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It is now once again legal to kill Black men in America. This was decided by a Florida jury today when they failed to convict shooter Michael Dunn for the murder of Jordan Davis. The altercation that led to the death of the young Black man allegedly began over loud music. Dunn and his fiancee were returning from a wedding when they pulled into a convenience store parking lot. The red SUV next to them was playing loud rap music. Dunn’s then-fiancee went into the store. Dunn claims that he rolled down his window and asked the passengers to turn the music down.
Dunn, who is White, claims that after he politely asked the four Black teenagers to turn their music down, they responded negatively. He claims that they called him a derogatory name. He further claims that he saw the barrel of a shotgun, and that the teens began threatening his life. Dunn fired ten rounds into the SUV, killing Jordan Davis. Dunn and his fiancee then proceeded to their hotel room and ordered a pizza. During testimony, Dunn claims that he spent hours that dark night fearing retaliation from the passengers in the SUV. He would later be arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the killing of the young Black man.
Dunn’s defense team claimed that the shooting was an act of self-defense, even though no gun was ever found. The defense argued that the teens must have ditched the weapon that provoked Dunn’s reaction, and that the police were remiss in searching the area in a timely manner. The jury, which has been described as racially mixed, but included no Black men, had the opportunity to review surveillance footage, which did not reveal the shotgun described by Dunn.
That Dunn fired into the SUV and killed Jordan Davis was never in question. No gun was found by police. Dunn never called 911 during the incident, and he never called police from his hotel room. The defense hinged on the assertion that Dunn was in reasonable fear for his safety and that the shooting was justified under Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground statute, which holds that an individual has not duty to retreat from a threat and may respond with deadly force if threatened.
After over thirty hours of deliberation stretching over a four day period, the jury failed to convict Dunn on murder charges, and also failed to convict him of included lesser charges including manslaughter. Dunn was convicted of three counts of attempted murder and a charge of firing a deadly missile, but the jury failed to reach a verdict on the murder charge. He faces decades in prison based on these convictions.
The jury was not able to reach a conclusion on the major charge of first-degree murder, so even though Jordan Davis was killed by bullets from Dunn’s 9mm pistol, it is the verdict of this jury that Dunn is not legally responsible for his death. Despite the fact that Dunn fled the scene of the incident, and the fact that there was no weapon found, this was not ruled a homicide. Despite the fact that Dunn did not call 911 during his alleged moments of panic, this was not ruled a murder. Despite the fact that Dunn sent letters from jail containing inflammatory racial language, it was decided that seeing “menacing expressions” on the faces of young Black men is sufficient ground to take their lives.
The failure of the jury to reach a verdict in the killing of Jordan Davis, based on the evidence presented, has essentially justified the killing of young Black men for the crimes of playing loud music and being less than humble in public. Authorities in Florida are closely monitoring the public reaction to the verdict, as they did following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by a Florida jury last year. Although that case brought Stand Your Ground to the nation’s attention, it was not actually used as part of Zimmerman’s defense.
By Mark Clarke