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Fear factor: What the Dunn verdict says about us

Marc H. Morial | 3/3/2014, 9:28 a.m.

“Jordan had no guns. He had no drugs. There was no alcohol. They were coming from the mall. They were being kids.” – Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis

(NNPA) – Another mother’s anguish. Another unarmed Black teenager in Florida shot dead for no good reason. Another indefensible instance of “stand your ground” rearing its ugly head. Eight months after the stunning acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, justice again has been compromised in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

On Nov. 23, 2012, Michael Dunn, a 47-year-old White man, fired 10 rounds into an SUV after arguing over loud rap music coming from the vehicle with Davis and three other unarmed African American teenagers.

Three of the bullets struck and killed Davis. Like Zimmerman, Dunn claimed self-defense and used Florida’s “stand your ground” law to bolster his justification of the killing, as his lawyer stated in his closing argument, “His honor will further tell you that if Michael Dunn was in a public place where he had a legal right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.”

Dunn claims Davis brandished a gun so Dunn shot first. But there is one big problem with his story. Davis had no gun and neither did anyone else in the SUV.

Two weeks ago, a jury found Dunn guilty of three counts of attempted murder, one for each of Jordan’s three friends, and shooting into a vehicle. But they deadlocked on the fifth count – first-degree murder in the killing of Davis. Dunn could get at least 60 years and may spend the rest of his life in prison for the four lesser counts.

But the failure to convict him of murdering Davis raises critical questions about the devaluing of the lives of young Black males in America and confirms the need for a repeal of Florida’s repugnant “stand your ground” law that sanctions the use of deadly force by anyone who merely thinks – or claims – they are in danger from a perceived assailant.

Regardless of whether Dunn or Zimmerman chose to fully exercise “stand your ground” provisions in their defense, this law was very clearly at the center of both cases. It is even clearer that the “shoot first” laws across the country are contributing to needless bloodshed and are ripe for unequal application based on race.

A recent Urban Institute analysis found that in “stand your ground” states, “When the shooter is white and the victim is black, the justifiable homicide rate is 34 percent. When the situation is reversed and the shooter is black and the victim is white, shootings are ruled to be justifiable in only slightly more than 3 percent of cases.”

Last September, the National Urban League, in collaboration with the bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition and VoteVets, issued a report showing that in the 22 states with “stand your ground” laws, the justifiable homicide rate has risen by an average of 53 percent in the five years following their passage. In Florida, justifiable homicides have increased by 200 percent since the law took effect in 2005.