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I co-founded the Prison Policy Initiative to put the problem of mass incarceration — and the perverse incentives that fuel it — on the national agenda. Over the last 17 years, our campaigns have protected our democracy from the prison system and protected the poorest families in this country from the predatory prison telephone industry. Our reports untangle the statistics and recruit new allies.

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Trayvon Martin, Fear of Crime and Mass Incarceration

The vigilante ethos behind 'Stand Your Ground' has very little to do with legitimate fears of crime.

by Peter Wagner, March 30, 2012

The recent killing of unarmed African-American 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida by a leader of a Community Watch program is sparking an overdue discussion about race, crime and Florida’s “stand your ground” law that makes it easier to shoot someone and claim self-defense.

The vigilante ethos behind “Stand Your Ground” has very little to do with legitimate fears of crime.

Check out this graph, which shows that African-Americans are almost twice as likely as Whites to be victimized by burglary, yet African-Americans support making it harder to access guns. African-Americans aren’t the advocates of laws that make it easier to use a weapon.

graph showing that Blacks are victims of Burglary more frequently than Whites and a graph showing that Blacks are more stronger supporters of gun control than Whites

So which politically powerful group has the lowest incidence of burglary? Those with the most money:

graph showing burglary victimization rates in 2009 by income

There is no question that having your home burglarized is traumatic and harmful. But we need responses to societal problems that make us safer. Neither vigilantism nor mass incarceration fit the bill. And in a truly just system, the communities that pay the highest price for crime would play the largest role in determining how we should address crime.

As the tragedy of Trayvon Martin shows, letting fear drive social policy makes us all less safe.

Peter Wagner is Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. (Other articles | Full bio | Contact)

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