A day after what would have been Trayvon Martin’s 19th birthday, a hearing began in Florida in another case of a young black man killed in a tragic shooting. The case raises questions about just how far the dangerous “stand your ground” laws are going to be stretched:
Jury selection begins today in the trial of Michael Dunn, the man who shot and killed teenager Jordan Davis outside a Florida convenience store in November of 2012. Davis was sitting in a parked SUV outside the Jacksonville store with friends when Dunn, who is white, began complaining about their music. An argument ensued, and then ended, when Dunn fired his 9mm handgun into the vehicle. As the SUV raced off, Dunn stepped out of his car and fired again. Then he and his girlfriend drove to a hotel, checked in, and ordered a pizza. He never called the police and was only arrested because a witness jotted down his license plate. Dunn, who is mounting a Stand Your Ground defense, claimed a passenger in the vehicle had threatened him with shotgun—or a stick. The police found no gun.
One of the many heartbreaking things about this incident (as chronicled in Orland Bagwell’s moving op-doc for the New York Times) is that Jordan’s parents discussed the Trayvon Martin case with their son. From Ta-Nehisi Coates’s interview with Jordan’s mother:
I knew what was happening in the country. But I spent more time trying to prepare Jordan to be safe, specifically being a young black male. I monitored who he was with and what he did. And I would have those discussions with him. But I didn’t know anything about Stand Your Ground until Trayvon, which I discussed with Jordan as well. Every time I saw a case like that I would just pray to the Lord that something like that would never happen to us. Jordan was in a safe environment. We were in a safe environment. Now my eyes are open. It does not matter where you raise your kids. It does not matter what your religious upbringing is.
There’s a terribly sad hopelessness there. Black families receive a lot of messages about responsibility and keeping their children on the right path. But incidents like this show how impossible it is to keep young black men safe in a society that clings to enough racial fear to accept almost any claim of self defense against unarmed black teenagers like Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin or Renisha McBride.
We live in a country where our Congress is too cowardly to pass even modest gun control measures after a massacre of schoolchildren. Where 1 in 3 black men will go to prison in their lifetimes and where a police department can make more stops of black men in a city than there are black men in that city’s population. It can seem impossible to tackle this toxic mess of the United States’s obsession with guns and living legacy of racism. But we owe it to Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, and Trayvon Martin, to try.
UPDATE 2/15: The jury could not come to a unanimous decision on the murder charge. Dunn was found guilty of three counts of attempted murder and shooting a firearm.