The news: People interested in justice and those who don't like it when black people are murdered with near-impunity by white men can breathe a big sigh of relief today.
Michael Dunn, the 47-year-old Florida man who shot and killed unarmed black 17-year-old Jordan Davis at a Jasckonville gas station in 2012 after confronting him over playing rap music, was found guilty of first-degree murder on Wednesday. The New York Times reports that the jury took five hours to reach a guilty verdict, and Dunn will soon face sentencing and prison time. The verdict accompanies Dunn's previous conviction on three counts of attempted murder, one for each of the three of Davis' friends who were present in the vehicle when he fired 10 rounds into it.
Dunn had insisted that after politely asking Davis and his friends to turn down their music, he was menaced with a shotgun and forced to fire his pistol in self-defense. Witnesses, however, said that no weapon was present in the car in question. Prosecutor Erin Wolfson told the jury that "there was no shotgun in that Durango that night. There was no stick. There was no branch. There was no hollow pipe. There was no weapon."
Prosecutor John Guy added that "the defendant didn't shoot Jordan Davis to save his life. He murdered him to preserve his pride." His fiancee testified that Dunn never once mentioned seeing a weapon in the other car, while witnesses verified that he had continued shooting on one knee as the car fled the scene.
During proceedings, Dunn referred to hip-hop playing on Davis' stereo as "rap crap" or "thug music," leading many observers to conclude that he held deeply unsettling opinions on black culture. The Los Angeles Times reports that Dunn "made no secret" of his opinion of Davis and his companions:
"Like, I'm the ---victim here," Dunn said. "I was the one who was victimized."
"I mean, I don't know how else to put it," Dunn continued. "They attacked me. I'm the victim. I'm the victor, but I was the victim too."
"When the police said that these guys didn't have a record, I was like, you know, I wonder if they're just flying under the radar," he told his fiancee by telephone. "Because they were bad."
In reality, Dunn was either disastrously irresponsible with his firearm or lied about attempting to kill four black kids over rap music. He deserves to be put somewhere where he can't hurt anyone else, and it looks like he will be.
The context: Dunn's case had many similarities to that of George Zimmerman, the community watchman who confronted and shot unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin just over 100 miles away in Sanford, Florida. Both claimed self-defense, and both endured national attention for the shootings and legal battles that ensued. Neither Zimmerman nor Dunn sought the pre-trial immunity that can be granted under the state's incredibly controversial Stand Your Ground statutes, which allow defendants to avoid prosecution by demonstrating to a judge that the shooting was justified.
Both Zimmerman and Dunn called attention to flaws in Florida's legal system. The Tampa Bay Times reports that 70% of persons invoking the states's Stand Your Ground laws ultimately succeeded in avoiding a trial, while "73% of those who killed a black person faced no penalty compared to 59% of those who killed a white."
While the data is complicated and the sample size was tiny, Urban Institute fellow John Roman found that whites were far more likely to be let off the hook for killing blacks in Stand Your Ground states than in others. PBS illustrated the disparity in the stark chart below.
There's ample evidence that states with Stand Your Ground laws also tend to have more white vigilantism, justifiable or not. As the Christian Science Monitor reports:
In states with stand-your-ground laws, the shooting of a black person by a white person is found justifiable 17 percent of the time, while the shooting of a white person by a black person is deemed justifiable just over 1 percent of the time, according to the study. In states without stand-your-ground laws, white-on-black shootings are found justified just over 9 percent of the time.
"Encrypted attitudes" about race have a significant effect on the justice system, and stand-your-ground laws give them greater latitude, [added law professor Jody Armour]. "There's a lot of unconscious biases when it comes to race ... And if you know that, why would you want to create laws that are going to increase the opportunities for unconscious biases to burden and harm a minority, like blacks?"
From 2000 to 2010, justifiable homicides doubled to 326 annually largely thanks to Stand Your Ground laws while the overall homicide rates in states imposing them remained flat. Those states that did have the laws experienced 50% rises in the number of justifiable killings, explaining most of the increase.
Putting Dunn behind bars certainly won't resolve these systemic inequities or make sure the next Florida man to kill an unarmed black kid under questionable circumstances will end up facing justice. But it is a small victory in a state where killing black people often comes with less scrutiny than it would if the victim was white.