The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

No justice for Jordan Davis, more worry for parents of black children

Lucia McBath and Ronald Davis, the parents of Jordan Davis, speak to the media after the verdict was read in the trial of Michael Dunn. (The Florida Times-Union, pool/Associated Press)
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Lucia McBath said she would pray for Michael Dunn and continue to wait for justice. She stood at the microphone, reacting to the news that a jury had deadlocked on the charge of first degree murder of her son, Jordan Davis, who would have celebrated his 19th birthday on Sunday. She was distraught and destroyed, but more composed than I could ever be.

When it was his turn, Jordan’s father, Ronald Davis, said it wasn’t in his nature to be stoic, but that his calmness through anger and grief honored the memory of his son. Then he reminded everyone that the son who was killed when Dunn shot into a car full of teenagers returning from the mall was a good kid. That he had to say out loud that Jordan Davis’s life mattered to a country that seems as undecided of that fact as the jury was also a crime.

Dunn’s defense was an imaginary gun that only he saw, a self-serving scenario with dialogue out of a bad movie, and implausible explanations for why he unloaded a weapon and ran away. The prosecution had witnesses to the crime, Dunn’s fiancee, who contradicted major parts of his version, and forensic evidence of a child hit with gunshots while sitting in a car. Reasonable doubt?

What is a black life worth? For those who point out that Dunn will probably spend time in prison for three counts of attempted murder, I ask: If Jordan Davis were your son, would that be enough?

My husband and I have been thinking of little else since the verdict was announced, and wondering what parents can do, besides avoid Florida. When our son’s car was stopped in our predominantly white neighborhood and a police officer accused him of misdeeds, the confrontation ended with just a ticket. He was angry, but we were grateful that that was the only consequence.

Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman, the Stanford University graduate condemned as a “thug,” has speculated that his dreadlocks and demeanor may have played a part in the outsized reaction to his pumped-up, post-playoff interview with a blonde Erin Andrews, who had to deny reports that she was intimidated and scared out of her wits.

The “t-word,” a modern substitute for the “n-word” in the view of Sherman and many others, was used by Dunn to describe blacks – and by extension Davis and his friends — in letters written while Dunn was the one locked up in jail, charged with killing someone and discharging a weapon.

Yet Dunn, his lawyers and his defenders will never believe he did anything wrong, or realize how well the “thug” label suits a doughy, middle-aged white man, filled with anger, looking for respect and packing.

You don’t have to go as far as Florida with its stand-your-ground mindset to know that perceived fear can translate into tragedy. In my current hometown of Charlotte, N.C., Jonathan Ferrell, another young black man, another “good kid” working two jobs and planning a wedding, was shot and killed by a police officer who is now facing a trial for voluntary manslaughter.

Whether Ferrell, looking for help after a car accident, presented a reasonable threat to the officer who fired will be decided in a court room. But the 24-year-old will never get to tell his side. When I wrote about the story, illustrated with pictures of the former college football player, I was surprised at the comments that said they would be afraid of the nice-looking young man wearing a football jersey, shirt and tie.

It starts young. Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are supporting national guidelines to correct school disciplinary practices that disproportionately punish African American students for the same minor classroom offenses that earn others a second and third chance.

In his pictures, Jordan Davis is a handsome young man, sometimes posing in front of an American flag, sometimes trying to look cool. He was every teen and now he is gone. So it’s come to that – weighing the chances of an American child getting stopped, profiled or shot, based on skin color.

It’s not paranoia in a country where the way in which a young man who favors wearing hoodies is sized up depends on whether he is Trayvon Martin or Mark Zuckerberg. It’s not irrational when African Americans are so often judged, not as the people we and our families know ourselves to be, but as strangers with preconceptions see us.

It’s just sad.

Also on She The People: Black Twitter responds to the Dunn verdict with #DangerousBlackKids