The Castle Doctrine, ghettoization, gated communities, and spaces of the home


Oooh… brilliant position piece on the Trayvon Martin tragedy… Hilda E. Kurtz writes:

“The February 2012 shooting death in Florida of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, by George Zimmerman, an Hispanic neighborhood watch captain – and the police’s immediate release of the shooter – drew widespread outrage at racial disparities in law enforcement of violent crimes in the United States. It also drew attention to a fundamental shift in the doctrine of self-defense as legislated in Florida and 24 other US states since 2005.
The social production of multiple spaces shaped this tragedy, and this intervention reflects on the intersection of ghettoization, gated communities, and spaces of the home (read, castle) as they contributed to these events. Lefebvre’s (1991 [1974]) articulation in The Production of Space of space as a social product shaped by values, meanings and power relations is well trodden ground in human geography. The Stand Your Ground law used to justify the initial release of the boy’s killer adds a frightening new twist to how we should understand the play of power in spaces, and the way that space can be used to reproduce overtly violent social dominance.” (p.248)

“The history of ghettoization of non-whites in American cities, and most virulently, of African Americans is, of course, a textbook example of the use of space to reproduce and deepen social dominance.” (p.248)

“The shadow of ghettoization extends across society in the pervasive stereotyping of African-American men and boys in urban, rural and suburban settings. Stereotypes are a particularly insidious form of ecological fallacy. Pervasively linked in much of the collective (white) imagination with ghettoes and criminal behaviors, black boys and men can unwittingly and without warrant provoke fear and consternation when encountered in spaces in which they are viewed by others as not belonging.” (p.248)

Without the systematic social production of the spaces of ghettoes over decades, the stereotyping of black men and youth would not have the durability that it does, black parents would not be subjected to the unrelenting fear of hate-based harm coming to their children, and black boys would not come up in the world sensing fear and distrust at their very presence, and experience the attendant social and psychological ramifications of such mistrust.
Far from a recognizable ghetto, the boy Trayvon was feared, followed and fatally shot in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, a racially diverse suburb of Orlando. Gatedness is a clear example of the social production of spaces of belonging and exclusion, of us, not them; here, not out there. Zimmerman was acting as a neighborhood watchman, seeking to protect residents of the gated community from possible intruders. Some commentators have suggested that the mixed demographics of this particular community signal that Trayvon was not being targeted because of his race. Rich Benjamin, who lived as a black man in three gated communities across the USA to research his book Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America (2009), disagrees.” (p.249)

Florida’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law, promulgated by the National Rifle Association (NRA), deepens this particular tragedy. Historically in the USA, claims of self-defense were shaped by the Castle Doctrine, under which a person’s home is understood as a place in which certain protections and immunities apply to his or her actions. Claims of self-defense or justifiable homicide could be supported if the person’s home were invaded and/or they were attacked in the home. In many but not all states, such a claim required evidence of a prior attempt to retreat. The Stand Your Ground law first enacted in Florida in 2005, and since then, in 24 other states in a legislative sweep sponsored by the NRA, alters the spatiality of self-defense claims in two important ways. First, it extends the protection of the Castle Doctrine into other social spaces, such as the street, the sidewalk or the bar. Sanctioned by half the states in the USA, people can now carry their invisible castle along with them virtually anywhere they go, as long as they have a lawful right to be there (Catalfamo 2006; Ross 2007). Second, it eliminates the requirement to attempt a retreat from attack before responding with deadly force. It steers away from the relatively conservative self-defense doctrine which imposed a duty to retreat in order protect the sanctity of life (Catalfamo 2006).”

Fundamentally, Stand Your Ground laws justify violent response to perceived threats in a wide range of public and private spaces, of which gated communities are just one example. We know that spaces become coded over time, formally and informally, for the inclusion and exclusion of certain “kinds of people”. We have all recognized—fearfully—someone somewhere as out of place. Black and other nonwhite boys and men bear the ugliest brunt of such socio-spatial judgments, but many others have experienced the discomfort and alarm of feeling out of place in one setting or another.” (p.250)

“The question now confronting us is, what kind of dystopian future do we face when so-called Stand Your Ground laws sanction addressing socio-spatial discomfort and perceived threat with deadly violence?” (p.250)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Hilda E. Kurtz (2013) Trayvon Martin and the Dystopian Turn in US Self-defense Doctrine  Antipode Vol. 45 No. 2, March pp.248-251


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