*For the record, when I think of standing my ground, shooting someone in the back when they’re running away from me is not what comes to mind.
So when an 80-year-old Long Beach, Calif. resident shot an alleged pregnant woman twice in the back as she was running away and killed her, to me it was murder.
Tom Greer had no regrets when he told NBC4 Wednesday night that he shot a woman twice in the back as she was fleeing with a male accomplice after breaking into his home and attempting to rob him.
“She says, ‘Don’t shoot me, I’m pregnant — I’m going to have a baby.’ And I shot her anyway,” Greer said. “The lady didn’t run as fast as the man so I shot her in the back twice, she’s dead … but he got away. I shot her twice, she best be dead.”
Even though the woman was running away, Greer said he regards what he did as self-defense. He said he arrived at home Tuesday night to find a couple in the middle of a late-night break-in.
“When I went in there, they tackled me,” Greer told NBC4. “Both of them jumped up on top of me.”
This is not a case of self-defense or standing your ground. It’s a case of a man who was upset about being attacked and robbed in his own home and decided to dole out some vigilante justice–the lethal kind.
Let’s be clear. When you’re in a situation and you’re scared for your life, you don’t run after the perpetrator–you run in the opposite direction. As a native Angeleno I know this from experience having been in a few scary situations myself.
If Greer had shot and killed the woman in his home during the assault, that would be a different situation, but he didn’t. Instead, this octogenarian chased after the two people who had robbed him and then with seemingly no regrets shot and killed a woman after she slipped and fell in the alley while trying to flee. If an autopsy report determines that she was pregnant, that only makes Greer’s action even more heinous as the woman told him that she was with child.
Now as would be expected with a story like this, there are those who are hailing Greer’s actions as those of a hero. But just as the suspects are no saints, Greer is no hero.
Greer’s callous disregard for human life has put him in the same category as the likes of George Zimmerman who shot and killed teen Trayvon Martin and Michael Dunn who shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis after Dunn complained that Davis was playing loud music. Judge, jury and executioner.
This is a case of homicide, only it’s not justifiable. Greer should be arrested and charged with murder.
But this is California so Greer might just get away with it.
Long Beach police told local media that they are investigating whether Greer should face charges for Tuesday night’s shooting.
California’s constitution doesn’t have a stand-your-ground law. Instead, California law has been guided by what’s known as a “castle doctrine” (California Penal Code Section 198.5), granting a justification for deadly force inside one’s residence. It says that if someone forces his or her way into your home, and you have a “reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury,” then you would be justified in using deadly force to defend yourself.
California jury instructions allow a jury to acquit someone based on a stand-your-ground defense in what is called justifiable homicide:
“A defendant is not required to retreat. He or she is entitled to stand his or her ground and defend himself or herself and, if reasonably necessary, to pursue an assailant until the danger of (death/great bodily injury/<insert forcible and atrocious crime>) has passed. This is so even if safety could have been achieved by retreating.”
So in California, not only could you stay and fight, you can even chase your attacker if it will neutralize the threat to your life.
However, common sense would dictate that chasing down a woman and shooting her dead in the alley after she just pleaded for her life and the life of her unborn child is not neutralizing the threat to your life. No, that’s making sure that at 80, you live long enough to witness your version of justice carried out—in a body bag, on a stretcher, and headed to the morgue.
I can only hope that the victim wasn’t African-American or Latina, because if she was, that in and of itself is going to be a game changer. With the recent high profile incidents of whites killing Blacks and using the ‘stand your ground’ law as defense, this could California’s very own litmus test on how we deal with when self-defense turns into cold-blooded murder.
So while Tom Greer says she best be dead after being shot twice, he best be getting ready to go to prison.
Selected as one of ESSENCE Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World and one of the Most Influential African-Americans in Los Angeles Under 40, Jasmyne Cannick is a social commentator on pop culture, politics and race who has cultivated a national following. As a communications strategist, Jasmyne has worked at all levels of government including the California Legislature and in the House of Representatives. She continues to work towards the pursuit of social justice and the expansion of democratic values in America while advocating for equal rights for underrepresented communities in the political arena. Online at jasmyneonline.com.