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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

It’s been a harsh February, and I’m not talking about the weather. As the annual celebration of the accomplishments of black Americans, replete with references to President Obama, was winding down, the month presented a stark reminder of the casual bigotry that still haunts the lives of black citizens. The verdict in the Florida shooting of Jordan Davis was an unwelcome specter over Black History Month.

While Michael Dunn, who killed Davis in a dispute over loud music, will probably serve decades in prison for the attempted murders of Davis’ friends, he has so far escaped punishment for the death of an unarmed adolescent. The jury deadlocked on a single count of first-degree murder.

A juror told ABC’s Nightline that race never entered the deliberations, but it’s obvious that pernicious stereotypes about young black men hung over the proceedings. And those prejudices allowed Dunn to escape justice for Davis’ death. (Just try to imagine the opposite scenario: A black teenager claims an unarmed white man made him fear for his life, kills him and gets away with it.)

There are no laws or policies that can eradicate stereotypes, no simple cures for implicit bias. But Florida can repeal its awful “stand your ground” law, which has allowed that bigotry free rein. So can the several other states that have passed expanded “self-defense” laws that let trigger-happy gun toters open fire on the unarmed. The streets are made less safe when paranoid gun owners are able to turn a non-violent dispute into a death sentence.

Florida’s “stand your ground” law is merely the worst — the most easily abused — of those laws. Last month, in a Tampa suburb, a retired police captain shot an unarmed man dead in an argument over texting in a movie theater. The retiree claims he felt threatened.

Years ago, Florida’s law, like most, required a person who feared for his life to “retreat” if it were possible to do so. If you could leave, you were not in mortal danger, according to the law.

That changed when a diminutive firearms fanatic named Marion Hammer ascended to the presidency of the National Rifle Association in the mid-1990s. She was a chief architect of “stand your ground” and a forceful lobbyist for its 2005 passage, insisting that law-abiding citizens needed it to protect themselves from thugs.

I interviewed Hammer during her NRA presidency, and her tales were instructive. Though her oft-told lore includes a story about fending off a gang about to attack her in the 1980s, she told me that she had pulled her weapon three times to protect herself from would-be assailants.

That sounded like a person seeking out unsafe settings, looking for danger, wanting to be a vigilante. And that’s exactly the sort of personality who ought to be reined in by the law — not encouraged.

The attention-seeking George Zimmerman, who killed an unarmed Trayvon Martin, is just that kind. He stalked Martin through his gated community even after a police dispatcher advised him to stop following.

It’s not at all clear what motivated Michael Dunn, but he seemed awfully self-satisfied after firing on a carload of young men. After he shot 10 rounds into the SUV, hitting Davis three times, he returned to his hotel room and had pizza.

Dunn’s social views, by the way, are shot through with bigotry, as a letter he wrote from jail revealed:

“This jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs,” he wrote. “This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these … idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior. … The more time I am exposed to these people, the more prejudiced against them I become.”

“Stand your ground” laws simply encourage the Michael Dunns of the world to act on their worst impulses.

(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

AFP Photo

A Week That Was Disastrous For Trump, Miraculous For Biden

Donald Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes the year he was elected president, according to a blockbuster report published by the New York Times on Sunday.

The Times report also found that Trump is millions of dollars in debt, incurred through a series of failed business ventures — a fact that runs counter to Trump's self-made image as a successful businessman. Trump has also used his financial failings to avoid paying taxes, the report found.

The president has resisted revealing his financial information since the start of his first presidential campaign, despite promising otherwise. "I would certainly show tax returns if it was necessary," Trump told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in 2015. Yet for five years, the president has failed to produce the documents.The president paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016, and paid another $750 in 2017, according to the report. And in 2014, Trump paid zero dollars in taxes.

Conservatives including Trump often suggest that undocumented immigrants take advantages of government services without contributing their fair share. Throughout his first term, Trump has repeatedly cast blame on immigrants and suggested they post an economic burden to U.S. taxpayers.

"Our current immigration system costs America's taxpayers many billions of dollars a year," Trump claimed in 2017 during his first presidential address to Congress.

That claim does not hold up to scrutiny. In reality, undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes every year. In 1996, the Internal Revenue Service created a program for non-citizens who work in the U.S. to report their income. Non-citizens who do not have a Social Security Number — including undocumented immigrants — are able to file taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN. According to the IRS, 4.4 million people paid taxes using an ITIN in 2015, totaling $23.6 billion in tax revenue.

This raises the question: why would undocumented immigrants pay U.S. taxes if they are unauthorized to live in the country? Immigrants often choose to pay taxes in order to demonstrate "good moral character" when applying for legal residence or citizenship, according to the National Immigration Law Center. Undocumented immigrants who fail to pay their taxes risk deportation.

"Immigrants, both documented and undocumented, paid an estimated $328 billion in state, federal, and local taxes in 2014 alone," Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law practice at Cornell Law School, told the American Independent Foundation. "It is outrageous that the average undocumented immigrant in the United States pays more in federal income taxes than the President did in 2016."

This contrast is especially ironic given Trump's tendency to deride unauthorized immigrants as irresponsible lawbreakers. Trump has a tendency to respond to criticism with projection — when accused, he accuses others of the same thing.

"Yes, undocumented immigrants are helping fund the very system that detain and deport us," journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who is undocumented, tweeted in 2019.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.