I had not planned to watch a moment of the Michael Dunn murder trial. It has been two years since the death of Trayvon Martin and those images, that pain in Sybrina Fulton’s eyes, left me with a numbness that I cannot not fully describe.
Covering the George Zimmerman case was as personal to me as any story I have ever been assigned. With a son who is a few years older, I worried for him and other young men who, by accident of birth, wake up as “suspects” every morning.
The news that 17-year-old Jordan Davis had been shot to death by Dunn gave me a confirmation I hoped would never come. Dunn has crafted a story that only makes sense if you accept the inherent criminality of black teenagers. A vote of innocence by this jury gives license to that fear. It would all but ratify it into law.
The television was blaring by the time I went for my morning coffee. My 22-year-old son, who is home for a few weeks, was already awake and watching the trial. When Dunn unexpectedly took the witness stand, I forgot my plans for the day. I needed to hear him explain why he killed that child.
Dunn, who had been annoyed by the loud “thug music” he heard thumping from a nearby vehicle, made the specious claim that the four young men in the truck that night were in possession of a single-barrel shotgun. No such weapon was ever fired, never found. In fact, not one person could testify to any of the boys ever being in possession of a gun that evening or any other.
Forty-seven-year-old Dunn testified that Jordan threatened to kill him. I found his response startling. He rolled down his window and inexplicably asked, “Are you talking about me?”
This was no so much as question as it was a direct challenge. Like Zimmerman, the six-foot-four, 250-pound Dunn knew he had a gun—a gun that emboldened him to take on an unknown black teenager. Do we honestly believe that he would have gotten into a beef with a carload of African-Americans boys if he were not armed? George Zimmerman would have never left his truck.
We do know that there was an argument, that Jordan said things I would hope my own son would never say to a perfect stranger. However, nothing Jordan said or did that night justified his murder. He never left the car. He was shot while sitting unarmed in the back seat.
Dunn let off ten shots, at least four of them fired as the truck was attempting to drive away when it was clear no danger existed. Dunn wasn’t “standing his ground.” He was claiming ground that did not belong to him. Jordan’s three friends are lucky to be alive.
The notion that Dunn acted out of fear is far-fetched. What is apparent, however, is that Dunn felt disrespected. After all, hadn’t he first politely asked the boys to turn the music down and thanked them? When the music continued minutes later, Dunn—who has an injury the affects his hearing—was, by his own admission, annoyed.
I believe it was much more than that. I think he was livid that a young “thug” would be so disrespectful and he had just the medicine for this loud-mouthed “gangster.”
He was so angry that he kept shooting as they drove away.
Dunn’s failure to go to a safe place and call police immediately is as indicting as his conflicting testimony. To go back to his hotel, to order a pizza then sleep through the night without alerting authorities to your participation in a shooting is simply implausible for an innocent man.
If he truly believed he was right to open fire, if he believed he was in imminent danger, that his actions were justified, he would have driven to the nearest police or fire station. He would have picked up his cell phone and dialed 911, if he thought for one moment that “local gangsters” were following him.
Instead, he was hiding out in a hotel with his girlfriend getting his story together.
But for all of that, here is what I find most galling about this case. Dunn has not expressed one scintilla of remorse for taking the life of another human being.
“I had the right to self-defense and I took it,” he said on the witness said. He grew dewy-eyed about his seven-month-old puppy named Charlie, but spilled no tears over the death of a young black boy.
In fact, he rarely called Jordan or his friends by name. For him, they were “thugs,” “gangsters” and his “attacker.”
From beginning to end, Dunn exhibited an air of righteous indignation—as if he were the one being persecuted. During the gentle, but effective interrogation, he seemed surprised that police would arrest him at gunpoint. The real threat to society was the boys in the truck, not a guy like him—not with all the “good things” he had going on in his life.
Jordan had good things going on in his life too—a life that, even to this very day, Dunn had no problem ending. Dunn blithely told the prosecutor that he was glad that by reading his jailhouse letters that the district attorney would understand what he went through that night.
“He killed him and doesn’t give a single f**k about it,” my son said.
Twenty-five states have so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws, affording criminal and civil immunity to individuals who are deemed justified in the use of deadly force. Under the law, a person who is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm has no “duty to retreat.” The impact of these laws on criminal prosecution and communities of color have been immeasurable.
White defendants are significantly more likely to receive immunity under the law or be acquitted upon prosecution when the attacker is black, than blacks that defend themselves against a white assailant.
So while, yes, this is about Jordan, Trayvon, this is about every other young black and brown boy. Where are their protections? Where are their civil liberties? Do they not have the right to exist in this country without fear of being branded a “thug” or a “gangster” on sight? Based on the music genre they prefer?
I almost expected Dunn to say, “They were black. What did you want me to do?”
Editor’s Note: This has been a #breakingBLACK column. Goldie Taylor is a featured Grio columnist and her #breakingBlack columns will regularly appear every Monday. Follow Goldie Taylor on Twitter at @GoldieTaylor, and join the discussion at @theGrio with the hashtag #BreakingBlack.