In Defense Of Whom? The Racism Behind Ohio’s Self-Defense Laws

Mary McLoughlin
Opinion Editor

In August, a Dayton resident shot two teenagers in the back when he found them trespassing in his garage. Their names were Javier Harrison and Devon Henderson, they were seventeen, and they died from their wounds. So far, no charges have been brought against the homeowner. 

While in many states, individuals are expected to retreat before applying lethal force in moments of self defense, in Ohio, the Castle Doctrine states that individuals have no duty to retreat when defending a home or business. Additionally, recent modifications to Ohio self-defense laws have changed the burden of proof in instances where someone kills another person under the claim of self-defense. Before March 2019, the person who applied force had to prove they were acting in self-defense. Now, the burden lies on the prosecution.

In September, Mayor Nan Whaley condemned the killing of Javier and Devon as murder. Last week, all the candidates running for City Commission agreed with Whaley’s condemnation.  

I am proud of Dayton’s elected officials for recognizing murder for what it is and rejecting the homeowner’s claim to self-defense. Without even mentioning that a detached garage is not a home, the fact that the Dayton homeowner shot Javier and Devon in the back makes it clear that the two boys were not endangering him or his home.  

Black bodies are not threats, and they are not weapons. Ohio’s Castle Doctrine, just like many other self-defense laws, reflects the worst of the American legacy, which has always valued white property more than black lives. 

The Marshall Project did a study to investigate how race impacts which killings are considered justified. They examined 400,000 homicides between 1980 and 2014 and found that only 2% of all homicides were seen as justified, but that number went up to 17% when they looked only at homicides where a white person killed a black man. 

We, as part of this community, must join community leaders and members in condemning this violence. Self-defense laws that are rooted in racism cannot keep our community safe. We need to recognize that not all lives matter to the law equally.

While the shooting in the Oregon District was tragic, we need to make sure we are as quick to condemn violence against those who society writes off as criminals as we are to condemn violence in the places we can imagine our own selves in.

Cover photo courtesy of worldatlas.com