Civil rights leaders are shaking their heads and demanding justice this week after a jury verdict once again appeared to let the killer of a young Black man off the hook.
Michael Dunn could actually face decades in prison as he was found guilty of three counts of attempted murder and one count of firing into an occupied vehicle. But, because the Jacksonville, Fla. jury did not reach a verdict on a charge of first degree murder of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, prompting a mistrial on that charge, rights leaders across the country are crying foul.
"We are deeply disappointed by the verdict in the case of Michael Dunn. Though he was convicted for attempted murder and shooting into the car, the value of Jordan Davis’ life was not addressed in this verdict," says the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network. "The mistrial further sends a chilling effect to parents in the 23 states that have the Stand Your Ground law or laws similar."
The case stems from the 2012 shooting of four Black teens in an SUV after Dunn, who is White, complained they were playing their music too loud outside a Jacksonville convenience store.
After 30 hours of deliberation over the course of four days, the diverse 12-member jury found Dunn guilty on every count, except the first degree murder. Several questions from the jury during deliberations indicated they were split on a decision. They had asked Judge Russell L. Healey whether they can decide a verdict on some counts without deciding on others, As a result, Dunn, 47, was only convicted of attempted murder of Tevin Thompson, Leland Brunson, and Tommy Storns, the three teens in the car with Jordan, but not of the murder of Jordan.
Prosecutors indicate they will retry Dunn on the murder charge, but civil rights leaders say more sweeping action is also needed, such as the abolition or amendment of the so-called "Stand Your Ground" self-defense laws. Dunn used the infamous "Stand Your Ground" defense that became well known in the controversial acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin of Sanford, Fla.
"This is clearly a continuation of the injustice we saw with Trayvon Martin, and it will only stop if we stand up now. We demand a retrial, and strongly urge Attorney General Eric Holder to bring justice in this case and investigate how ‘Shoot First’ laws shield those who commit hate crimes," says Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange.org. "All too often, young Black men across this country are the targets of violence, a tragic fact fueled by stereotypical media portrayals that create inaccurate perceptions of Black men and boys."
Dunn, who took the stand in his own defense, claimed that he feared for his life because he thought the four teens had a gun when he opened fire upon them, shooting 10 times and hitting the vehicle nine times. No gun was ever found in association with the teens. The case was racially charged given that Dunn is White and also because his fiancé testified that he commented, "I hate that thug music," as they pulled into the parking lot where the shooting occurred.
Testimony in the trial harkened back to the initial comment by Zimmerman to a 911 operator that the unarmed Martin, carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of ice tea, was "up to no good". Zimmerman successfully used the "Stand Your Ground" defense despite the fact that he followed Martin even after the 911 operator cautioned against it.
"This case is a perfect example of how stand your ground laws are illogical and often lead to tragic outcomes, especially to people of color who often end up on the wrong side of the weapon," stated Dr. Niaz Kasravi, NAACP Criminal justice director in a statement. "To help prevent future tragedies such as the death of Jordan Davis, we must repeal stand your grounds laws and bring back common sense self-defense policies in every state across this country."
Over and above the legalities of the case, the battle against the perception that young Black males are fair game for shooting and killing is an uphill one for civil rights leaders. And as long as "Stand Your Ground" laws give shooters an out, this kind of stereotyping will prevail, some contend. Still others see the lesser convictions as a good start for justice.
"Young, Black men are not thugs or suspicious by definition," said Florida NAACP President Adora Obi Nweze, "And this important verdict reconfirms that those who commit crimes based on those misplaced preconceptions will not go unpunished."
All indications are that the Dunn verdict has sparked the escalation of the fight against "Stand Your Ground" laws. Sharpton indicates protests may be planned.
"It requires the Civil Rights community to head into Florida, which is now ground zero for a National fight to change that law," he states. "From Trayvon Martin to Jordan Davis enough is enough."