What would happen if a black man armed with a handgun confronted “suspicious persons” in his neighborhood? What would happen if the “suspicious persons” were unarmed white teens, one of them was shot dead, and the shooter claimed self-defense?
We know this because in fact, such an event occurred in 2009 in Greece, N.Y., a suburb of Rochester. Roderick Scott, a black man, shot and killed an unarmed white teen, Christopher Cervini, whom he believed was burglarizing a neighbor’s car, with a licensed .40 cal. handgun.
There are many similarities between the Scott-Cervini case and the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case in Florida. In both cases, there had been a spate of criminal activity in the neighborhood. In both cases, the shooters called 911 to report suspicious activity, yet chose to confront the unarmed suspects outside their residence and off their own property prior to the arrival of the police. In both cases, the shooters claimed that they felt threatened, and fired in self-defense. In both cases, local law enforcement applied relevant state law.
Unlike Florida, New York does not have a “stand your ground” law. New York law allows a person to use deadly force to defend his residence from home invasion only as a last resort. It does not allow the use of deadly force to prevent a property crime, and requires retreat if possible. Thus, while Zimmerman was not arrested under Florida law, Scott was tried for manslaughter.
New York law does allow a person to use deadly force anywhere, including off his own property, if he feels that his life is in imminent danger and retreat is not possible. Despite the fact that he left his own property, confronted, and shot dead an unarmed white person thought to be committing a petty property crime, Scott was acquitted by a majority-white jury after claiming that the Cervini charged at him, putting him in imminent fear of his life.
Despite the racial difference between the shooter and the decedent, there were no allegations of racial bias. Scott was not charged with a hate crime. There was no Federal civil rights investigation. There were no white protests. The case was settled for what it was: a tragedy caused by a series of poor decisions on behalf of the shooter, and a split-second decision that will forever be second-guessed.