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Racial Violence and Neoliberal Reason

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 May 2019

Marcus Lee*
Department of Political Science at The University of Chicago
*Corresponding author: Marcus Lee, Department of Political Science, University of Chicago, Pick Hall, 5828 South University Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637. E-mail:


Since the killing of Trayvon Martin, the Stand Your Ground law has come to emblematize contemporary racial injustice. Yet, the legitimacy of the statute endures, as more than thirty-three states maintain and enforce some version of Stand Your Ground. This article probes the legitimacy basis for Stand Your Ground by excavating and reconstructing its formative logic. Drawing on archival records of the Florida state legislature’s 2005 pioneering of the statute, I examine how lawmakers justified its introduction, design, and enactment. I find that proponents of Stand Your Ground framed it as a response to the cost impositions of criminal prosecution and civil action. In introducing Stand Your Ground, they sought to protect self-defensive actors against the burdens of administrative and judicial proceedings by granting them civil immunity. During the mark-up process, legislators held an extensive debate over the intended beneficiaries and victims of Stand Your Ground. Racial codes animated this debate: “drug dealers,” “gangs,” and “cop killers” represented the types of criminal subjects whom the legal protections of Stand Your Ground should exclude, while “violent criminals” in the “bad part of town” represented the intended objects of the statute’s authorization of deadly force. Ultimately, legislators translated the concerns raised during this debate into statutory design choices that baked race into Stand Your Ground.

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Copyright © Hutchins Center for African and African American Research 2019 

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