During a Senate hearing on "stand your ground" laws and public safety, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tried to dismiss claims that such laws had racial implications. Because many black people are victims of violent crime and need to defend themselves, Cruz said, "the notion that 'stand your ground' laws are some form of veiled racism may be a convenient political attack, but it is not borne out by the fact remotely." The chair of the subcommittee, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, offered a quick and biting rebuttal. Sitting in front of the two was Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin's mother.
The hearing stemmed from the 2012 shooting of Martin, the Florida teenager shot to death while walking back from the convenience store after being confronted by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. That case prompted new consideration of the type of self-defense law that, at first, allowed Zimmerman to go free without criminal charges.
Cruz, echoing a common line from conservatives, argued that the laws benefit African-Americans — slyly citing Barack Obama's statements 2004 in defense of his position.
Cruz: The chairman of this committee, a moment ago, made a remarkable statement that to the effect that no one could reasonably believe that "stand your ground" laws protect those in the African-American communities who are victims of violent crimes. I think that is a remarkable statement on many, many fronts, including the fact that a great many African-Americans find themselves victims of violent crime, and have asserted this defense to defend themselves, defend their families, defend their children.
But I also find it remarkable because the assertion that no one reasonably could suggest this benefit the African-American community is drawn into remarkable relief when one keeps in mind that, in 2004, a state senator in Illinois by the name of Barack Obama cosponsored an expansion of Illinois' law providing civil immunity for those who use justifiable force to defend themselves. So the notion that "stand your ground" laws are some form of veiled racism may be a convenient political attack, but it is not borne out by the fact remotely.
In the past, we've looked at claims that there's benefit to the black community from the laws, finding that, at least in Florida, the deaths of black people were more commonly determined to be "justified" by the law than the deaths of white people.
Sen. Durbin — chair of the subcommittee and the person called out in Cruz's remarks — offered his own rebuttal.
Durbin: Let me be very specific when I say this. Don't take my word for it. Take the testimony of Hillary Shelton, director of the NAACP, Washington Bureau, in which he states — and it's part of this record — "Few issues have caused as much angst and raised as many deeply held concerns among our members and the communities we serve as 'stand your ground' laws. These laws and their applications have sadly resulted in no less than the murder of people who were doing nothing more than walking down the street."
Statement in the record by Hillary Shelton of the NAACP. This continued reference to "inflaming racial tensions," my friends, we've heard this before over and over again. We have problems with the issues of race in America that we have to face squarely. And when people are being discriminated against, whoever, wherever in america, the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, is not going to back away.
That wasn't the only contested point Cruz made. He also suggested that "stand your ground" is "not the issue on which [the Zimmerman] trial turned," arguing that Zimmerman didn't use the law in his defense. It was included in the jury instructions, as has been noted.
Speaking directly to Martin's mother, Cruz suggested that the family was "simply the mourning the loss of your son," while "other players" sought "to do a great deal more based on what happened that Florida night." But Sybrina Fulton was not there simply to mourn the loss of her son. As Fulton said herself (as reported by Fox):
"I just wanted to come here to...let you know how important it is that we amend this 'stand your ground' because it certainly did not work in my case," Fulton said, speaking without consulting prepared remarks. "The person that shot and killed my son is walking the streets today. This law does not work."
The hearing was originally supposed to take place in September. It was postponed following the Navy Yard shooting.