ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- "Stand your ground" statutes benefit whites more than blacks, are unnecessary and cause minority men to live in fear, several experts said Friday to a federal civil rights commission evaluating racial disparities in the laws.
But one dissenter, an African-American lawmaker from South Carolina, said the law benefits black defendants by putting in place an extra hurdle toward arrest by police officers who may have hidden racial biases.
"Stand your ground, the way I intended when I voted for it, it's meant so people don't have to live in fear," said Rep. Todd Rutherford, a Democrat from South Carolina.
Rutherford's voice was in the minority among the more than a dozen experts who testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in Orlando during their only "field" hearing outside of their base in Washington. "Stand-your-ground" laws provide that individuals have no duty to retreat from any place they may rightfully be and may use any level of force, including lethal, if they reasonably believe they face an imminent and immediate threat of serious bodily harm or death.
The laws in around half of the 50 states came under renewed attention in 2012 following the fatal shooting of an unarmed Trayvon Martin, a black teen, in a Sanford town house complex by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic. While Zimmerman didn't invoke a part of the law that allows for a an immunity hearing, during which a judge decides whether the case moves forward or is dropped, "stand your ground" defense language was included in the jury instructions at his trial last year. Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges.
The commission decided to examine "stand your ground" laws after Martin's fatally shooting, said Martin Castro, the commission's chair. Next year, the commission will issue a report with recommendations for President Obama and Congress.
"It will be beyond anecdote, but concrete statistical information," Castro said.