NotesVolume 5, Issue 1 (2015)

On Death’s Doorstep: The Racially Stratified Impact of the Michigan Self-Defense Act and Why Race-Centric Advocacy is Not the Answer

Citation:5 COLUM. J. RACE & L. 53 (2015)

Abstract

On July 20, 2006, Michigan joined the growing number of states to enact “Stand Your Ground” legislation. These statutes marked a dramatic expansion of the common law Castle Doctrine by allowing individuals to employ deadly force against assailants without first considering whether there were reasonably available avenues of retreat to safety. This Note first examines the effect of the Michigan Self-Defense Act on the state’s legal landscape, ultimately concluding that the law provides individuals with an over broad license to use deadly force in situations that could be resolved peacefully. This leads to the creation of a “shoot first” culture in which individuals feel empowered to resort to violent self-defense tactics without first evaluating alternative available means. This Note argues that the shoot first culture enabled by the Act poses a disproportionate threat to Black Americans due to the longstanding subconscious associations of Blackness with criminality. Black Americans thus face a significantly greater likelihood of being incorrectly perceived as threatening, and, coupled with the statute’s expansive permit to use deadly force, killed by those who opt to stand their ground. The Note also argues that race-centric advocacy strategies opposing Stand Your Ground laws are likely to be polarizing and ineffective, and instead proposes a shift to principles grounded in empathy and dialogue.