Michael Dunn is a hateful man.
His own words, captured in the jailhouse letters I read, reveal a man at war, a man so caught up in his own racial fantasies, so transfixed by his own bigotry, spellbound by his own sense of unbridled moral superiority, that he could not find shame in the murder of a 17-year-old child.
“I hate that thug music,” he said, according to his fiancé Rhonda Rouer’s sworn testimony, as he pulled into a gas station parking lot that night.
The young men in the car next to him, boys who had just come from a day at a nearby mall, were immediately deemed “gangsters” and up to no good. For Dunn, the fact they were black and the hard, thumping hip-hop streaming from the oversized speakers was all the proof he needed.
Though the jury was read excerpts from the jailhouse letters, the panel never truly met the man who wrote those vile, hateful words to his family. They never met the man who lived next door to Charles Hendrix and his wife. They never met the arrogant, self-involved bully who, according to Hendrix, said, “Minorities are taking over this country,” and that “whites should stand up.”
Hendrix told investigators that Dunn “believed blacks and Hispanics were below white people.” According to Hendrix, two former wives of Dunn, 47, routinely sought refuge in his Port St. Lucie home after allegedly being physically and verbally abused. Investigators say Dunn put a gun to their heads.
The defense put on a string of “character” witnesses who all attested to Dunn’s easygoing, likable manner. The prosecution team, led by Florida State Attorney Angela Corey, had every opportunity to rebut that testimony and failed to effectively do so. The jury never heard about Dunn’s allegedly violent history and or reports of racial animus from people who knew him.
But here’s what else we know about Dunn. He is a coward.
Rather than call police that night, rather than wait for authorities to arrive, he sped away and took refuge in a comfortable hotel room. There, he and his fiancé poured more drinks and ordered pizza.
Saturday night, a Florida jury found him guilty of three counts of attempted murder and one count of firing a gun into a vehicle. Dunn is 47 years old and, based on minimum sentencing guidelines dictating at least 60 years in prison, he may never see the light of day again. Corrections officials may well need a broom and dust pan to sweep him out of the cell.
But for me, that isn’t enough.
All four boys, including and especially Jordan Davis, deserve justice. All four boys deserve to see Dunn face a jury of his peers and receive a final verdict. Jordan deserves a new trial, a new jury and a new prosecutor.
If Angela Corey—an elected official– is not up for the job, she should resign.
“Let us keep the issues where they are,” Dr. Martin Luther King said in his now famous “Mountaintop” speech. “The issue is injustice.”
If we are to believe the verdicts delivered by the Zimmerman jury, you can shoot a black child in the Sunshine State without fear of consequence. All that is necessary is that you claim that you were “standing your ground.”
Even though George Zimmerman never sought an immunity hearing under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, Judge Debra Nelson made it clear in her instructions that the jury of six women should consider the law in reaching for their verdict.
For Dunn, that meant concocting a story about a mythical shotgun. One never fired, one never seen by any of the independent witnesses, one never seen in the possession of any of the boys at anytime that evening or any other.
Dunn was not “standing his ground.” He was claiming ground that did not belong to him.
But the issue before us is not just the 26 states with “Stand Your Ground,” otherwise known as “shoot first,” laws on the books. Seven more states permit the use of deadly force in self-defense with no duty of retreat through other statutes and judicial decisions known as stare decisis or “let the decision stand.”
In the five years since the “shoot first” laws were first enacted in Florida, the number of justifiable homicides has tripled.
We may never know what happened inside that sequestered jury or how the vote split, leading to a mistrial on the murder count. We can only surmise that some jurors believed Dunn had a reasonable fear of imminent death or severe bodily harm. To take it further, we might even conclude that some on that jury shared Dunn’s worldview—buying into the inherent criminality of black teenaged boys. What we know is some jurors, one or many, believed otherwise.
I have long held, based on FBI and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies, that the race of the shooter is less salient than the race of the victim. All too often, the depth of investigation, rigor of the prosecution, rate of conviction and even the length of sentence depend on the race of the dead. If one were to use that data to rank the value placed on human life, black boys would fall at the bottom.
In far too many communities, we have given tacit approval to the murder of black boys. It is as if we have criminalized being young, black and outside, to quote Marc Lamont Hill, a Columbia University professor.
According to an FBI study, homicides with a white suspect and a black victim are ten times more likely to be acquitted. In “shoot first” states, that gap is even wider. Cases with a white perpetrator and a black victim are 281 percent more likely to be ruled justified than if the same suspect had killed a white victim.
Families like the Davis’ aren’t counting numbers. They are counting the moments they will miss with their sons. Jordan Davis will be 17 forever. The Jordan they knew was nobody’s “thug.” He wasn’t a “gangster” and he certainly was not Dunn’s “attacker,” as he frequently described the teen in court. Jordan Davis never left the car. He was shot, unarmed, while sitting in the back seat.
Jordan Davis was shot dead for cussing at a white man.
My heart goes out to the Davis family. A new trial will surely test their grace, their sense of resolve. What they don’t have, we must give them. We must be willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and do the real work for justice. On behalf of Jordan and the many other black boys like him, we must seek her out no matter where she hides.
But tonight, I am also thinking about my own sons. Young, educated black men. Grown, but still my children. One by birth, the other by circumstance. Even now, Dr. King’s words ring in my head.
“All we say to America is to be true to what you put on paper.”
Editor’s Note: This has been a #breakingBLACK column. Goldie Taylor is a featured columnist at theGrio 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.