of the time.
"Given the persistent concerns about racism and racial profiling within law enforcement agencies and in the wider community - so tragically highlighted in the death of Trayvon Martin - we need stronger measures to address this issue, not laws that may actually increase racial disparities in the way our justice system is applied and serve to sanction the use of deadly forced based on a perceived offender's race or color," said Hawkins.
Amnesty International said while it welcomed Attorney General Eric Holder's investigation of the death of Trayvon Martin, this alone is not enough. "We believe Attorney General Holder should lead a comprehensive nationwide study examining all states where 'Stand Your Ground' laws are in place," said Hawkins. The Department, he said, should make recommendations with a view toward bringing current legislation into compliance with international law, which guarantees the right to be free from discrimination and the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of one's life.
Sign the Amnesty International petition calling for comprehensive national study by the federal government of "Stand Your Ground" laws.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million members in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.