Michael Dunn got away with murder of Jordan Davis. . . at least for now.
Oh, he’ll likely spend the rest of his life in prison on the three counts of attempted second-degree murder. Those are the charges of which a Jacksonville, Fla., jury took four days to find him guilty, for the 10 bullets he fired at 17-year-old Jordan Davis and his three friends that fateful November more than a year ago because they wouldn’t turn down the “thug music” that he despised.
Dunn’s conviction has given Jordan’s parents, Lucia McBath and Ron Davis, a bit of closure to know that their son’s killer won’t walk away free, that while he robbed Jordan of the chance to reach middle age, he also robbed himself of the chance to reach old age in a retirement village instead of a cell block.
But the jury couldn’t decide whether Dunn, 47, was justified in killing Jordan, who argued with him and cursed him when he asked them to turn down the music. Not only could they not decide whether Dunn’s slaying of the unarmed teenager amounted to first-degree murder, but they also couldn’t decide whether it amounted to second-degree murder or manslaughter.
Which leads me to ask: What if Jordan had been the only one in that Dodge Durango?
What if Dunn, likely emboldened by alcohol consumed at his son’s wedding and egged on by his own racist attitudes—as revealed in his jail letters—decided to roll up on Jordan as he was listening to his music and minding his own business, to argue with him and, ultimately, fatally shoot him?
Well, if it was left to this jury, Dunn would likely walk.
And no one should ever lose sight of that fact.
No one should lose sight of that, because apparently to someone, or some people, on that jury, Jordan’s mouth and temper rose to the level of a threat that frightened Dunn so much that his use of deadly force seemed reasonable, that defiance by an African-American male teenager, as opposed to any other American teenager, is seen as dangerous instead of merely rebellious.
No one should lose sight of the fact that this jury managed to overlook all of Dunn’s suspicious actions—his ordering pizza, his retreating to a hotel room and his neglecting to call 911—but apparently believed an unproven criminal act by Jordan, like pointing a shotgun at Dunn, was plausible.
No one should lose sight of the fact that somebody saw Jordan’s potential for criminality larger than Dunn’s propensity for preposterousness. Somebody believed it was more likely for the teenager and his friends to have stashed a shotgun than for Dunn to have lied about them having one.
Of course, this could have turned out worse. Dunn could have been acquitted. But it speaks volumes that the only way the killer of a black teenager, a teenager armed only with his mouth and immaturity, will pay for his crime is because that teenager happened to be in a vehicle with three friends, and the bullets that killed him missed them.
It speaks volumes that even in a case in which there are witnesses and evidence to support the charge that the black teenager was murdered—something that was lacking in the Trayvon Martin murder case—some people on a jury can still come away believing that an unarmed black teenager scared a white man enough to cause his own death and that scaring a white man gives that man a license to use deadly force.
Jordan Davis got some justice, all right. But he got justice on a technicality. Justice came for Jordan as a fluke, not as a right.
But Dunn still got away with murder.
And no one should feel good about that.
Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist based in Jacksonville, Florida.