Another unarmed black teen in Florida is shot to death by a gunman who claims his life was threatened and acted in self-defense. After George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second degree murder and manslaughter charges in the killing of Trayvon Martin, “stand your ground” is once again being debated.
This time, the case involves Michael Dunn, who is charged with first degree murder in the fatal shooting of Jordan Davis, 17. Dunn, 47, a software developer, is charged with shooting Davis outside a Jacksonville convenience store. Dunn fired eight shots into the car in which Davis and his three friends were sitting, with three bullets hitting Davis. According to officials, Dunn argued with the teens in the parking lot over the loud music they were playing. Words were exchanged and the Dunn opened fire. In letters to local media, Dunn said the case was never about loud music, claiming that he felt threatened after he saw a gun inside the car occupied by Davis and his friends. No gun was found in the car or at the scene.
The similarities between the two cases are compelling. Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, on February 26, 2012, nearly two years ago, while this latest case stems from a November 23 killing. Both victims were 17-year-old young black men, and the men who shot them were not African-American—Zimmerman is Hispanic, and Dunn is white. State attorney, Angela Cory, the prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case, is also prosecuting Michael Dunn.
Further, in both cases the shooters claimed they feared for their lives and acted in self-defense. And yet, both Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis were unarmed, unless you consider Trayvon’s iced tea and packet of Skittles, or Davis’s loud music, as lethal weapons.
This brings us to the elephant in the room, which is the intersection of race and criminality. In order to justify and dismiss the killing of Martin, some supporters of Zimmerman and the stand your ground law painted the young man—and by extension, young black men in general— as a menacing “thug.”
Meanwhile, Michael Dunn has written racially charged letters while in jail which were obtained and published in the local media. In one letter, Dunn said, “I was thinking an easy way to die would be to ask a car load of thugs to turn their stereo down!” Meanwhile, in another letter he wrote, “The 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 (expletive) idiots, when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.” “This gangster-rap, ghetto[-]talking thug ‘culture’ that certain segments of society flock to is intolerable,” Dunn said in yet another letter. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman recently gave people something to think about when he suggested that the use of the word “thug” was a proxy for the N-word. And the 25-year old Stanford grad with a master’s degree made a rather valid point.
Despite the notable similarities, these two tragic cases have their differences. For one, there was no physical struggle between Dunn and Davis. And the Davis case has more evidence. While George Zimmerman was the only witness when he shot Trayvon Martin, there were numerous witnesses on the scene when Dunn shot and killed Jordan Davis—including Davis’ three friends. Dunn is charged with attempted first degree murder for firing his weapon at them.
The fact that Michael Dunn was even charged with first degree murder distinguishes the case from Zimmerman’s. Unlike George Zimmerman, who called 911 and remained on the scene until police arrived, Dunn ran away. Moreover, while the police waited six weeks until they arrested Zimmerman, Dunn was caught the next day and immediately arrested. This is another reason why Dunn could face a different fate from Zimmerman, and why this case is so important. So, what does Dunn think?
“The fear is that we may get a predominately black jury and therefore, unlikely to get a favorable verdict,” Dunn said. “Sad, but that’s where this country is still at. The good news is that the surrounding counties are predominately white and Republican and supporters of gun rights.”
Why does this always happen in Florida?
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove