Once again, the nation has seen the spectacle of a failure to provide justice in a racially charged incident. By failing to convict Michael Dunn of first-degree murder charges in the death of Jordan Davis, a jury in Florida has allowed the killing of the unarmed African-American teenager to go unpunished, as though his life had no meaning whatsoever.
It’s true that Dunn was convicted of three charges of attempted murder and, as a result, may well spend the rest of his life in prison. But those convictions don’t hold him responsible for his killing of the young Davis, whose life was senselessly cut short.
Dunn, a 47-year-old white man, shot and killed the 17-year-old Davis after complaining to the teenager and three of his friends about what he considered the loudness of the music coming from the vehicle that he was parked next to at a gas station. Rather than ignoring the music and moving along, Dunn decided he would get into an argument with the teenagers.
This man, who’s old enough to be the father of Davis and his friends, decided on a confrontation in the automobile at that gas station on that fateful evening. He already had a penchant for racist language and complained about the “thug music” playing from the teenagers’ car.
Davis decided he would talk back to Dunn. And just as in the code of the pre-Civil War South, that was simply an unforgivable affront to the racial mores that Dunn apparently embraced. Ignoring the teenager was not an option. The young man simply had to die. If that doesn’t amount to premeditated murder, it’s hard to fathom what would.
Let’s look at this from another hypothetical point of view. Let’s imagine for a moment that a car filled with middle-aged white passengers pulls into a gas station. Their radio plays the end of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5,” which gets fairly loud as it reaches the final measures. Let’s say they are approached by a 17-year-old Black high school student who complains to them that he finds their music contemptible. A brief, heated discussion follows. Instead of walking away, the young Black man decides to pull out a firearm and shoot a volley of bullets into the car, killing one of the passengers.
It is beyond imagination that such an incident would result in the failure of a jury to convict the young Black man of first-degree murder. It’s absolutely unthinkable—and that’s why the verdict in the Dunn case is so abominable. Davis’ life is as valuable as that of anyone else’s. He was a young man with a future, with ambitions and ideas for his life. He had a family that loved him, friends who reveled in his company.
Yet when the justice system treated Davis as though he were some other lesser category of life form—kind of human, but not fully so—the entire society suffered. It is similar to the disheartening feeling many had last summer after the verdict in the death of Trayvon Martin.
Our society needs to see young African-American men as fully human, as people on whom this nation will one day rely. They are the future of this country, with all the aspirations and ability, all the talent and genius as anyone else.
Verdicts like the one reached in Florida last Sunday are not just disappointing and heartbreaking; they undermine the concept of young Black men being seen as fully and wondrously human.