Faith vs. Reason: Stand Your Ground/Violent Crime Edition

Last night the PBS News Hour program held a roundtable on the Trayvon Martin murder.  Ta-Nehisi Coates was on, as were Reihan Salem and Donna Britt.  So was Dennis Baxley, the Florida state representative who co-authored the Stand Your Ground law under whose cloak George Zimmerman stalked and gunned down the 17 year old Martin.

Baxley said — and appeared to mean — the right things about Martin’s death, that it was a tragedy, and that nothing in the law he helped enact should be interpreted to authorize someone to pursue, confront and shoot another.  But Baxley rejected the notion that the law itself might have contributed to the catastrophe, arguing instead that it is a force for good, a way, in his words, a law intended “to empower law abiding citizens to stop violent things from happening.”

What’s more, said Baxley, the law has done just that:

Since ’05 to 2012 we have seen a reduction in violent crime in Florida.  And what I’ve learned from it is that if you empower to stop bad things from happening they will and they do and they have.

Except, of course, those bad things that happen because people are able to claim that a “feeling” of danger constitutes authorization to use deadly force more or less at will.

But snark aside, what of the claim about crime rates in Florida.

Here, I’ll take a cue from Rachel Maddow, and say that Dennis Baxler is lying.

Check out Florida’s crime statistics.  Two things stand out.

The first is that the number of violent crimes has not dropped from 2005 through 2010 (where the data series ends); rather it has jostled about in the noise.  From 2005-2008, violent crime totals exceeded the 2004 tally of just over 124,000; in 2009 and 2010 the totals dropped below that figure. If there’s a clear case for correlation with the Stand Your Ground law, it must exist at some much finer grained level that the invoked violent crime catch-all

So what about murder?  That is, after all, the crime of crimes, and the one for which I think most of us would be most comfortable in giving deference to claims of self defense.  Those numbers make Baxley’s story worse:  the murder total in Florida dropped from 946 to 881 from 2004-2005, and have exceeded the 2004 total for each year reported since, peaking at 1,202 in 2007 — or about a 26% hike from the 2004 number.

The shorter: violent crime numbers do not support a claim that the SYG law has consistently reduced violent crime incidence since 2005.

The other key fact to leaps out from this chart:

The slope of the rate/100,000 (blue) line has been pretty consistent for twenty years.  It gets a little steeper from 2008-2010, to be sure, though not as much as it did from 1997 to 1999 or 2000.  But this picture is consistent with the story in the rest of the country: violent crime is a much less severe problem now than it was decades ago. Any explanation for this ongoing process cannot have anything to do with a law enacted in 2005.  That longer history alone makes a mockery any sudden 9mm ex machina explanation for Florida’s recent and welcome continued reduction in rates of violent crime.  And, of course, any monocausal explanation  is almost certain to be wrong.

Hell, I’ll go further and say that a priori, such accounts are always wrong.

Consider instead another story.  Sometime in a leisure-filled future, (hah!–ed) I do plan to blog this really smart Adam Gopnik piece in the New Yorker examining research into  what drove crime rates down in New York City over the last several decades.  But for now in this context, take this home:

Crime ends as a result of “cyclical forces operating on situational and contingent things rather than from finding deeply motivated essential linkages.” [Wrote Franklin E. Zimring]…Curbing crime does not depend on reversing social pathologies or alleviating social grievances; it depends on erecting small, annoying barriers to entry.

All of which is to say that when Baxley asserts that Florida is experiencing a respite from violent crime because it now allows citizens to act as amateur law enforcers, empowered to use deadly force as their judgment drives them, he’s not telling the truth.  He’s lying, saying something that is false as a mundane fact and wrong as a causal inference.

Which is why this from Baxley is a type specimen of moral cowardice:

This kind of very unfortunate situation I think is a misapplication of this statute.

If you enact a law that carries with it a predictable budget of unintended, undesired consequences that result from the application of that law in daily life, then you’re not talking about “unfortunate” events, nor “misapplications.”  You’re talking about a murder that was a probabilistically predictable result of enacting a crap law.

I’m sorry Mr. Baxley.

I’m sure you mean well.

I have no doubt that you did not wish the particular child, Trayvon Martin any harm — how could you? You never knew him.

But what you feel in your heart, that regret that someone didn’t behave under your law as you think they should?  Not an excuse. No absolution.  Trayvon Martin is dead because someone empowered in his own mind by the terms of your law stalked down a street, confronted him, and shot that 17 year old kid down.

You own your part of this.

Cross Posted at The Inverse Square Blog.






53 replies
  1. 1
    Dave says:

    I posted a daily kos diary on this a little earlier today: http://www.dailykos.com/story/.....von-Martin

  2. 2
    The Snarxist Formerly Known As Kryptik says:

    I’ll give Baxley the benefit of the doubt that his intent with the law was not to cover crap like this or other crazy shit that has slid by thanks to this law. That doesn’t, however, absolve him from the very real fact that this law can be and has been used to help absolve people of crimes that were blatantly not in self-defense in the way that common sense would decree. Not even under the idea in the vein of the Castle Doctrine.

    Sorry, Mr. Baxley. Road to hell is paved with good intentions.

  3. 3
    schrodinger's cat says:

    I cannot understand what prompts people like Reihan Salam, Nikki Haley, Jindal etc to embrace the GOP when especially when by their actions they have made it clear how they despise anyone who is not exactly like them.

  4. 4
    JPL says:

    Tom did you really expect Baxley to read the law the NRA told him to sign? Reading is hard work.

    776.012 Use of force in defense of person.— . . . a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:
    (1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony . . .

  5. 5
    JGabriel says:

    Tom Levenson @ Top:

    Baxley said —- and appeared to mean -— the right things about Martin’s death, that it was a tragedy, and that nothing in the law he helped enact should be interpreted to authorize someone to pursue, confront and shoot another. But Baxley rejected the notion that the law itself might have contributed to the catastrophe, arguing instead that it is a force for good, a way, in his words, a law intended “to empower law abiding citizens to stop violent things from happening.”

    Baxley, and Conservatives in general, can’t have it both ways: If the Stand-Your-Ground law isn’t a defense for Zimmerman, then why is he still walking free? Why hasn’t he been arrested and charged?

    .

  6. 6
    MosesZD says:

    Crime has been dropping in all US states. This is not disputable. Many people claim credit, but they’re all mistaken that ‘their method’ did anything as every method, including doing the same-old, same-old has been ‘successful.’

    The most novel theory actually has to do with developmental biology and lead. And it makes a tremendous amount of sense when you understand what even micro-doses of lead does to the human brain.

    The theory offered by the economist, Rick Nevin, is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical theory for fluctuations in the crime rate, and it is based on studies linking children’s exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives.

    What makes Nevin’s work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries.</em>

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....01073.html

    In short, it was the EPA… :) Damn fucking hippies… Kept us from poisoning our children with leaded gasoline and paint so they wouldn’t grow up to proper thugs and brutes… Oh, and those socialist Euro-bastards, too!

    ;)

  7. 7
    bobbo says:

    The crime rate may look better than it actually is if people commit murders that are protected by the “stand your ground” defense.

  8. 8
    Hill Dweller says:

    How many people weren’t charged and/or acquitted because of Baxley’s law? Did that change the violent crime totals?

  9. 9
    tulip says:

    I think Baxley is more of a liar because according to LGF

    “Baxley is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and has advocated for the production of a Florida license plate honoring “Confederate Heritage.” He also argued against removing a racial slur from the Florida state song.”

    He’s a bigot AND a racist and I think he knew exactly what he was doing in writing this law.

    Another article regarding the bogus claim that violent crime is down in FL.

    http://prospect.org/article/th.....esentative

  10. 10
    Svensker says:

    Am I the only one whose chart goes off the right side of the page and is partly covered by “Standard Blogads”?

    Yeah. And whooocudanoooooed? (In response to those “well-meaning folks” who enacted this criminally stupid law.)

  11. 11
    jefft452 says:

    “I’ll give Baxley the benefit of the doubt….”

    Not me,
    This and all the other “pro 2nd amendment” laws were written and pushed by the Walter Mitty lobby (NRA, GOofA, etc) specifically to allow whimpy little milquetoasts to act out their Walter Mitty fantasies of being just like dirty harry

    The law did just what it’s supporters wanted it to do

  12. 12
    PeakVT says:

    Since ‘05 to 2012 we have seen a reduction in violent crime in Florida.

    Yeah, well, so has the whole country. And Florida is still higher than average.

  13. 13
    ralphdibny says:

    After Baxley said all that, he began rambling about about how we need SYG laws because of drug addictions, and because of violence in the media. It seems that Mr. Baxley believes in a world in which crackheads, inspired by violent video games, stand at the gates, ready to swarm into “our” homes. Those millions of crimes are being prevented, however, by SYG laws. (Huh. It seems that Zimmerman felt the same way–remember how his 911 call accused Martin of being on something? But I’m sure there is no connection between Baxley’s worldview and Zimmerman’s.)

  14. 14
    jl says:

    Not sure what these ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws refer to. From what I read in the news, there appear to be problems with these ‘Shoot a Man and Walk’ (SaMaW) in some states, including Florida.

    For a complete analysis, one would have to include the obvious costs of these SaMaW laws: violent incidents that occur because somebody shoots some one and it is not a crime because the shooter has a story the police deem plausible, and from the Martin shooting, what the police deem plausible appears to be a wide net, if you are the ‘right’ kind of person.

    The Reuters story I linked to in the way long ABL post earlier put the number of violent deaths and woundings in FL related to its Shoot a Man and Walk law at over 100.

    No time to get link, but a commenter noted the story is easy to find. Search for ‘MSNBC’ ‘Florida’ and ‘gunshine’

    I remember a line in the remake of The Thin Red Line when one soldier becomes all heroic and saves the day when he realizes that in a war ‘I can shoot a man and no one can touch me’.

    That bright scenario might be plausible in war zone, but not in a civilized country. But then maybe some people imagine (incorrectly) that they are the ‘right’ kind of people and this country will be more civilized if the ‘right’ kind of people are given certain privileges reserved for war zones.

  15. 15
    Petorado says:

    The hoodie as defining image of this murder is swinging back the other way. Miami Heat players shot a team picture with all wearing hoodies. #We are all Trayvon is the hashtag they’re using to generate support.

  16. 16
    Quincy says:

    Glad someone linked the American Prospect piece. Pretty much every right wing talking point makes me feel like Lisa.

  17. 17
    Karen says:

    And if the right wing isn’t enough, if you go on Salon, the emoprogs are saying that Obama has no right to talk about his grief about this case or that if he had a son he’d look like Trayvon because he personally kills Afghanis so as they said, he should shut the fuck up.

    Because of course, if we didn’t send drones into Afghanistan, racism in this country wouldn’t exist, the Stand Your Ground Law wouldn’t exist and Trayvon Martin would still be alive.

  18. 18
    Maude says:

    @Karen:
    He’s worse than Bush. He sold us out.
    These nutters are tiring and repetitive. They will never be happy and it is always something.

  19. 19
    JordanRules says:

    @Karen: There’s a commenter doing it right now in the thread below. SMDH

  20. 20
    elftx says:

    I saw most of that interview. To me he deflected away from how the law has “empowered” people to more easily take the life of another and subtly shifted the focus of this crime as possibly being racially motivated…all without saying so.
    And was given a pass..the host was obviously too busy with his time constraints..or at least I am going to let him off with that.

  21. 21
    chrome agnomen says:

    @Hill Dweller:

    mirrors my thought. if a killing isn’t reported as a crime, it doesn’t show up on the statistics.

  22. 22
    DH says:

    Tom,

    I just looked up this schmuck on Google. Guess what he majored in Florida State University?

    Funeral Services

    Moreover, he wanted to make available for purchase a license plate that would fund some Confederate Army memorial group. Get the idea?

    I live in Miami. But hopefully not for long. Or the wonderful state of Florida, for that matter.

  23. 23
    doxastic says:

    Let’s push this further…if this law is “working,” what does that mean? How would it work? Well, we’d have a “justified” killing, a “prevented” crime, no arrest and a dead person. If the recipe for less crime calls for more dead people, I’d go back and check who wrote the cookbook.

    I mean this not as a conspiracy theory about Florida crime stats (though, it would be intrinsically valuable to ask if there are other people whose killing were invalidated as crimes by Stand Your Ground), but rather to call attention to the pathologies underlying the argument itself.

  24. 24
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    I feel threatened, right now, by Dennis Baxley.

    I guess what I need to do is travel 3000 miles and gun his ass down.

  25. 25
    DH says:

    Tom,

    I just looked up this schmuck on Google. Guess what he majored in at Florida State University?

    Funeral Services

    Moreover, he wanted to make available for purchase a license plate that would fund some Confederate Army memorial group. Get the idea?

    I live in Miami. But hopefully not for long. Or the wonderful state of Florida, for that matter.

  26. 26
    DH says:

    Sorry abut the double post.

  27. 27
    Mino says:

    Question: Is there an exclusion for domestic killings. If not, I’d be curious why it doesn’t make these yahoos nervous.

  28. 28
    Ozymandias, King of Ants says:

    @DH:

    Guess what he majored in Florida State University?Funeral Services

    Great. Now we have Mr. Joyboy fucking writing laws . . .

    WASF

    edited for format

  29. 29
    piratedan says:

    For the life of me, I can’t understand why the masonry and moat building industries haven’t taken off in this new social environment.

  30. 30
    cthulhu says:

    @MosesZD: I think the lead hypothesis has a lot of merit. Our bigger problem going forward will be to figure out what in our vastly more varied set of environmental chemical stressors are doing notable harm. The signals and the effects likely won’t be as strong as lead but perhaps more of an intractable problem because of that.

  31. 31
    Mnemosyne says:

    @MosesZD:

    Also, IIRC, a big part of the drop is that the Baby Boomers are now mostly too old for violent crime (as with so many things, robbery and mugging are a young man’s game). When you have a large demographic moving through the elephant, it affects everything in that society, including the crime rate, and the crime rate has gone down as the Baby Boomers “aged out” of violent crime.

  32. 32
    chrome agnomen says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    i have felt threatened by the entire right wing for 30 some years. why wasn’t i informed of these laws earlier?

  33. 33
    PatrickG says:

    @MosesZD: The lead theory is interesting, but I’ll take it with a grain of salt. Correlation, control, etc.

    Now to be snarky… clearly this is evidence that the War on (Some People Who Use Some) Drugs / War on (People Living in) Poverty has been successful!

    Lock up enough people, and of course you’re going to see a drop in /100000 numbers*. This argument does get harder to make taking into account reduction in actual incidents, but hey, maybe we’ve just managed to outpace population growth. While stimulating the prison construction industry, no less!

    * This does assume you’re not counting violence in correctional systems in these numbers, but still counting the prisoners as part of the population. We do it for voting/redistricting, so I assume we do it here. Anything else would be un-American.

  34. 34
    PTirebiter says:

    @Ozymandias, King of Ants: G

    reat. Now we have Mr. Joyboy fucking writing laws .

    It appears this legislation was created using another template from the American Legislative Exchange Council. Likely that Baxley just put his name to it in exchange for some NRA bucks and the thrill of having his maned attached to legislation popular with his base.

  35. 35
    KG says:

    @JGabriel: there’s no good answer for that. he should have been arrested at the scene. the immunity provision is just asinine.

  36. 36

    @Mnemosyne:

    Also, IIRC, a big part of the drop is that the Baby Boomers are now mostly too old for violent crime (as with so many things, robbery and mugging are a young man’s game).

    That’s true, but one of the things that’s most impressive about Nevin’s work is that he was able to separate out that factor by looking a different age cohorts. So he can show that, say, 18 year olds today are less violent than 18 year olds were 30 years ago. He also shows some very convincing points about different crimes having different age profiles and that the time peak for different crimes followed the age trends very closely. So if you plot the time series for individual crimes, they follow the same general trends but with a spacing that’s fairly close to the difference in ages when people are most likely to commit those crimes. The correlation is close enough that I almost want to check the raw data to make sure he isn’t cooking the books somehow.

  37. 37
    Jncc says:

    So, did violent crime drop from 2005 to 2012 or not?

    It seems you are saying it didn’t drop much from 2005 to 2010, but that hardly makes the guy a liar.

    Even if you are trying to communicate what Mike Daisey would call a “larger truth” doing so with inaccurate statements doesn’t help your credibility.

  38. 38
    honus says:

    I remember an article a few months ago about economic and other stress during pregnancy causing the children to be prone to crime and other pathologies. The author made the point that ignoring this and positing a behavioral cause lets societies off the hook. I can’t remember the author but I seem to recall he was being discredited because he was a putative Marxist.

  39. 39
    PeakVT says:

    @PatrickG: What makes the lead theory strong – very strong, IMHO – is that this same exposure-to-peak crime lag occurs in multiple countries. Look at the pdf and other info on Nevin’s site. Plus, we absolutely know that lead is a neurotoxin.

  40. 40
    Gian says:

    on it’s face I don’t see the facts of this case being at all square with Florida’s SYG statute.
    at all

    what I see is a racist police department that stopped any investigation when the shooting victim was a young black male. And cowardly cops who won’t admit they made a racist mistake and are trying to hide behind this law. They showed up and made assumptions based on race, and didn’t actually do their job. That department needs firings, and trainings for the people who aren’t fired

  41. 41
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Jncc:

    It seems you are saying it didn’t drop much from 2005 to 2010, but that hardly makes the guy a liar.

    Correlation =/= causation. In that time period, violent crime dropped in the entire United States, not just Florida. It dropped more quickly in other states than it did in Florida.

    So just pulling out a single number and saying “crime dropped, so the law worked, QED” is a ridiculous thing to do. If crime dropped because the law worked, why did crime drop faster in states that did not have the same kind of law?

  42. 42
    Diana says:

    @MosesZD: I like it, but what I’ve never understood about the lead-poisoning argument is that, since everyone is breathing the same air, the effects should show up in the entire population cohort.

    Maybe it did, and leaded gasoline accounts for the Vietnam war, punk rock and the veneration of Reagan.

  43. 43

    9mm ex machina

    How dare you simultaneously mock the 1st and 2nd amendment rights of the sacred church of the gun-fetish patriots! You, sir, could not carry their Glock with extended magazine!

  44. 44
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Diana:

    There is the Flynn effect on IQ, which no one seems to be able to explain entirely, but our worldwide reduction in lead exposure seems to explain at least some of it.

  45. 45
    PeakVT says:

    @Diana: Unlike mercury, which comes out of smokestacks (still, but not for much longer), lead came out of tailpipes, and from paint dust inside older buildings and in outdoor areas close to “urban renewal” projects. Thus people living in urban areas had higher exposure, and by the 1960s and early 1970s that was increasingly the AA population.

  46. 46

    @Diana: I’ll explain. In the poorest parts of the nation, people lived in old houses painted with lead paint, flaking away (I remember this was happening in my old apartment building) and were closer to heavy traffic with lead fumes, and combine that with city factories with their traffic and fumes and other neurotoxins. Whites fled to the suburbs earlier, where traffic was lighter, houses were painted with latex and even when lead paint was used, the paint was newer and didn’t flake. Kids weren’t eating the paint (I never did, but still) and there was no lead paint dust floating in the air either.

    Urban renewal that tore down a lot of the old lead-filled buildings helped. New patterns of housing where people were able to live further away from heavy traffic helped. Gentrification that scooped up a lot of the lead-filled dirt also helped. And we no longer used lead in pencils, toys and other applications, either. So fewer and fewer children were exposed to lead, and the lead that was around became less and less.

  47. 47
    Samara Morgan says:

    Gawd I HATE reihan. He’s a cobo. I’d give almost anything for another chance to make the whiny littl bitch cry again.

  48. 48
    elftx says:

    @Samara Morgan: I don’t “hate” him but I think he tries so hard to see the other point of view, he out logics himself.

  49. 49
    Jncc says:

    @mnemosyne

    Obviously correlation doesn’t equal causation

    OP said one particular statement was a lie. But it wasn’t. Crime did drop. So it is the OP who is a liar, as Rachel Maddow would say.

    Now here’s the thing: as you point out correlation isn’t causation and there’s lots of factual reasons why the IMPLICATION of the statement is wrong

    But that doesn’t justify making shit up or making false allegations like the OP did.

    Jesus fucking Christ, a guy sht a kid armed with skittles. If you can’t say why that is wrong without lying, you should probably stfu. (and I’m using “you” generically here)

  50. 50
    PatrickG says:

    @PeakVT: Thanks for the link, I’ll check it out. I wasn’t prepared to do any critical reading on a Friday night. :)

  51. 51
    catmandoodo says:

    Makes me think back to the shitstorm from the right when the book Freakonomics came out with the correlation of legalized abortion and the drop in the crime rate–same bullshit that the statistics can’t be right because they don’t agree with our preconceived notions

  52. 52
    Some Loser says:

    Jncc Says:

    March 24th, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    @mnemosyne

    Obviously correlation doesn’t equal causation

    OP said one particular statement was a lie. But it wasn’t. Crime did drop. So it is the OP who is a liar, as Rachel Maddow would say.

    Now here’s the thing: as you point out correlation isn’t causation and there’s lots of factual reasons why the IMPLICATION of the statement is wrong

    But that doesn’t justify making shit up or making false allegations like the OP did.

    Jesus fucking Christ, a guy sht a kid armed with skittles. If you can’t say why that is wrong without lying, you should probably stfu. (and I’m using “you” generically here)

    Can’t reply, so this should do.

    Anyway, Baxley suggested this law lowered crime; the OP provided evidence this was not the case. Baxley lied about the effects of his legislation. It does not work as he says it does; the evidence does not support his case. It shows crime lowering regardless of the law. This put a dint in his defense of his legislation. Baxley either knew crime was lowering regardless of his law (and he lied), or he is ignorant of the trend (so he made up bullshit on the spot, which is tantamount to lying).

    See, that was easy. Read that a couple of times and stop being such a dumb asshole. The OP did not lie. You, however, is an obtuse little monkey.

  53. 53
    Jmcc says:

    @mnem

    Op said guy lied abut crime rates dropping. He didn’t.

    Condescension only really works when you’re right, honey. So try again.

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