Stand Your Ground New York?
On Thursday, March 20, 14-year old Kathon Anderson was riding the B-15 bus in Brooklyn. Also seated on the bus was 39-year old Angel Ramos, married with two children and on his way home on a break between the two jobs he worked to support his family. Three young men boarded the bus; police suspect that they were members of a street gang that was at odds with the street gang to which young Mr. Anderson belonged. Obviously feeling threatened, the young man allegedly pulled out a .357 Magnum revolver and fired a shot at his suspected rivals, but missed them. Tragically, his shot hit Mr. Ramos, killing him.
Kathon Anderson has been arrested and charged with second degree murder, as well as other crimes, and the justice system will decide his fate (and of course the accused is entitled to his presumption of innocence until proven guilty). But a thought about this case has crossed my mind. What if New York was a “Stand Your Ground” state? Stand Your Ground laws have been enacted in many states, most notoriously Florida. In essence, such laws provide that an individual who reasonably feels threatened with grievous harm by another individual can use deadly force to defend him or herself, even if he or she could have safely retreated from the incident/confrontation. This contradicts decades of established law (which still rules in non-Stand Your Ground states) which holds that a person has a duty to retreat, so long as they can do so safely. Two well-publicized cases in Florida, one where a “neighborhood watchman” shot and killed a young man on the way home from the store, and one where a gunman killed a youth at a gas station who was sitting in a car with friends, both resulted in acquittals of murder charges, and verdicts in both cases seem to have been heavily influenced by Stand Your Ground. (Another case from the great state of Florida, where a dispute in a movie theater over texting resulted in yet another gun fatality, is still pending).
Now back to the New York case and the shooting on the bus. What if New York had a Stand Your Ground law on its books? Keep in mind that according to news reports, the three rivals who boarded the bus made no particular actions toward the shooter, and may not even have noticed him before the fatal shot rang out. But they did belong to a rival gang, and there had been violence in the past between their gang and the shooter’s. It was also not an unreasonable assumption that these gang-bangers would be armed, as gang members frequently are. Therefore, it could be cogently argued that it was reasonable for young Mr. Anderson to feel threatened, and take deadly action to defend himself. If New York had “Stand Your Ground”, a good defense lawyer would put an expert on gang behavior on the stand to testify that yes, gang members in that part of Brooklyn are frequently armed, and a lone member of a rival gang would have reason to feel that his life was in danger when he encountered three gang rivals on a bus, therefore rendering “reasonable” his decision to pull his gun and shoot first. A quite plausible defense in a “Stand Your Ground” state. As for the hardworking husband and father, dead for no reason? Oh well, wrong place at the wrong time, I guess. But don’t expect justice in a situation such as this, not where Stand Your Ground rules. Not when you leave it completely to an individual’s discretion as to when he thinks he has the right to use deadly force. Such laws are a travesty, and I’m glad New York has resisted this trend. It won’t give Mr. Ramos’ family his life back, but at least it gives them a chance for justice. But until states that have enacted Stand Your Ground come to their senses and repeal these pernicious statutes, it will be every armed man or woman for him or herself, and the senseless carnage will escalate, with justice nowhere to be seen.