SPECIAL REPORT: Self defense laws in Arkansas

KNWA

NORTHWEST ARK. (KNWA) — In March, a video of Arkansas State Senator Stephanie Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) went viral after an emotional protest of a proposed “stand your ground” bill.

She believes it’s a way for people to get away with murder.

“It doesn’t take much to look on the local news every night and see how many black kids, black boys, black men, are being killed with these stand your ground defenses,” Flowers said.

State senator, Bob Ballinger of Berryville wrote the measure and said it’s not a license to kill.

“If you are in the right place, you’re not committing any crimes, you’re where you’re allowed to be, you’re not the aggressor, then you have the right to defend yourself if you’re threatened with lethal force and you don’t have an obligation to retreat,” Ballinger said.

Several states have adopted stand your ground laws, with national attention on Florida. In July 2018, 47-year old white man, Michael Drejka fatally shot an unarmed black man, 28-year-old Markeis McGlockton, after a dispute over a parking space.

In August 2019, Drejka was found guilty of manslaughter despite arguing a stand your ground defense.

“There’s clear evidence that stand your ground doesn’t give you a license to murder,” Ballinger said. “People are still getting arrested for murder.”

The current Arkansas self-defense law states in part, “a person is justified in using deadly force upon another person if they reasonably believe that the person is about to commit a felony involving force.”

However, a person may not use deadly physical force in self-defense if they know they can avoid it by retreating.”

For Senator Ballinger, it’s not enough.

“Our self-defense law requires you to retreat if you can retreat in ‘complete safety,” Ballinger said. “So what it does is it leaves kind of a gray area. If you use force to protect yourself, you may actually be in violation of the law and you can still be prosecuted for manslaughter, murder, whatever.”

Senate Bill 484 did not get out of committee, which local civil rights activist, D’andre Jones appreciates.

“Stand your ground is one of those laws that has been researched to prove that it definitely impacts, adversely impacts, African Americans,” Jones said.

“Whether you’re an African American, Native American, Caucasian, whatever you are, it is something that empowers you to protect yourself,” Ballinger said.

Jones said the law wouldn’t be fair, stating history shows black men are often seen as a threat due to stereotypes.

“I think it puts black men as a target,” Jones said. “I really do. I think it makes us more of a target. Because now I can defend myself against someone who I’ve been told is going to harm me.”

So are these laws needed in the natural state?

“Why stand your ground in Arkansas?” Jones asked. “What research have we done to prove that this is something we need to do in Arkansas?”

“It’s a simple natural right,” Ballinger said. “I think it’s a question of the second amendment and your natural liberty to protect yourself. I think it’s really hard to support and be a Republican if you’re not willing to take a stand on rights like this.”

Senator Ballinger said he never meant for this bill to become as controversial as it did. He plans on re-introducing it during the 2021 legislative session and said he’s open to suggestions on improving it.

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