A federal lawsuit was filed Monday asking that Georgia’s “kill at will law” be struck down because it’s vague and could result in a disproportionate number of people of color being shot.
Civil rights activist Rev. Markel Hutchins says he filed the lawsuit in response to the death of Trayvon Martin. “Georgia has a statute comparable to the controversial Florida law at the center of the Trayvon Martin tragedy,” Hutchins wrote on Facebook Tuesday.
“It is not clear what actions would create ‘reasonable belief’ that deadly force is necessary,” said the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta. “An individual seeking to stand their ground and assert self-defense has no way of knowing if their ‘reasonable belief’ comports with the standards protected by the law and [they] want to ensure that they do not subject themselves to criminal penalties.”
According to the suit, some courts have “accepted the race of a victim as evidence to establish the reasonableness of an individual’s fear in cases of justifiable homicide.” Hutchins said in those circumstances the law does not equally protect him and other African Americans.
For more than a century, courts nationwide have said people have a right to “stand their ground” and use deadly force in certain circumstances.
It was only in recent years, however, that states have written those court decisions into law. The laws have received national attention in recent weeks after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman in an Orlando, Fla. suburb.
“Georgia and more than 20 other states have some version of these short-sighted, ambiguous laws,” Hutchins told WXIA in Atlanta. “The law itself breeds bias-based killings in that it merely requires that one only have ‘reasonable’ fear in order to deprive another of his or her life without giving any statutory definition of what is reasonable and it does so without any duty to retreat from confrontation.”