I'm Scared That a White Person Will Shoot Me -- What If Black Men Shot First?
The Prisoner's Dilemma is one of the most written about and studied "games" in the social sciences. It explores how "players" will choose to cooperate (or not) with one another. Economists have used it to model how buyers and sellers behave in the market. Experts in international relations use the Prisoner's Dilemma to explore how state actors could potentially respond to one another in a conflict or during negotiations. Social psychologists have studied the Prisoner's Dilemma in order to model human behavior and our propensity to cooperate with or betray one another.
Stand Your Ground Laws, and the legal murder of young black people such as Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin by Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman, are a "real life" example of the Prisoner's Dilemma in action. Do two parties with limited to no information about one another choose to cooperate, defect, engage in "tit for tat" retaliation, or do they attack preemptively?
Dunn and Zimmerman were not acting in an information vacuum: they had two important data points. Their victims were black and male. Stand Your Ground empowered Dunn and Zimmerman to shoot first and ask questions later because they knew that the law would legitimate their murderous deeds.
In thinking through the Prisoner's Dilemma, there is an additional implication of the use of Stand Your Ground laws by white people (and those overly identified with Whiteness and White Authority). Should black and brown people, men in particular, apply a similar standard, acting preemptively based on the learned assumption that they will likely be shot dead by white men who claim "self-defense"?
Stand Your Ground laws have created a feedback loop of escalating violence.
As a black man living in the aftermath of the Dunn and Zimmerman trials (and the data suggesting the racial bias of Stand Your Ground in practice), I am afraid that a white person will use said defense to "reasonably" decide to shoot me because of the color of my skin. A rational actor who is a person of color would choose preemption and "winning" the "game" over "losing" and being shot dead.
There is a very limited issue space in the mainstream news media. The approved discourse does not include any acknowledgment of how black and brown people should for reasons both historic and contemporary be terrified of white violence. Whiteness imagines itself as neutral and benign. Consequently, white privilege blinds most white folks of the ability to critically self-reflect on such matters.
And because the mainstream media operates through, and is empowered by the white racial frame, it is unlikely--if not impossible--that it will entertain the following and obvious question: Should black people be reasonably afraid of white people given Stand Your Ground laws and a frightening rise in white racial animus and hostility in the Age of Obama?
The mainstream media will most certainly not ask if black men, when faced with a threatening situation across the colorline, should shoot white people first under the reasonable assumption that the latter means them serious harm under the Stand Your Ground laws.
During the Black Freedom Struggle's counter-insurgency campaign against Jim and Jane Crow and American Apartheid, there was a group of men known as the Deacons for Defense and Justice. These African-American military veterans provided armed security for Freedom Riders and other civil rights activists. They made it clear that they would shoot back if fired upon by white racial terrorists and their allies.
Stand Your Ground laws will force African-Americans to make a similar pronouncement if we are to be safe and secure in our person from white vigilantism. Such a claim would not be "black racism" or "reverse racism" as Right-wing bloviators and race-baiters would inevitably crow and announce to their low-information, propagandized, public.
Self-defense is in keeping with the basic citizenship rights of all Americans, in a liberal democratic polity, and can be traced back to the writings of the Framers, as well as foundational political philosophers such as Locke, Hobbes, Burke.
Stand Your Ground Laws, the concealed and open carry of weapons, and the court's protection of white street vigilantes are creating an explosive mix where civic virtue, self-interest, and common sense demand that people of color win the Prisoner's Dilemma of their lives by acting preemptively.
Black self-defense is the inevitable result of white violence. Ultimately, Stand Your Ground laws may have a consequence that is very different from the one imagined by its supporters on the White Right.