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Intimate Violence, Part II: When “Self-Defense” is Camouflage for Homicide

The last “In The Crosshairs” post, co-authored with Amy Ojeaburu, discussed the case of Maddesyn George, an Indigenous woman who shot and killed her rapist. George was charged with second degree murder and remains incarcerated, in spite of compelling evidence that she was threatened by the man she shot. In an effort to expose the inconsistencies and epistemic distortions in the way claims of self-defense play out in court, I want to place George’s case in contrast to the unresolved killing of Dominic Jerome “DJ” Broadus by a man with whom he was having a covert sexual relationship. While both cases involve intimate violence between acquaintances, their legal outcomes diverge significantly. In fact, the cases could be said to represent the “inverse” of each other: while George was punished for using force to protect herself from a man who she knew to be a significant threat, the man who killed Broadus on February 3, 2018 had no reasonable grounds for killing him. And yet, he has not been charged with homicide.

 

 

Stand Your Ground” laws, implemented in Florida in 2005 before spreading to approximately two-third of the states, authorize self-defensive violence when a person is acting out of reasonable fear for their life. Despite their wide appeal as a fortification of universal self-defense, the laws have been shown to exacerbate existing legal injustices, to amplify firearm homicide rates, and to have no measurable effect as a crime deterrent. As I have written previously, SYG laws must also be subject to intersectional analysis in order to expose the simultaneous impact of (hetero)patriarchy, white supremacy, and classism in determining who will be legally authorized to use violence and against whom. As legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw explained in a recent interview, “Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there.” Stand Your Ground laws amplify pre-existing injustices in our criminal legal codes, often reversing the roles of victim and perpetrator, depending on the identities of the people involved. One end result is to authorize relatively empowered social actors to use violence against those whose lives are already precarious.

 

 

D.J. Broadus’s killing exemplifies these intersectional injustices. The details of the case have been thoughtfully covered by several journalists: Michael Harriot in The Root, Bob Schlehuber in Sputnik News, and more recently, the SPLC’s Rhonda Sonnenberg published a detailed analysis. Each identified key inconsistencies in the killer’s self-defense claim, such as his decision to make three phone calls to family members, including his father (a retired law enforcement officer) before calling 911; his initial hesitancy to admit to knowing D.J.; the mysterious disappearance of D.J.’s cell phone; the lack of forensic evidence confirming his allegations of a violent struggle prior to the shooting. But perhaps the most damning evidence undermining the killer’s claims of self-defense was the discovery – via digital cloud forensics – of hundreds of text messages revealing a covert sexual relationship extending back at least eight months prior to the killing. As Rhonda Sonnenberg wrote, the relationship between D.J. Broadus and Gardner Kent Fraser – who is descended from a long lineage of influential Floridians – “broke many taboos in this conservative town 28 miles west of Jacksonville.” A look at their text correspondence reveals Fraser’s intense desire for D.J. alongside an urgent need to keep his inter-racial, same-sex erotic entanglement a secret, particularly from his father, a retired Sheriff’s Deputy who was fired in 2009 for shooting an unarmed Black man who was not posing a threat. (Fraser didn’t stay unemployed for long; he was eventually hired by the Baker County Sheriff’s Office.)

 

 

Thanks to digital forensics, we know that on February 3, 2018, the day he died, Broadus sent several texts and placed several phone calls to his killer:

 

 

At 7:40am Broadus texted Fraser: “Hey baby, I’m on the way to u. Slide your panties on for daddy”

At 11:40am Broadus texted Fraser: “You should be up? Daddy’s coming thru”

At 11:45am Broadus texted Fraser: “are you still on REDACTED rd?”

At 3:32pm Broadus texted Fraser: “are you waiting for me to come in??”

At 3:33pm Broadus made the first of 6 phone calls to Fraser; the last was made at 3:36, within 1000 meters of Fraser’s home.

 

 

Fraser’s responses to these communications are not available, as he deleted them before turning his phone over to the authorities. Yet we can conclude that Fraser had invited Broadus to his home for a sexual encounter and that Fraser was well aware that Broadus was coming over that very day. Further, the contents of Broadus’s pockets – “poppers” and cash – suggest that he was planning a sexual encounter rather than a fight. This evidence contradicts Fraser’s claim that Broadus attacked him – out of the blue – thus justifying his decision to shoot Broadus four times in the head. Fraser fired the last two shots while Broadus was lying on the ground, bleeding from two wounds to his face, and yet Fraser’s claim of self-defense has yet to be questioned.

 

 

Some might ask why and how such a case – where an armed white man can literally get away with murder by claiming self-defense – is possible in the twenty-first century U.S. But such a query reveals deep naivete, a failure to recognize the ways our legal terrain authorizes lethal violence for the select few, while criminalizing those who dare to “stand their ground” against their abusers. While Stand Your Ground” laws appear on their surface to provide everyone an equal right to resist force with force, to protect themselves from violent threats, they draw from and amplify existing biases and blind spots in our legal system. An intersectional lens helps us see how “Stand Your Ground” laws concentrate power and legal immunity into the hands of already-empowered individuals while amplifying the insecurity and danger of the vast majority. Especially in cases – like those of Maddesyn George and D.J. Broadus – that involve so-called “private” violence or intimate partner violence, the implications of intersectional violence and exclusion remain under-explored.

 

 

The consequences of this willful ignorance can be devastating. While Maddesyn George sits in prison after defending herself from the man who harmed her, and who threatened to harm her again, the man who killed D.J. Broadus remains free. While George’s claims of self-defense were dismissed; Gar Fraser’s have not been questioned. State officials in Florida refused to prosecute Fraser for homicide because the case does not conform to their understanding of criminal violence. They have not been able to imagine a Black man as a victim of intimate partner violence, nor have they reckoned with the long legacy of white supremacy in the practice of contemporary criminal law.

 

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