I’ve never liked the Stand Your Ground law. There’s so much grey area and a little bit of the green era as in those who have money usually get away with it. The same people who defend Kyle Rittenhouse for traveling across state lines would probably also criticize the real-life victim at the center of State of Alabama vs. Brittany Smith.
Before SYG, I covered two homicide cases in Americus, Ga., both involving young women who had killed the men who were threatening them. The first was a white woman who reportedly was cowering down in between the bathtub and toilet with her violent stepfather hovering over her that she stabbed him. It was a fight or die situation even though there was some questions raised. The other one was a black woman who had been involved a domesic violence case with her partner. While the one with the white women went all the way to court, the one with the black woman was dropped within a week if I remember correctly.
Another problem with SYG is that it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The case examined in this Netflix short documentary directed by Ryan White who made the underrated true-crime docuseries The Keeper, takes place in northeastern Alabama, about 80 miles from where I grew up. And I immediately knew why this case went as far as it did. First off, there is a lot of biased opinions against women. As one woman reports, people don’t call police during domestic dispute cases because law enforcement ends up arresting both the male abuser and the female victim. Law enfocement isn’t really handled the way others might expect.
Brittany was already recovering from a history of substance abuse when on a January afternoon in 2018, she had been called by Todd Smith if he could come pick her up at a park in Stevenson, Ala. The previous day, Brittany had purchased a puppy from him as she was working on reclaiming custody of her kids. Her brother, Chris McCallie, had picked Todd up and dropped him and her off at her four-bedroom house. They were talking but at one point, Brittany says that Todd became very angry and began assaulting her physically first by head-butting then by strangling her till she passed out. Then he sexually assaulted her.
Afterwards, Todd threatened her and said she would hurt her family if she said anything. But then he insisted they go get some cigarettes. She called her mother wanting to come pick her up but it was McCallie again who went and drove them to a convience store where the cashier noted someone wasn’t right with Brittany. She left a note with the cashier as she was afraid Todd would hurt McCallie if she was in the store too long or said something and left to go back home, but telling her brother to go back and talk with the cashier.
Upon hearing what Todd had done, he got his gun and then went to confront Todd ordering him to leave. Yet, he refused and got into a fight with McCallie. Brittany was able to get the gun and fire three rounds with the third striking Todd who by now had McCallie in a headlock trying to choke him. She called 911 and did CPR but it Todd had died by the time police and first responders arrived.
While most people thought it would be a no-brainer SYG case, they originally said that McCallie had fired the shots. But Brittany went and told police the truth the next day. Despite a rape kit being performed where there was obvious trauma as well as to other parts of her part, she was held on a $100,000 bond at the Jackson County, Ala. jail.
And here’s where the documentary shows the double standard as it’s obvious they took into account Brittany’s past troubles with substance abuse as well as Brittany’s social standing. Eventually released on the bond, her attorney, James Mick, tried his best to show that she wasn’t in her right mind during the shoot and even when she is set to go before a Stand Your Ground hearing, the judge Jennifer Holt rules against it.
White doesn’t interview the prosecution, law enforcement nor judge in this documentary which is both good and bad. It’s good because it’s telling they didn’t want anything said that could backfire to fit the narrative. It’s bad because what we have is a very one-sided documentary. Yet, part of me wonders why it went as far as it did. The prosecution questioned why McCallis would initially say he shot Todd as well as why Brittany denied being sexually assaulted when questioned by the 911 dispatcher. But I’m wondering why the 911 dispatcher would ask if she had been sexually assaulted?
However, I think the real reason the prosecution didn’t do an interview is they pigeonholed Smith in pleading guilty on a case they might have lost. In the end, Brittany pled guilty to murder and got sentenced to 18 months with credit for time served. However, she was facing a 20-year sentence for manslaughter. I think the prosecution was wanting a win so they went after someone rather than suffer a loss if it went to trial.
I covered a case years ago where a bar fight broke out and the victim while on the ground pulled out a pocket knife and slash wildly trying to get away. He cut one of his attackers deeply and that person later died. However the bar proprietors didn’t call 911 and the injured person, who was also underage, was taken by personal vehicle to the hospital who later notified authorites. This case went all the way to trial and the jury returned a non-guilty verdict as they should.
SYG has become controversial against women. Look at Marissa Alexander in Florida who spent six years for firing a warning shot at her abusive husband and got arrested for aggravted assault. A lot of people in the documentary say the case is for white men only and I’ve seen cases in which people were shot running away. However, no charges were filed. Want to guess the race and sex of the shooters?
Ironically, this used to be called the “Make My Day” law. I say ironically, because that line is from Dirty Harry in the movie Sudden Impact, which is about a woman played by Sondra Locke who turns vigilante against people for sexually assaulting her and her sister years before. In the end, Harry Callahan covers for the Locke character when the gun she used to kill her attackers is found in possession of one of them. The whole movie condones vigilante killing and we made a law based on a line from it. No wonder people backtracked and came up with a different name.
Because the documentary is short at 40 minutes by Netflix standards, it seems to be put together hastily. I kinda wish White had pressured the judge, law enforcement and prosecution more to at least say something on camera or to issue a statement off-camera. Even a cousin of Todd’s is interviewed and despite his blood relation, he doesn’t defend Todd and believes that Brittany shouldn’t have been charged.
More important, I think the documentary was put out to start a little fire among people. Look at the case of Ahmed Arbery who was gunned down and the prosecution didn’t want to do anything until they were pressured. Or look at how Kenneth Walker, boyfriend of Breonna Taylor, was initially charged when Louisville cops knocked down the door of the house they knew there were incorrectly at. Something has to be done with this law because it seems it only benefits a certain demographic.
Sadly, like most things in a justicie system, it’s not really a question of fairness, but a question of rich versus poor, black versus white, white versus black and man versus woman.
What do you think? Please comment.