In another sad chapter in a long story of white men escaping punishment for the killing of black youth, the jury in the Jordan Davis case could not come to an agreement on a murder charge. For those who haven’t been following the case, Steven Hsieh at The Nation gives an overview:
In November 2012, Dunn, who is white, opened fire at an SUV carrying four black teenagers, including Davis. He continued to fire at the vehicle as it fled the scene. Three of ten bullets hit Davis, puncturing his diaphragm, liver, lungs and aorta, according to a medical examiner who testified in court this week. The teen was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Dunn drove back to his hotel with his fiancée, where he ordered pizza, fixed a couple rum and cokes and walked his dog. He did not call the police. The next day, he was arrested at his home in Jacksonville.
Dunn’s fiancee reported that Dunn said he “hates that thug music” during the incident. If that’s too ambiguous for you, his letters from jail should clear up any question about the racist underpinnings of his actions:
“This jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs.… This may sound a bit radical, but if more people would arm themselves and kill these fucking idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.”
Dunn was found guilty of three counts of attempted murder and shooting a firearm. The case has received national attention partly because Dunn’s lawyers invoked the problematic Stand Your Ground defense:
Dunn’s lawyer Cory Strolla cited Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in his closing argument, “His honor will further tell you that If Michael Dunn was in a public place where he had a legal right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.” As in the George Zimmerman trial, the Stand Your Ground law was included in the jury instructions.
It should be no surprise to anyone that a study cited by Think Progress shows that white defendants who kill black victims are far more likely to have the killings deemed “justified” under Stand Your Ground.
Joshua DuBois invokes Emmett Till and how our country shouldn’t congratulate ourselves for how far we’ve come from that tragic incident:
Is it possible that Emmett’s whistle wasn’t about his whistle at all, but about the fear that boys like Emmett placed in the heart of those in his corner of the world?
Is it possible that Trayvon Martin’s hoodie wasn’t about his hoodie, but the anxiety that black teenagers in hoodies tend to create among those they encounter?
And maybe Jordan Davis’s case isn’t about rap music? Maybe it’s about a culture where a black teenage life is still considered to be so cheap that it can be extinguished after a single gas-station confrontation?
Jamelle Bouie discusses what message the jury sent by valuing white fear over black lives:
First, let’s look at the trial. Yes, assuming a tough judge, the 47-year-old Dunn will go to prison for the rest of his life. But he won’t be going to prison for Davis’s death. On the charge of first degree murder in the killing of the unarmed teenager, the jury couldn’t come to a decision. Indeed, if Dunn is facing a jail cell at all, it’s because the jury found him guilty of attempted murder in the case of Davis’ friends—after killing Davis, Dunn fired more shots into the vehicle. The jury has held him for shooting at three teenagers, but not for killing the fourth.
With that said, there’s another way to look at this. If Dunn had killed Davis and his friends—or if he had killed Davis without shooting afterwards—then, by to the logic of the jury, he would have escaped punishment altogether. Which provides a guide, of sorts, for future killers, racist or otherwise. Claim fear, kill your target, and either do so away from people, or be sure to kill any witnesses. As long as you can portray the witnesses as also threatening, it seems like you could avoid jail time.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s insightful and moving piece displays the depressing exhaustion of responding to hundreds of years of violence against black people in America:
Spare us the invocations of “black-on-black crime.” I will not respect the lie. I would rather be thought insane. The most mendacious phrase in the American language is “black-on-black crime,” which is uttered as though the same hands that drew red lines around the ghettoes of Chicago are not the same hands that drew red lines around the life of Jordan Davis, as though black people authored North Lawndale and policy does not exist. That which mandates the murder of our Hadiya Pendletons necessarily mandates the murder of Jordan Davis. I will not respect any difference. I will not respect the lie. I would rather be thought crazy.
I insist that the irrelevance of black life has been drilled into this country since its infancy, and shall not be extricated through the latest innovations in Negro Finishing School. I insist that racism is our heritage, that Thomas Jefferson’s genius is no more important than his plundering of the body of Sally Hemmings, that George Washington’s abdication is no more significant than his wild pursuit of Oney Judge, that the G.I Bill’s accolades are somehow inseparable from its racist heritage. I will not respect the lie. I insist that racism must be properly understood as an Intelligence, as a sentience, as a default setting to which, likely until the end of our days, we unerringly return.
Color of Change has a petition against Stand Your Ground laws here. The larger problem is the underlying racism that our country can’t shake, and the violence that will continue to stem from it if perpetrators are not punished. Removing laws like Stand Your Ground that enable those actions is an important start. My heart goes out to Jordan Davis’s family.