To many young Black men in the Washington-Baltimore area, the failure of a Florida jury to convict a White man who fatally shot unarmed 17 year-old Jordan Davis for murder said a lot about the way the nation thinks about the value of the lives of its young Black men.
To several young Black men interviewed by the AFRO in the District, Baltimore and Prince George’s and Howard counties, the failure of the jury to convict White computer programmer Michael Dunn of Jordan’s murder means a young black man’s life is not to be protected. Dunn was convicted of three counts of attempted second degree murder, but the jury deadlocked on the first degree murder charge in Jordan’s killing.
“The thing that people aren’t hearing is he isn’t going to jail for murder,” said Kamaal Stewart, 20, of Baltimore. “When I first saw it I was upset, but I was numb to it.”
Jordan Davis was riding in a car with three of his friends, spending his weekend like most teenage males. They went to the Town Center Mall in Jacksonville, Fla., to hang out and eat. On the way back to Jordan’s house, they stopped by a gas station so one of his friends could get a pack of cigarettes.
While one ran inside the convenience store, the remaining boys listened to music and talked. That’s when trouble started. Dunn protested against their music and an argument ensued. When it was over, unarmed Jordan was dead, killed in a barrage from Dunn’s gun.
Dunn said he fired because he felt he was in danger, invoking the state’s Stand Your Ground Law. He said he believed someone in the vehicle had a gun, though he did not tell anyone that until after his arrest.
Stand Your Ground is the same law that was widely discussed after George Zimmerman killed unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., and claimed it was self-defense in 2012. He was acquitted.
For Howard students Jarvis Hooper, Kendall Williams, and Joseph Wilson, all of whom are Black and about the same age as Jordan and Trayvon, the Dunn verdict said that juries are looking for a reason to let Whites go who kill young Black men.
“I think White people commit these crimes because they are protected by these laws that have been in place for years before the movement by people of color. Some of these laws are like scapegoats and crutches for them to use against us. I feel like some of them break the law because they know they can and get away with it, and that’s the sickest thing about it” Hooper said.
Minilik Yewondwossen, 23, from Seattle, had an even stronger reaction.
“We also have one million Black men from age 18 to 24 incarcerated today. We incarcerate more Black men today than South Africa at the height of apartheid and we incarcerate more Black men today than during slavery in 1850,” he said. “We are witnessing a resurgence of White supremacist dogmatism, in the form of taking the lives of Black men, who are already tormented enough psychologically, socially, educationally, and occupationally.”
The young men said if the races had been reversed and a Black man had shot a young White teenager over loud music, the verdict would have been guilty of murder.
Said Miles Carpenter, 19, “It’s something that’s been going on for years, since my parents were little. White men were killing young Black men and there [was] no repercussion for what they were doing.”
Some of the youths indicated they think the jury’s action—which led a judge to declare a mistrial on the first degree murder charge—demonstrates the misconceptions that some Whites have against young Blacks. Those misconceptions lead them to be less sympathetic and unable to see a Black youth as a victim.
“I think one of the main reasons why White people are killing off young African Americans isn’t just some misunderstanding. It’s because they’re fearful. They see the culture that’s represented in the media, even though these things are not often run by people of color. These people sit there, trying to dictate what our culture should be, and this basically all came from some random generalization based on something they saw in an inner-city neighborhood.” said Joseph Wilson, a 20 year-old junior studying music at Howard in Washington D.C. “They haven’t gone anywhere else, like the places where me and most of my friends come from, so they don’t know that there are African Americans who are actually trying to change our image, and trying to create things better for the next generation, because the ultimate goal is assimilation.”
When asked if America’s justice system holds the lives of young black men in less regard than other races and genders, the young men all answered “absolutely.”
“It seems to be less about what happens, and more about the way people go about dealing with it. If you kill someone, there should never be a reason you get off for that, whether you were standing your ground or not!” said Kendall Williams, 20, from Upper Marlboro, Md., who is studying information systems at Howard. “You can’t just get away with killing people. It’s not right.”
Jarvis Hooper, 19, of Houston, said until the laws are changed, young Blacks will likely continue to be victimized.
“I think white people commit these crimes because they are protected by these laws that have been in place for years before the movement by people of color, and some of these laws are like scapegoats and crutches for them to use against us,” he said. “I feel like some of them break the law because they know they can and get away with it, and that’s the sickest thing about it.”
Said Ekundayo Robinson 21, of Baltimore: said Blacks have to take the lead in forging change.
“As African Americans other than to protest we need to go out there [and] just spread the word about gun violence,” he said. “We…[need] to stand together.”