America isn’t Dunn with Racism

The “Dunn” which the title refers to is Michael Dunn, a Florida man found guilty of first degree murder in the shooting of Jordan Davis in Nov. 2012. The racially-charged circumstances of the case are unfortunately not something unknown to us. Dunn, a white man, felt threatened by Davis, a black teenager, as well as 3 of his friends; in turn, on a hunch of impending danger, he resorted to lethal action against the teens to protect himself.

Dunn, on a trip to St. Augustine, had pulled into a Jacksonville gas station for a quick rest stop, where an altercation broke out between Dunn and the teens due to complaints from Dunn about the “heavy bass” (1). The teens turned down the volume, but then according to Dunn, one became “agitated” (1) and turned the volume back up. Dunn asserted that he heard a death threat, and afterwards claimed to have seen the barrel of a shotgun or fire arm of sorts out of the car. In his “fight or flight” response, he made the grave mistake of choosing fight – the police would later report that no weapon was in the teens’ SUV, and nowhere to be found in the nearby area. Dunn reached for his 9 mm handgun and emptied 4 bullets into the vehicle, and when the SUV started to pull away, shot another 4 bullets. In total, Dunn fired 10 bullets, 3 of which hit Davis, 1 of which hit his aorta. Instead of immediately calling the police, Dunn drove down to St. Augustine, to the “rather expensive” (1) bed and breakfast he and his girlfriend had planned – and ordered pizza.

This verdict indicates that, as Judge Russell Healey stated at the sentencing: “Our justice system works. This case demonstrates that our justice system does work.” (2) However, it is not enough to have a “working” justice system that will find someone guilty for a violation of the law – we should reevaluate the gun culture of today and the “Stand Your Ground” laws that are being pushed at state levels by groups such as the NRA (National Rifle Association); there is a Stand Your Ground law on the books in Florida already. “Stand Your Ground” laws dictate that when a person feels that another person poses a genuine danger to their life, they are not obligated to retreat, and can defend themselves with lethal force. On paper, such a law would seem reasonable, but the reality of it is far from reasonable. According to pbs.org, “White-on-black homicides [in Stand Your Ground incidents] are 354 percent more likely to be ruled justified than white-on-white.” (3) Michael Dunn’s guilty verdict is thus an anomaly in the grand scheme of the legislation.

The race issue that plagues this law has caused great controversy, whether it be in the Zimmerman shooting of Trayvon Martin, or the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, which led to protests for days on end. The above incidents were not isolated – they represent how race overshadows many of our judgments, especially in assessing how much of a threat someone poses. Michael Dunn’s conviction is a only small justice dealt in the big picture for people of color in this nation.

1 http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/05/justice/florida-loud-music-murder-trial/index.html

2 http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/michael-dunn-sentenced-life-without-parole-loud-music-killing-n228191

3 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/criminal-justice/is-there-racial-bias-in-stand-your-ground-laws/

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