On Friday, November 23, a 45-year-old Florida man by the name of Michael Dunn shot and killed a 17-year-old African American teenager Jordan Russell Davis outside of a convenience store in Jacksonville. Dunn is now in custody, after being officially charged with second-degree murder on Wednesday. He claims that he acted in self-defense, and may utilize Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law for protection.
This new case represents a near replica case of the fatal shooting of Florida African-American teen Trayvon Martin. Martin’s shooter George Zimmerman also used “Stand Your Ground” in his defense. And like the Trayvon Martin case, Michael Dunn's defense will likely lead to a media frenzy in the following weeks. So why are Americans and the media obsessed with covering these stories? Is it Americans’ sensitivity to gun control laws, or do these cases reintroduce the issue of hate crimes?
Dunn and his girlfriend were in Jacksonville to attend his son’s wedding. He had parked outside a convenience store when he came into contact with a car blasting loud music, which contained Dunn and his friends. After an exchange of words, Dunn opened fire, killing Davis with two shots. Dunn fired eight shots total. He proceed to drive away, and was arrested the following morning at his home in Satellite Beach, Florida, 160 miles outside of Jacksonville.
Dunn's lawyer, Robin Lemonidis, claims that he saw a shotgun in the rearview mirror of the SUV, and felt threatened by the group of teens.
Lemonidis explained to the press, "He sees that much of the shotgun coming up over the rim of the SUV which is up higher than his Jetta, and... all he sees are heavily tinted windows, which are up and the back windows which are down, and the car has at least four black men in it. And he doesn’t know how old anybody is, he doesn’t know anything, but he knows a shotgun when he sees one.”
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law may be the focal point in the case. The series of laws were adopted in the Florida legislature in 2005. As the name suggests, a person who has a legal firearm can use force in the event that they become threatened outside of their home, but defining what constitutes a legitimate threat under the law remains troubling.
Americans have had a long and turbulent relationship with guns. The media is obsessed with coverage of shootings such as the infamous Columbine shooting of 1999 and the recent Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting this past summer. So why do Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman spark public outcry?
The answer is simple. The big elephant in the room is that these shooters most likely had racial motivations when committing these crimes. While both Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman felt they were exercising self-defense, little evidence indicates that Trayvon Martin or Jordan Russell Davis were at all threatening. In any case that involves a shooting, the public as well as the media have a mission to pinpoint the motivation of the shooter. While some cases have proven that shootings were premeditated, others are not so clear. This recent Florida shooting is yet another reminder that gun violence issues are here to stay.