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September 20, 2021

Florida’s “Walking While Black” Shooting — Could It Happen In AK?

by Linda Kellen Biegel

Is this "tourism" campaign in our future?

I’ve been waiting to see what crappy legislation (considered to be “a lesser of evils” by legislators who desperately want to trade for votes on their own bills, or shore up their second amendment credentials) would show up this session.

Ding, ding, ding, ding…we have our winner! House Bill 80 has cropped-up as one with a long list of sponsors in both the House and the Senate. As we are told, HB 80 sailed through the House and now has “broad bi-partisan support” in the Senate.

What is HB 80? It is another bill that has come out of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), where big-monied companies, corporations and special interests (like the NRA) have legislation drawn-up to push their agenda.

This bill is in a family of so called “stand your ground” bills passed in 17 other states which expand the law’s definition of “self-defense.”

Currently in Alaska, a person may not use deadly force if they can still ensure personal safety and the safety of others “by leaving the area of the encounter.” However, they have “no duty to leave the area” if it is their living quarters, if they are invited guests into someone else’s living quarters, or it is their job site.

HB 80 expands the areas where Alaskans have “no duty to leave the area” to “any place where the person has a right to be.” That definition would apply to any public space where they would not be considered “trespassing.”

What this bill does is remove any responsibility for someone to “dial-down” a situation by leaving the area.

While some Alaska lawmakers seem positively giddy at the prospect, some members of the Alaska law-enforcement community don’t seem thrilled at all.

Anchorage prosecutor James Fayette was invited by former prosecutor Senator Hollis French to testify during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Mr. Fayette took a day-off from work and flew to Juneau at his own expense.

“This is a bad idea,” Fayette said. “It will do nothing to enhance the safety of law-abiding gun owners. What it will do is make it more difficult for me and my colleagues to convict violent criminals.”

Fayette said the bill would unintentionally give people guilty of murder under current law an out in court. By removing the duty of a person to retreat whenever possible, he said, they could claim they killed someone in self-defense in just about any situation.

Fayette distributed news clippings to committee members that highlighted four Alaska cases he said could have ended differently if the proposal was already law.

What the AP article doesn’t mention is that Mr. Fayette wrote a piece for the Law Review on Alaska’s Self-Defense Law that is still used by judges and lawyers to navigate the complexities. Therefore he more than most has the ability to speak with authority regarding HB80. According to Mr. Fayette’s testimony, his job also makes him one of the people in this State that this bill will most effect. And he states, in regards to discussions with his collegues:

“There is not a single member of the prosecution community that supports this. This is a bad idea. This is a dangerous bill.”

Mr. Fayette is right-on-target if you look at what’s happening in Florida, another “stand your ground” state, since the passing of their law.

Hardly a week goes by in this state without some mention of the law that essentially says citizens have no obligation to retreat in the face of danger, and are permitted to use deadly force, if necessary, to defend themselves.

Even now, a circuit judge in Hillsborough County is awaiting written arguments before deciding whether a Valrico man should stand trial for killing his neighbor in an argument over a skateboarder. A Tampa tow company owner was recently convicted of manslaughter after initially mounting a “stand your ground” defense.

If you go by Florida Department of Law Enforcement numbers, justifiable homicide rates have tripled since the law went into effect in late 2005.

“It’s crazy. It’s insanity,” said Willie Meggs, the state attorney in Tallahassee who has encountered the defense several times in recent years. “Stand your ground is the dumbest law ever put on the books.”

–In the first five months after the Florida law went into effect, there were at least 13 shooting cases where the shooter claimed self-defense. Of the six men who died and four who were wounded in these cases, only one was armed.

–Some Orlando police authorities stopped investigating “self-defense” shootings and just immediately referred them to state prosecutors so they could decide.

–“Case after case” where the person shot in “self-defense” was unarmed now goes unprosecuted in Florida.

Just as in Alaska, it was the Florida law enforcement community who initially raised the alarm against the legislation, although the NRA and supporters of the law ignored them and claimed all arguments stemmed from anti-gun activists.

Hardly an “anti-gun activist”, Miami police chief John Timoney made a prediction back in 2005 shortly before Florida’s law took effect.

“Whether it’s trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn’t want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house,” Chief John Timoney told the New York Times, “you’re encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn’t be used.”

Four years later, Billy Kuch got drunk, so drunk that at 5 a.m. one day he stumbled to the door of the wrong house in a look-alike neighborhood and tried to open it, twice.

Before the “stand your ground” law, homeowner Gregory Stewart would have been expected to hunker down in his Land O’Lakes residence, dead-bolt secure, and call police.

With the law in place, he could use deadly force anywhere he had a right to be, provided he felt threatened with death or great bodily harm. He had no duty to retreat from danger.

Stewart left his wife inside with their baby and stepped outside, gun in hand.

Billy Kuch spent more than a month in the hospital. Stewart was never prosecuted.

The latest outcry over the law may be the most controversial. It is in response to the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Trayvon Martin

On Feb. 26, Zimmerman, 28, a self-appointed block watch captain in The Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated community in Sanford, just outside Orlando, called 911 from his car to report a suspicious person – a black man wearing a hoodie – walking slowly through the neighborhood. The 911 operator, according to police, told Zimmerman to wait for police to arrive. The man in the hoodie was Trayvon, returning to his family’s house from buying Skittles and an iced tea at a local convenience store.

Trayvon’s father lived with his fiance in the gated community. In 911 tapes released Friday, it was clear that Mr. Zimmerman made assumptions about Trayvon not backed-up by the facts.

Zimmerman said he tailed Trayvon in a mission to find out if the teen was up to no good. Zimmerman was out to put a stop to recent burglaries. He dialed police — his 46th call in the past 14 months to report shady people, reckless drivers and other disturbances around his neighborhood. He offered to follow his suspect, but the dispatcher told him: “We don’t need you to do that.”

Some minutes later, Trayvon was killed with a gun the watch volunteer was licensed to carry.

Perhaps it’s because I’m the mother of a black daughter, but I feel a knot of fear when I think about the Martin case with all of its “walking-while-black” overtones. Perhaps it’s because I am a former worker in runaway and domestic violence shelters, or that I’m a recovering addict/alcoholic and know many others who haven’t quite found recovery yet. Maybe for those reasons, it’s easy for me to visualize scenarios where homeless/street folks walk are used for target practice when asking for money, food, a smoke…I can visualize all kinds of scenarios where folks who mean no harm end up getting killed because their intentions are misunderstood or misrepresented.

It’s also easy to visualize scenarios where a person carrying the better firepower continues to escalate an argument rather than walking away because the law states that they don’t need to leave.

A former federal prosecutor makes that observation in the Trayvon Martin killing.

“It’s hard to imagine that this couldn’t have been resolved by [Mr. Zimmerman] leaving, so that no one would’ve gotten hurt, so this is a case where the Stand Your Ground law can actually make a legal difference,” says former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Bellin, a law professor at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas.

“Even if you have suspicions about what motivated this, and you think there was a racial element and no justification for this shooting, the fact is he had no obligation to retreat under the law,” he notes. “If prosecutors don’t have the evidence to disprove the claim of self-defense, they won’t be able to win.”

It’s easy to visualize a scenario in downtown Anchorage much like the Trayvon Martin case because we are already watching the real-life situation play out in Miami.

So, Alaska lawmakers are proposing this bill:

— in a state with some of the most lax (nonexistent) gun laws in the country.

— in a state which for years has had one of the highest (if not the highest) number of sexual assaults in the country.

— in a state which for years has had one of the highest (if not the highest) number of domestic violence cases in the country.

— in a state already suffering from too few police and too much crime.

— in a state with a very recent history of hate crimes against Alaska Native and other minority peoples.

I’m envisioning scenarios of women shot when fighting back against their rapists/abusers, only to have the shooter claim “self-defense” successfully because it’s a “he-said/she’s-dead” situation. How often do these occur in places with no witnesses?

When discussing this in the ADN comments, I found that the best any of the commenters could do to argue with me is provide bogus talking points doled out by the NRA. They also provided keen insight as to the real reason behind this NRA bill, most clearly from commenter “akcop” who was responding to the same scenarios I posted above:

Every incident to which you refer is justification for the “victim” to be armed and use the necessary force to protect themselves.

So this bill is meant to promote: 1) More gun sales and 2) He/she who has the most/best firepower wins.

That could be the new Alaska State Motto in the not-too-distant future. It’s not a future I want for a state where I’ve lived for close to 30 years.

So, Senators, if this is the bill on which you plan to increase your “cred” with the NRA or the one on which you plan to hang your hat during your next campaign, find a different one.

If you pass it, this bill will come back to haunt you.



41 Responses to “Florida’s “Walking While Black” Shooting — Could It Happen In AK?”
  1. beaglemom says:

    I just saw a google news headline that the Feds are looking into the murder.

  2. Baker's Dozen says:

    This whole situation is Florida has had me so stunned that I haven’t been able to talk about it, or even read about it after it first happened until now. Please forgive me. I’m not being flippant, but I have a few questions that might sound very callous. I assure you, I’m looking for answers.

    If I’m in Florida and I feel intimidated and threatened by another driver, can I shoot him?

    If a woman wants an abortion and must have an invasive procedure before hand, if she suddenly feels threatened, can she shoot and be cleared–and not even arrested?

    If I feel personally threatened by a piece of legislation that the state congress is going to pass, and that its passage will cause me significant personal injury and suffering, can I shoot the congressional members who have said they support it?

    Seriously. Where is the end of “I feel personally threatened and that bodily harm could be done to me or my loved ones”?

    I grew up in a safe town and have a “safe” family. Yet, as a student, teacher, and family member, I’ve seen too many young people die, and only one that wasn’t truly a senseless act (a terminal illness).

    OK. I feel a little more in control now. But I don’t feel any better.

  3. Watching Lawrence O’Donnell talking about Trayvon Martin and about to talk to a federal prosecutor to see what can be done.

  4. bubbles says:

    dear friends, i haven’t said much about this murder of another Black child. i am angry. i am disgusted. this reminds me of another lynching that happened when i was a child. that child’s name was Emmett Till. i remember his unrecognizable corpse was shown during his funeral. i was a child myself then much younger than Emmett Till. that was the day when i learned to distrust and to fear Whites. White men especially.
    my family wasn’t having that. my father and my uncles were not about to allow me to go through life afraid of anyone. bless their loving hearts. my family kept me close. this is what we must do if we are to protect our children. take your child where they need to go. pick them up or arrange for them to be brought home. make sure you know where they are and who they are with. if you want to see your child grow to adulthood then be prepared to shepherd them every step of the way. we are in a war. we have always been at war and we always will be. that has been made clear enough.
    here is an article you might enjoy.

    • boodog says:


      “we are in a war. we have always been at war and we always will be.”

      I can’t say how much that I hope you’re wrong. And how afraid I am that you could be right.

    • Baker's Dozen says:

      Oh, Bubbles! {{{{{{{{{{{hugs}}}}}}}}}}}

  5. beaglemom says:

    It is interesting to me that the same people who would like to be able to shoot anyone who looks askance at them are also spouting Biblical verses about how godless the rest of us are.

  6. leenie17 says:

    I can’t think of another entity that is more dangerous to the United States than the Koch brothers and their empire. They have their toxic little fists into every corner of the economic, legal and political processes of this country and, with nearly unlimited money and absolutely no conscience, they are destroying so much of what made this nation great.

    Years from now, ALEC and the other actions by Koch will be viewed with the same loathing as slavery, institutional racism and the military-industrial complex.

  7. hedgewytch says:

    Can it happen here? Why yes, it can. It has. And it will again. But they call it walking while Native here.

    This law is so ill-conceived. What has happened to the people of this nation? When did we become so paranoid, so scared, so willing to do violence at the least provocation?

    I used to be -long ago and far away- a member of the NRA. I dumped my membership during the Bush years when I saw the organization go from a gun-owner advocacy group with lots of good information on gun sports and gun safety/handling to a drive a major political agenda, a right-wing fanatical organization that perpetuates the GOP fantasy that the Dems are trying to take everyone’s guns away. They called me to ask why I haven’t renewed and I told them exactly why. Just because I enjoy target shooting, hunting and carried a gun for a number of years for personal protection doesn’t mean I don’t think guns should be handled respectfully and carefully. Nor do I want a dose of politics, especially one filled with false political memes, with my recreational activities.

  8. Elstun W. Lauesen says:

    Alaskans used to boast: “We Don’t Give A Damn How They Do It Outside”. Now the Right-Wingers get their tukkises all in a pucker over McLegislation franchised by the cheap greasy policy meal deals fried up by ALEC, The Heartland Institute and any number of Koch-Funded dumbatoria. They just can’t wait to be the first to copy-cat some bit of manufactured prevarication. Alaska has become a conformist idiocracy.Shame on us.

    • Pinwheel says:

      “Dumbatoria” !!!! This a glorious word, Elstun. So is the visual of “McLegislation franchised by the cheap greasy policy meal deals fried up by ALEC”. Keep it coming. Yes, we should be ashamed.

  9. mike from iowa says:

    If hooded sweatshirts are considered intent to commit a crime,I’m in serious trouble because every sweatshirt I own has a hood and some the hoods are big enough for two or three heads. Certain ethnic/racial groups in America have the distinction of being criminally profiled ,not by the content of their character,but by the color of their skin. Sincere apologies go out to MLK.

  10. Moose Pucky says:

    I heard the shooter’s 911 call on NPR. He said the kid had his hands in his pockets and was looking at homes in the neighborhood in a suspicious way. And then he started running away from the guy. And then screamed. He was shot in the chest. He was unarmed.

    I’m so sorry this happened.

    The guy is not arrested because he claimed “self-defense” and it’s up to the system to prove otherwise.

    • fishingmamma says:

      The kid started running AWAY from the shooter, the shooter was told by the 911 operator not to follow the kid, the kid gets shot, and it’s SELF-DEFENSE!?!?!?

      Give me a large break.

  11. mike from iowa says:

    I can visualize rwnj in Anchorage walking up to protestors in front of the Mayor’s Office and blasting anyone sitting or lying down on the city’s sidewalk. You just can’t have scofflaws violate city ordinances unless you allow vigilante’s the ordnance to protect sidewalks from the damn libruls.

  12. Bear Woman says:

    By clicking on the “blue” link of HB 80 at the top of the post you can read the bill and who the sponsors and co-sponsors are.

    Here is the history so far at this link:

    I hope legislators take seriously the testimony of Jay Fayette. I’m sorry, but based on this bill the angry voters at town hall meetings would have the right to shoot those who don’t agree with them because they feel threatened.

    Just another case of stopping testimony and discussion you don’t agree with.

  13. UgaVic says:

    Oh this is SO wrong!!

    I have been appalled in the past in this state when I have learned of what is allowed and worse yet ignored when it comes to guns, violence and the penalties.

    Within the last 48 hours I have learned a neighbor, a person convicted of violence with alcohol involved, has some guns no one recognizes, but since they are in a storage van that is not his there is a question of if he is ‘in position’ of them!! So far nothing is being done. My guess nothing will happen until those guns are used with deadly force, as in the past.

    Also from what I gather it is OK for a convicted felon to own a gun in Alaska, just not a hand gun. There has been some efforts from the federal law enforcement to get involved in prosecutions here when guns were used by someone who was not suppose to have them but it seems spotty at best.

    Can we get a list of who the co-sponsors are and who has voted for it so far? Maybe some well placed voter outrage would help stop this in its tracks. I can hope.

  14. Mo says:

    Ginandtacos today:

    “So, to recap on being black in America: If anyone finds you suspicious or simply doesn’t like the look of you, they get to shoot you. Then the police will pat you on the back and send you home with an implied “Attaboy!” and an explicit “We understand. We know how They are.” Then the district attorney helps the police make more excuses for the shooter and coaches the witnesses to make the facts fit the storyline. The law that is supposed to protect you instead contrives to make it sound plausible to the public that a 140 pound teen armed with Skittles and a soft drink was a threat. No matter how transparently ludicrous that story sounds, to the majority of white people it will sound perfectly plausible. After all, We’ve all been there! We know how They are: scary, suspicious, and forever committing dozens of crimes. In our minds.”

    Is it true Bill Wielechowski is supporting this bill?

    • Yes, Senator Wielechowski is a co-sponsor.

      • Bucsfan says:

        Linda, not surprised that all sixteen co-sponsors in the House are all Republican. I wasn’t even surprised that Donnie Olson was a co-sponsor in the Senate (along with ten Republicans) but Bill W? He’s not up for re-election til 2014. As an attorney he has to see that the last line “in any place where that person has a right to be” leaves enough wiggle room for a Blue Whale to wiggle through. When did he get in the pocket of the NRA?

      • Pinwheel says:

        This is a huge disappointment. One of those trade offs for votes?

  15. Alaska Pi says:

    Linda- the short answer is yes, it could happen here. Walking while black or brown is still considered way too scary for some to handle.
    One of the saddest things about this is that the most persistent argument against hate crime laws is the boy-they-can’t-sure-that-is-what-I-was-thinking thing. Most of our laws about violence do presume certain thoughts/emotions went into the act(s)- premeditation, emotional upheaval, and so on.
    And here we are going to say if someone thinks/feels they are at risk , they are but we can’t say anything about a history of fear and all of those of other races, backgrounds, gender, etc affected that decision of “risk”?

  16. Rick says:

    What is not being recognized in the Florida case is that Zimmerman was the aggressor in this case, not the victim. Treyvon Martin was the victim. Leaving the area to avoid Mr Zimmerman wasn’t an option for Treyvon was it? Had Trevor been armed and willing to use his weapon, he might still be alive today. Of course our laws don’t allow a 16 year old to be packing, so basically our laws made Treyvon a victim. (not taking anything away from Mr Zimmerman as far as his responsibility in all this which is 99.9%)

    I have not given up hope that the Feds will step in on this case if the locals don’t do their job. Besides murder, they could go after Zimmerman for violating Treyvon Martin’s rights.

    The real travesty in this case (after Treyvor Martin’s death) is not that people can protect themselves, it’s that the local law enforcement is not doing it’s job.

  17. jadez says:

    this is legalized murder.
    and as soon as a black man/woman kills a white guy you will see a prosecution.

    what stops me from going up to anyone i choose and just shooting him dead?
    all i have to say is he tried to rob me so i shot him.

    this latest incident is obviously a racial crime and that guy is going to kill again.

    its to easy not to.

  18. Mo says:

    I wonder how many more people will have to die before we figure out that frightened gun owners are not a substitute for law enforcement, that society should not encourage their cowardly fantasies.

    Am starting to think that the author of The Wimp Factor, published in 2004, needs wider reading and recognition. The subtitle is: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity

    Or, yet another reason why voting Republican is immoral.

    • JFirch says:

      Mo, I’m not so smart as to be able to think that I know everything, but it seems like you may have mixed up your sequencing in saying that gun owners aren’t a substitute for law enforcement.

      Are we comfortable in saying that Law Enforcement Officers are designed as a supplement to normal citizens? As human beings, we have a right to defend ourselves, and we’ve farmed out a portion of that responsibility to LEOs. This doesn’t mean that we’ve abdicated that right.

      The story of Treyvon Martin is infuriating, and if there’s nothing that we’re missing right now, then Zimmerman should go to jail for a good long while. I don’t think that it’s at all fair to lump all gun owners together as cowardly dreamers. All of the gun owners I know, and particularly those who carry regularly, are solid individuals who I’d trust my life to.

      • Alaska Pi says:

        Young Master Martin’s story is far more than infuriating. It is wrong, totally unacceptable, and the shooter can hide behind an ill-conceived law .
        We can already defend ourselves if necessary and there are some dang good questions which must be addressed if we do.
        Reducing the threshold for acceptance of when a gun may be discharged as self defense at another human being is stoopid, wrong , and not any kind of answer to anything important.
        People shoot someone, they can (hu)man up and face the questions which our current laws require.
        Dead people are dead. Master Martin is dead. The hole his death leaves behind is not merely the loss to the people who loved and knew him, it is the black hole of crappy law we seem determined to widen and widen and throw all ourselves down.

        • This is why Anchorage Prosecutor, James Fayette, stated in his testimony that HB 80 is “a fix for a problem that doesn’t exist.”

          Alaska Law is already completely on the side of someone who pleads self defense…the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to 12 jury members (if the case makes it that far) that the shooter did NOT believe their life was at stake. HB 80 simply removes responsibility for someone involved in an altercation to take the non-violent way out of they can.

      • As I stated in the above post, the first 6 months after Florida passed their law, there were 13 self-defense shooting cases. In all of those scenarios, only one of the folks who was shot was carrying a weapon.

        Soooo…12 “self-defense” shooters against unarmed “assailants?” Yeah…OK…

      • Mo says:

        I haven’t mixed up my sequencing at all. We’re talking about vigilantism, cop wannabes, creeps using guns as a substitute for the respect they rightfully somehow never seem to get.
        My use of the adjective “frightened” before the phrase “gun owners” was deliberate. No, not all gun owners are frightened. It’s the ones who are that pose a menace to society.

        Zimmerman won’t go to jail, thanks to the NRA exploitation of frightened losers like him, keeping their paranoia level high and sucking campaign money out of their pockets in order to pack our state legislatures with Republican tools, who in turn make laws that enable the Zimmermans to feel emboldened enough to crawl out from under their rocks and shoot other citizens they think are scary.

  19. mike from iowa says:

    Iowa rwnj representatives have passed a bill eerily similar to this one. Previous law required the defendant to walk away,now they can blast their way out of disputes about who pays the babysitter,if She/He gets in your face. Fortunately.Dems hold the Senate and bill hopefully won’t get debated.

  20. Bucsfan says:

    This is to be expected as this is how the NRA works. A few years ago they went from state to state getting state legislatures to pass laws which made local community gun laws null and void, that is local communities could no longer add on to existing state gun laws. So cities like Pittsburgh and even Anchorage were no longer allowed to enforce laws that were put in for their specific areas. Now this. And I am not surprised what has resulted from the Stand your Ground law in Florida. It’s no surprise that some men get more, uh, ballsy, when they have a firearm. They call alcohol liquid courage, what do you call a handgun? So I can start a fight, and when I start to get my butt handed to me, I pull out my gun and shoot, then claim self defense. In probably all of the Florida cases that Linda cited, I would wager that the shooter would either have left the situation or never have gotten involved in the situation if they weren’t armed.

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