Michael Dunn Verdict: Another Day, Another Step Backward

Updated Feb 17, 2014

Admittedly, I was caught off-guard by the failure of a jury in Jacksonville, Fla., to convict Michael Dunn of a murder charge of any sort in the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. The case was laden with the hot-button societal issues that have been the topic of discussion in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial last summer, also in Florida: the seeming disregard for the lives of Black youth, Stand Your Ground laws, bigotry, etc.

All that continues to be discussed and those conversations are important. Still, I remain troubled by two issues that aren’t being widely discussed.

First, can’t we agree that that the pendulum has swung too far from our embracing of the legal presumption of innocence of defendants in these type cases to the side of assumption of guilt of those who were killed? The prosecutors virtually have to prove that the deceased had the right to go on living in the world where anyone — particularly if you’re White, it seems — who perceives a threat is empowered to confront and then shoot to kill. The other person doesn’t have a gun? No problem, apparently even popcorn in the hands of a White man whose texting annoys you in a movie theater can be perceived as threatening these days.

As a parent of two sons in college, I am concerned that even in 2014 that they are still more likely to be stereotyped as “thugs” simply because of the volume that they choose to play the music of their choice. We’ve had that talk about how you carry yourself and the impressions you make, but you know what? We’re done with that. I’m not going to have my sons live life like everything they do has to meet with the approval of every stranger on the street.

No, it’s time for other folk to grow up. People that don’t look like you, dress like you and necessarily think like you share the space in which you live. Deal with it — without the guns supporting your view. The same ignorance exists in the corporate world as much as it does in the streets, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Secondly, how is it that there wasn’t a Black man seated as a juror determining the verdicts in neither the Zimmerman nor Dunn trials? There were two Black women on the Dunn panel and a lone Black/Hispanic woman on the Zimmerman case. Were there no Black men among the citizenry capable of weighing the evidence and contributing to rendering a verdict? I know from a strategic standpoint that the defense doesn’t want them, but how does the prosecution allow the deck to become so stacked?

Make no mistake, the Black man is being marginalized. It is akin to being a child in a room of people discussing you and not being able to participate “because grown folks are talking.” If in deliberations the perceptions of fear are debated, wouldn’t it be a positive thing to have those issues addressed and perspective delivered by a Black man? I don’t know who took what stance on the primary murder charge that they deadlocked on, but I know who didn’t have a voice. I do know that a young man was killed and the trigger man was convicted of everything except killing him.

Davis would have been 19-years-old on Sunday. Instead of a celebration of his birthday, his parents had to settle for what his family characterized as “a little bit of closure.”

Is that all we should rightfully expect these days?

I was on Facebook Sunday and someone posted an “article” that stated that Florida Gov. Rick Scott was pushing for “strict volume-control measures” that would prohibit car stereos from being played at a setting of 5 or louder. Being a skeptic by nature and a journalist by trade, I had an inkling that it wasn’t true but wasn’t certain. It turned out to be a satirical piece on a comedian’s website.

My moment of uncertainty was not fueled by the quality of the article, but by the increasing amount of unfathomable occurrences these days.

G.E. Branch III is Online Editor of Diverse: Issues In Higher Education