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Jonathan Markovitz is a third year law student. Before starting law school, he earned a Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of California, San Diego, and taught courses in Sociology, Communication, Ethnic Studies, and Writing at UCSD and other universities. He has written and taught about race, gender, popular culture, social movements, and collective memory. Jonathan is the author of Legacies of Lynching: Racial Violence and Memory (University of Minnesota Press, 2004) and Racial Spectacles: Explorations in Media, Race and Justice (Routledge, 2011). He is interested in human rights and civil liberties law.
Racial Stereotypes and Self-Defense:
Self-defense inquiries often turn on the question of whether a defendant had a reasonable belief that he or she was faced with a genuine threat. Because fears of violent crime are so deeply entwined with “commonsense” understandings of race and gender, determinations of what counts as “reasonable” fear may be driven by reliance upon racist stereotypes. Because legal determinations of self-defense are, in effect, reflective of policy determinations about socially acceptable forms of violence, the stakes of any single case touch upon much broader social issues. When legal decision-making is reliant upon racist stereotypes, the legal system lends those stereotypes its imprimatur and imbues them with the force of law. When this happens in the self-defense context, legal determinations can legitimate forms of racial violence. This project will argue for the necessity of actively guarding against such outcomes, while calling for a number of critical interventions in self-defense doctrine.