by Judith Browne Dianis, Advancement Project
There is no right more fundamental than the right to live. As the prosecution proved, Michael Dunn needlessly fired one shot after another into an SUV filled with unarmed teenagers whose only crime was having the audacity to challenge a stranger’s demand to turn down their music.
Today’s decision is the beginning of the dispensation of justice, but the fact that jurors could not convict Dunn of first degree murder – when his killing of Davis was not a matter of debate – is a travesty that must be rectified in a second trial. It is also further evidence that laws such as “Stand Your Ground” muddy the boundaries of self-defense so much that the imagination of the shooter is given the same weight as the reality of his victim’s intractable death.
The painful reality is Jordan Davis’ parents will never get to see their son graduate from high school, pursue his dreams or grow into a man.
When Dunn unloaded his gun on Jordan and his friends, it’s clear he didn’t see youth at the dawn of life. He didn’t see the humanity of teenagers enjoying music. He saw race. He saw Blackness. His bias, as evidenced by his remarks about “thug music,” triggered a chain of events that led to the death of another innocent young Black man.
When Dunn unloaded his gun on Jordan and his friends, it’s clear he didn’t see youth at the dawn of life. He didn’t see the humanity of teenagers enjoying music. He saw race. He saw Blackness.
While many of us are tempted to believe the dark days of racial intolerance and hatred have passed, this case suggests otherwise. Racism may not always be as blatant, but it still operates. Today, “thug” is the new code word for the “N” word. Innocent African Americans are still “suspect” on our streets, in our schools and in stores.While Dunn’s Stand Your Ground defense failed in this instance, it is successfully invoked far too often for us to claim lasting victory. To ensure all children are able to grow up and reach their full potential, we must continue to pressure legislators in states across the country to repeal Stand Your Ground laws and other laws with racially discriminatory impacts.
We simply cannot continue giving a legal cover for people who combine racial bias and a ready weapon. As a nation, we cannot grow weary of grappling with issues of race, racism and negative perceptions about Black men and boys. This decision should be viewed as a catalyst for continuing to build a movement to challenge inequity and racism.
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Judith Browne Dianis is co-director of the Advancement Project, a multiracial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analyses and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.
From Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund: We will never know exactly what Mr. Dunn was thinking when he fired nine rounds at Jordan and his friends, but we have some very strong clues. We know that Florida’s Stand Your Ground law emboldens people to take matters into their own hands and use deadly force, despite the absence of a threat, let alone a weapon. We know that letters he wrote from jail while awaiting trial provide insight about his thoughts on race and who he perceived to be a criminal. In one, he mentioned. “This jail is full of Blacks and they all act like thugs.” He went on to write: “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.” Finally, we know that the criminalization and demonization of African-Americans – and especially African-American men and boys – is deeply rooted in our nation’s history.
From the Rev. Al Sharpton: We are deeply disappointed by the verdict in the case of Michael Dunn. Though he was convicted for attempted murder and shooting into the car, the value of Jordan Davis’ life was not addressed in this verdict. The mistrial further sends a chilling effect to parents in the 23 states that have the Stand Your Ground law or laws similar. It requires the civil rights community to head into Florida, which is now ground zero for a national fight to change that law. From Trayvon Martin to Jordan Davis, enough is enough.
From ColorOfChange.org: A white man killed an unarmed Black teenager and just got away with it, using Florida’s so-called “Stand Your Ground” or “Shoot First” law as a deflective shield for this racially-motivated killing. It’s a gripping comparison and a terrifying continuation of the injustice we saw with Trayvon Martin – with both murders taking place in the same state just months apart. We send our love to Jordan’s family. While the jury was unable to adequately decide the fate of the man who killed their son, we hope that they will still find some peace. …
Nearly 111,000 ColorOfChange members have called for an end to these laws that undermine public safety and give murderers the opportunity to walk free. “Shoot First” emboldens people like Michael Dunn to kill when and where they see fit, and unless we end “Shoot First” laws, we will continue to witness tragedies like the one that took Jordan Davis away from his family. As we accelerate our efforts demanding that state governments oppose and repeal “Shoot First,” we’ll also urge federal officials to investigate how these laws protect and embolden those who commit hate crimes.
Join us in seeking accountability for the murder of Jordan Russell Davis. Demand an end to “Shoot First” laws. And when you take action, please ask your family and friends to do the same. (Click on the link to go online to sign the petition.)