The Dunn Trial may introduce another devastating example of how Stand Your Ground self-defense laws continue to fail people of color in Florida. In November 2012, Michael Dunn killed Jordan Davis and attempted to kill three of Davis’ friends. Following a lengthy deliberation last week, the jury agreed to convict Dunn of three counts of attempted murder. The jurors did not conclude whether to convict or acquit him of first-degree murder, however.
The short version is this: Dunn heard what he described as loud “thug” music coming from the teenagers’ SUV and demanded that they turn it down. When Davis ignored his request, Dunn became enraged. He proceeded to fire 10 bullets at the teenagers’ vehicle, killing 17-year-old Davis in the process. More disturbingly, Dunn went to a hotel after the incident with his fiancée and ordered pizza. Dunn didn’t demonstrate self-defense but rather complete disregard for human life.
Dunn allegedly shot at the teenagers in an effort to protect himself, claiming Davis had a shotgun. Police said there was no evidence of any weapons, however; witnesses never saw a gun, and even though Dunn shot 10 times, the teens never shot back.
This conjures up memories of the George Zimmerman trial in which Zimmerman, a white man, was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, black 17-year-old who was killed out of “self-defense.” Unlike Zimmerman, however, Dunn will face at least 60 years in prison for attempted murder.
This trial and Dunn’s attitude toward Davis are indicative of much larger systemic issues. Dunn testified that, “[his] intent was to stop the attack, not necessarily end a life. It just worked out that way.” This is grossly misleading, especially next to other racially charged remarks he has made.
Dunn wrote letters from jail in which he stated that black inmates “act like thugs.” He then proceeded to literally endorse ruthless, racist murders so blacks “may take the hint and change their behavior.”
Black people should change what behavior, exactly? Is playing loud music and refusing to heed to a white man worthy of murder? Does refusal to turn down music merit a reasonable fear for one’s life – that is, the major tenet of Florida self-defense laws?
Mary Anne Franks, an associate law professor at the University of Miami, stated, “Once you have a situation that someone white and male feels threatened by a group of young black men, is it possible that he sees a gun where there was no gun?”
Dunn shot at the car 10 times, continuing to shoot even while the teenagers attempted to drive away – he was not trying to defend himself. He claims he is “a victim” and had the audacity to compare his position to that of rape victims blamed for their clothing choice. In his case, he believes he was blamed for asking the music to be turned down. Dunn is alive, however, and called himself a “victor,” showing no remorse for his murder out of the devaluation of black bodies. Who is the real victim here?
Last week’s trial has been declared a mistrial, and a new trial will take place later this year to determine whether or not Dunn was guilty of the first-degree murder of Davis. Dunn’s remarks indicate a much graver problem: the belief that white people need to “reasonably” defend themselves against innocent and unarmed black bodies.