Michael Dunn Verdict: Hung Jury

[Content Note: Gun violence; racism.]

As you may have heard, the murder trial for 47-year-old white man Michael Dunn, who shot and killed 17-year-old black teen Jordan Davis resulted in a hung jury over the weekend.
Jurors could not come to one decision about the charge of first degree murder, but did find Dunn guilty for the attempted murders of Tevin Thompson, Leland Brunson, and Tommie Stornes, who were riding in the SUV with Davis the evening of his death.
By way of reminder, Dunn and his girlfriend stopped at a Jacksonville convenience store, where Davis and his friends were sitting in an SUV in the parking lot, listening to music, which Dunn described as "thug music." Dunn asked them to turn down the music, the unarmed teens refused, there was some sort of argument, then Dunn his semi-automatic pistol from his glove compartment and shot into the SUV nine times, hitting Davis twice and killing him. Dunn then left the scene, returned to his hotel room, and ordered pizza. He was arrested the next day. Dunn claimed that he had felt threatened and acted in self-defense.

And a jury could not unanimously determine that his actions constituted murder.

Stand Your Ground laws are grotesque, particularly because of the way they are unevenly applied in a deeply racist nation. Following the verdict, the day before what would have been their son's 19th birthday, Jordan Davis' parents, Lucia McBath and Ron Davis, spoke about the mistrial:
"[Jordan] was a good kid. It wasn't allowed to be said in the court room, but we'll say it. He was a good kid," said Davis' father Ron. "There are a lot of good kids out there. …They should have a voice. They shouldn't have to live in fear…that if they get shot, it's just collateral damage. …We do not accept a law that would allow collateral damage to our family members. …We expect the law to be behind us, and protect us. That's what I wanted the law to do — to protect Jordan as we protected Jordan."
The law should not leave room for an armed white man to justify killing an unarmed black kid (or anyone else) on the basis that he "felt threatened." In November 2012, I wrote about what execrable garbage it was for Dunn to claim that that he "felt threatened."

I feel like I'm running out of ways to write that "feeling threatened" is not a justification for violence (nor a justification for bullshit self-defense gun laws). The United States is a country with powerful systems of privilege and entrenched bigotry, where fear of the Other is continually exploited by people in power. Lots of people "feel threatened" by lots of stupid shit that is underwritten by nothing but stereotypes, straw, and ghosts.

...I suspect Dunn didn't "feel threatened" until after he'd gone to the car and then been (quite rightly) told to get to fuck.

I suspect Dunn walked over to the car all puffed-up and prepared to Be Respected, and instead the kids in the car refused to automatically bend to his will, and probably (quite understandably) scoffed contemptuously at his evident belief he owns the world.

I suspect that made his authority, his world view which is preciously perched on a precipice of crumbling privilege, feel threatened.

I suspect that Dunn is one of those guys who loves that whole Fox News Bill O'Reilly War on Everything "your birthright as a Real American is being eroded" shtick that grows toxic insecurity in old white conservative dudes like mold in a petri dish.

I suspect he's one of those guys, a kind of guy who unfortunately feels familiar to me, who just gets explosively enraged when people he perceives as his inferiors don't do what he wants them to do, because he thinks he has the right to demand it.

I suspect that Dunn erupted like an emotional volcano because he was fear-raging at being denied some show of deference to which he believes he's entitled, sheerly by virtue of who he is.

Or: He "snapped," as it is known in the common parlance when white men behave this way, as though it is inexplicable behavior instead of inevitable behavior when certain portions of any population are told they are special and then their frustrations at a world that treats them otherwise redirected onto scapegoats by the very tricksters who created their discordance of identity in the first place.

I suspect that the problem was not that Dunn "felt threatened" in that particular moment, but that he "feels threatened" all the time, in ways that are carelessly encouraged by all the institutions that exploit the impotent rage of people whose identities and self-worth are inextricably tied to unearned privilege, fanning the flames of their insecurity that their privilege, nay their very identities, are being eroded by nefarious Others whose very existence is an existential threat.

And I suspect that as long as the people who exist in this constant state of corrosive anxiety are the most likely to stockpile and carry weaponry, Jordan Davis will not be the last victim of a man who "feels threatened."

Stand Your Ground laws empower privileged men who feel fearful of a world that doesn't bend to their will, who have never been obliged to learn how to sit with fear. It empowers privileged men who mistake the right to be safe with the right to feel safe, whose feelings of unsafety are rooted in prejudice and bigotry, who "feel threatened" by people who don't share their privilege refusing to conform to their expectations, their demands. Men who only care about their own right to be and feel safe, and no one else's.

The most pointed problem with "Stand Your Ground" laws is that people who feel unsafe, irrespective of whether they have a legitimate reason to feel unsafe, implicitly have their fears justified. The laws intrinsically convey people are trying to hurt you and there's something scary out there and you should feel afraid, always afraid. So, ironically, these laws do not in any way encourage feelings of safety and security in fearful people. They entrench fear.

And that makes the world a very dangerous place for the people they're afraid of. People like Jordan Davis.

Michael Dunn killed Jordan Davis because he, Dunn, had to feel for a moment the way people without his privileges may feel, with reason, for an entire lifetime. We don't need gun laws that say feeling fearful or insecure or powerless or out of control or angry is the same thing as being threatened, so go ahead and shoot.

We need laws that unequivocally value the lives of black boys, as much as they value the right of privileged men to "feel safe."

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