Down in our most favorite state of Florida, the Stand Your Ground laws are being put to the test once again, once again in an utterly ridiculous case of a white man feeling threatened by the mere existence of black people. In this case, Michael Dunn stopped at a gas station and was pissed off that four black teenagers had their bass up too high. He told them to turn it down, thought he saw a gun and then fired into their SUV four times, at which point he drove away. What he apparently didn’t notice is that he had killed one of the people in the SUV. 17 year old Jordan Davis.
Of course his defense is that he was threatened. He thought he heard someone say “kill that bitch”, he thought he saw a gun (no gun found in the SUV upon later investigation). Oddly enough despite how threatened he felt, he simply got in his car and left without calling the police or really doing anything one would think you should do after “defending” yourself from potential gunfire.
None of us know how this trial is going to turn out. There are some significant differences with the George Zimmerman trial, most obviously that this was a purely verbal altercation, that Dunn neglected to call the cops, and that he fled the scene. However there are notable similarities as well: Dunn is white and his victim is black. The same attorney is defending both men. And both men are relying on the Stand Your Ground law as a defense.
Most of the people reading this blog probably won’t debate that the Stand Your Ground laws have been used in racially charged ways in the past, and that this trial will be another test of just how important a white person’s feelings of safety are in comparison to a black person’s right to exist. What seems to stand out to me in this case is a.how little media attention this appears to have gotten and b.how bold people are getting when it comes to murdering black youth. The provocation in this case was literally some loud music (kids these days!) and a completely nonexistent gun. The man in question, supposedly terrified out of his mind, drove back to a bed and breakfast with his girlfriend and ordered a pizza. The nonchalance of these actions is mind-blowing and more than a little bit disturbing.
I have to wonder a bit about what was actually happening in this situation. It seems clear that Dunn was upset about the very public presence of these young people. Their music was too loud: they were intruding on his space. I wonder if the music was rap or hip hop and if Dunn would have reacted the same way had they been playing pop or rock. His description of their language is clearly coded as black (kill that bitch). They were infringing on his space and his rights with their voices. Would he have felt the same if their dialect had been coded white? Were these kids wearing “black” clothes? Would he have felt threatened if they were dressed in suits or in slacks and button down shirts? Would he have bothered to get out of his car and see if he injured anyone after firing?
I can’t ever know the answers to these questions. No one can. No one will know whether Dunn would have acted the same had the youth in question been white or Asian or anything but black. What we do know is that there are too many incidents of blackness being coded as danger in our society, too many people who act as though another black body is just another day, and too few people caring.
The priority of fear over the right to live makes no sense in a civilized society in which we have an entire occupation dedicated to keeping us safe (particularly when you’re white and you know that the police are on your side). We know that our fear is not always rational, that quick reactions based on emotions are often harmful, that our perceptions of situations are often distorted. We know that citizens have the right to safety. So why have we said that fear is more important?
Oh right, because blackness is inherently scary and because the most important thing is to make sure white people are safe and secure.
A rather minor point but, Mr. Zimmerman is in fact mixed and not white as typically perceived. I realize that it isn’t your main point of this post but I think it leads to an interesting question; which is how the narrative of white – black violence is perpetuated through the media. I also wonder how detrimental this is for our society. Any ideas?