As we approach the second anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s murder in Sanford, Fla., justice again has been shortchanged in the Sunshine State. It was incredulous that George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman and wannabe cop, was found not guilty of murder after killing the unarmed Black teenager who had visited a nearby convenience store to purchase a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona Tea.
Last Saturday, a hung jury could not decide whether Michael Dunn, a 47-year-old White computer programmer, was guilty of murdering Jordan Davis by fatally shooting him in the abdomen. According to court testimony, Dunn pulled into the parking lot of a Jacksonville convenience store and became involved in an argument after he accused 17-year-old Jordan Davis and three of his teenage friends of playing their music too loudly. Dunn’s lawyer claims that Davis used vulgarity-laden language to tell his client what to do to himself. Witnesses said Dunn shouted at Davis: “You can’t talk to me that way!”
Taken by themselves, the words have no special meaning. However, when uttered by a White man to a Black teen in a region that presented itself as this nation’s last bastion of White supremacy, they take on a life of their own. Remember, it wasn’t all that long ago when Blacks were expected to stare at the ground when speaking to White folks. They were expected to say “Yes, sir” and “Yes, Ma’m,” knowing that their parents, regardless of their age, would always be addressed by their first names, even by White children. Refusing to show what was considered proper respect to Whites often had violent repercussions, even death.
I can almost hear the words: “You can’t talk to me that way!”
And to prove his point, Dunn opened fire on the Black teenagers, striking Jordan Davis three times. Even as the teens peeled rubber trying to get away, Dunn, 6’4” and 280 pounds, continued to shoot into the vehicle, firing 10 times in all.
He would later say that he thought he saw the barrel of a shotgun protruding from a window of the Dodge Durango SUV. But no such weapon was ever found and for good reason – it did not exist. Even Dunn’s girlfriend said he never told her about the teens having a shotgun.
What did Dunn do after he killed the Black teenager? He returned to the hotel room where he was staying after attending his only son’s wedding. He acted as if he had just finished a routine day at the office. He didn’t bother to notify police. Dunn acted as if nothing had happened.
But something did happen. Jordan Davis had his life cut short that day. The high school senior will never get the chance to make his parents proud by donning a cap and gown and walking across a stage to receive his high school diploma. He will not get a chance to attend college or pursue a career. He won’t even get a chance to breathe again because he wasn’t supposed to talk to a White man that way.
According to Rolling Stone, Dunn told detectives, “They didn’t follow my orders. What was I supposed to do if they wouldn’t listen?” For starters, he wasn’t supposed to take the kid’s life. But he did. His lawyer argued that Dunn was Standing his Ground. His lawyer, Corey Strolla, told Rolling Stone last year, “I don’t have to prove the threat, just that Mike Dunn believed it.”
Evidently, Strolla sold the jury on that belief. They couldn’t agree that his client murdered Jordan Davis, who was shot three times. But in their contorted reasoning, they found him guilty of three counts of attempted second degree murder. In other words, he was not guilty of murdering Davis, but was guilty of attempting to murder Davis’ three friends, neither of whom were struck by a bullet.
Still, he’ll probably die in prison. And if some of the true thugs catch up with him in the slammer, he might like how they are going to talk to him.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.