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Group Uses Bodega Attack to Push for Stand Your Ground Law

This summary about local views on the Stand Your Ground Law was featured in Documented’s Early Arrival newsletter. You can subscribe to receive it in your inbox three times per week here.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office continues to weigh the evidence in the murder case against Jose Alba, a New York City bodega worker accused of killing a man that attacked him behind the counter. Alba was arrested on July 2, and the case will soon go to trial. 

New York City is home to thousands of bodegas, many of them run by Yemenis and undocumented immigrants. 

After just a few days since Alba’s case became public, groups have seized the situation to push for legislation known as “Stand Your Ground.”

Proponents of the Stand Your Ground law argue that: Jose Alba’s defense against the attacker was valid; ‘standing his ground’ was necessary; and he should not be prosecuted for what was simply an act of self-defense. 

The position of United Bodegas of America (UBA), an organization which has been rallying in support of Jose Alba, stands out.  

On the back of the fatal incident, the organization is reviving a push for New York City to adopt a Stand Your Ground law. “Bottom line, in Florida, this is what you would consider ‘stand your ground’,” said Fernando Mateo, a Republican and former mayoral candidate who co-runs United Bodegas of America, a for-profit corporation that fights for their political and business interests in New York. “That is what New York City needs.”

The Florida law Mateo references states a person “who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be … has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force,” if they believe it will keep them safe. Nine other states also have Stand Your Ground laws.

If Stand Your Ground is implemented, it would remove the responsibility of civilians to retreat in self-defense scenarios: Section 2 of NY Penal Law 35.15 allows civilians to use deadly physical force in self defense only if the attacker is in the person’s home and the person is not the initial aggressor. 

A criminal defense attorney in New York told me it appears Stand Your Ground backers want an exception added to the law that states ‘if someone attacks you in your bodega, then you also don’t have a duty to retreat.’ 

She said it is interesting that groups are sounding the alarm for a Stand Your Ground law at this stage because there’s still a trial for Alba ahead, where he can try to prove his retaliation was justified.

Another criminal defense lawyer, Scott Greenfield, also said on Twitter that Jose Alba “can still argue self-defense at trial.” However, “he won’t get the benefit of the statutory justification defense.”

“This is not an argument about whether Alba could have been killed, but that [the alleged attacker] was unarmed and there was no reasonable belief that he possessed a deadly weapon,” said Greenfield.

It won’t be the first time Mateo is pushing to let bodega owners carry arms: Ten years ago, he was in the news for urging bodega owners to apply for handgun licenses for protection. Studies have shown that where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths at both the state and national level.

The Yemeni American Merchants Association, which joined UBA in a meeting with the DA to speak up about Alba’s case, has said it does not support UBA’s view that workers should carry firearms, and it “does not believe placing more guns in the community is a solution to keep bodegas safe.” 

It raises questions about the organization’s motives and priorities regarding public safety and workers’ protection, especially given Mateo himself has a questionable reputation when it comes to workers’ rights. 

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Around the U.S. 

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