On Feb. 15, the eve of what would have been Jordan Davis' 19th birthday, a Duval County jury convicted Michael Dunn on three counts of second-degree attempted murder. Each count carries a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. They also convicted him of shooting or throwing a deadly missile. However, Circuit Judge Russell Healey declared a mistrial on the first-degree murder count. Dunn's jury was made up of four white men, four white women, two black women, one Asian female and one Hispanic man.
As Davis' parents left the courtroom in tears, dozens of demonstrators marched and chanted outside the courthouse, shouting, "Murder is a crime. Michael Dunn should do the time," "The system has failed us," and "Hey hey, ho ho, Angela Corey's got to go!" Protesters demanded District Attorney Angela Corey's resignation after she mishandled the prosecution of both George Zimmerman and Dunn. The District Attorney's office has announced only that they will push for a new trial.
Dunn's killing of Jordan Davis in November 2012 came less than a year after Zimmerman's killing of Trayvon Martin, which sparked national outrage and massive demonstrations. After a dispute over loud rap music, Dunn, a 45-year-old white man, fired nine shots into the SUV in which were Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old Black youth, and his three teenage friends while parked at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida. Davis, sitting in the back seat, was struck twice and died. Though Dunn claimed self-defense, no weapon was found in the SUV.
Some of the most disturbing facts surrounding the Michael Dunn trial have been the statements of Dunn's own defense attorney, Cory Strolla. Strolla, when speaking to a CNN reporter, denied seeing important similarities between the Dunn trial and the Zimmerman trial. He also stated publicly, "This isn't a Black and white issue. It's a subculture thug issue.”
By framing the trial as a "subculture thug issue," he is implying that the victims of racist murders are responsible for their own deaths. He suggests that young Black men are violent and dangerous "thugs" against whom men like Dunn and Zimmerman need to defend themselves.
The meaning of ‘thug’
The word "thug," as Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman pointed out recently, has become "an accepted way of calling somebody the N-word." In Michael Dunn's letters from jail, so racist they banish any doubts the murder was racially motivated, Dunn stated, "This jail is full of blacks[sic] and they all act like thugs...This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these **** idiots when they're threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior."
Is this killing, or that of Trayvon Martin, an aberration? This would mean that racist killings are rare tragedies from a bygone era, as if the election of President Obama ushered in a “post-racial” society. "Things aren't perfect now," goes the narrative, "but they're tolerable. Let's let the criminal-justice system work its course." The truth is starkly different.
Today, a Black man is killed every 28 hours in the United States by police or vigilantes, according to a recent study conducted by Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. And most of these Black men will not receive justice, for the systemic and institutional racism inflicting our society does not stop at the courthouse gates. On the contrary, the criminal-justice system works overtime to disadvantage and disenfranchise Black people.
According to the Center for American Progress, while people of color make up 30 percent of the population, they make up 60 percent of people in prison. One in three Black men will go to prison in his lifetime. Black people receive longer sentences than white people once convicted; Black students are arrested far more often than their white classmates. And facts like these only begin to describe how racist our criminal-justice system truly is. Compare them with the Texas trial of Ethan Couch, a white youth who received only probation for killing four people while driving drunk. His millionaire family bought a psychologist to testify that Couch had "affluenza," arguing successfully that he was so wealthy and spoiled he had lost the capacity for responsible behavior.
Racism is more than personal prejudice, it’s a system
A perspective often expressed by liberals confuses the issue by insisting we can't be sure Michael Dunn is a racist. Even if he is, they say, it's better ten guilty people escape than a single innocent person suffer. They want Black people and their allies to calm down, even calling their protests and organizing "witch hunts" and "mob justice." Not only do they misconstrue the blindfold Lady Justice wears to be a color-blindfold we should all wear; they mistake racism for a personal issue, as well.
Racism is not the same as prejudice, a biased opinion toward someone. As Beverly Daniel Tatum, scholar of race relations and current President of Spelman College, writes, racism is "a system involving cultural messages and institutional policies and practices as well as the beliefs and actions of individuals. In the context of the United States, this system clearly operates to the advantage of Whites and to the disadvantage of people of color." When white men kill Black youth, the people rise up and fill the streets not only because they're angry at George Zimmerman or Michael Dunn. They're angry at the whole racist system.
They're angry because the system keeps on perpetuating racist murders and racial disparities in the legal system. They disapprove when cold-blooded killers like Dunn get off without being convicted of first-degree murder, which pronounces open season for hunters of Black youth. The courts aren't moving us toward justice. The people demand justice now. Even if that means confronting the whole system.