Two different African American teenagers ended their day with the desire to have something satisfying.
Trayvon Martin, 17, stopped by a convenience store and with the spare change in his pocket, bought himself a pack of Skittles and an iced tea. Nine months later, Tommie Stornes, 19, jumped out his Dodge Durango for a box of Newports. He heard the rhythm of a Chief Keef song blaring from his car as he walked into the gas station.
Jordan Davis, Tevin Thompson, and Leland Brunson were waiting in Tommie’s car when they heard a man’s voice yelling to turn the volume down. Tevin followed the instructions of man, named Michael David Dunn, but as many teenagers would do, Jordan turned the dial back up. Moments later, Tommie flung open the driver’s seat door to a string of curses and taunts between Davis and Dunn. “You’re not going to yell at me like that!” Dunn reportedly yelled. The click from Tommie’s seatbelt was drowned out by the piercing sound of three cracks, followed by seven more gunshots as the Durango sped away. Jordan, 17, died minutes later from three bullets wounds to his chest and groin.
If you haven't heard about Jordan's story, it is not your fault. After my own search, I discovered that only CNN and MSNBC have mentioned his name on air. An ironic move, since they've made it a priority to dissect and present every angle surrounding Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. Just like Martin, Jordan was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and judged by someone whose action proves discrimination is still a grave issue in this country. Unfortunately, the similarities between the cases are not enough for the media to discuss Davis. The reason lies in the way each investigation unfolded.
It was two weeks after Martin's death that his parents first appeared on local broadcasts. Organized by their lawyer, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton partook in a press conference to demand George Zimmerman’s immediate arrest. Since he claimed self-defense, Stanford police initially did not make an arrest due to lack of evidence to suggest a warrant to do so. As more information continued to surface, the story began streaming right into local homes broadcast after broadcast.
Then people started protesting. Floridian cities became the backdrop of a movement led by citizens who passionately believed that Stanford police were not only betraying Martin's innocence, but also theirs. The issue of race, discrimination, and justice strengthened the protests and attracted national attention. Public pressure led to Zimmerman’s arrests. Yet, the uncertainty of events between Martin and Zimmerman’s altercation lingered, causing people to rely on breaking updates from reporters. With ratings as their lifeline, broadcast stations kept feeding information to their demanding audience.
Jordan Davis' case was essentially closed before the investigations even began. Dozens of people witnessed each event leading to his death. At the gas station, Dunn's then-girlfriend Rhonda Rouer was inside searching for some chips and wine when she saw Dunn step out of his car, angle himself towards Davis, and proceed to shoot. Before she left his car, she recalls Dunn drunkenly muttering, "I hate that thug music." What she never heard from Dunn, during his testimonial to her later that night, was that he saw a gun aimed towards him from Jordan’s window. A claim his lawyer, Robin Lemonidis told police gave him the right to stand his ground.
Police never found a gun stashed inside the Durango. Lemonidis claims he felt threatened by the “gang members” who had gotten out of the car to confront him. Witnesses and surveillance cameras never saw Jordan, Leland, and Tevin, all teenage boys from middle-class families with no gang affiliation, emerge from the car.
Yet, Davis’ father alleges that when Jacksonville police asked Dunn the motive for his self-defense, he said, “They defied my orders. What was I supposed to do if they wouldn’t listen?” Following his admission, police arrested him for first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder without bond.
If we apply Robert Entman’s “cascading activation” theory, it unfortunately makes sense that national broadcasters did not pick up Jordan’s story. The Shapiro Professor at the George Washington University defines cascading activation as the way in which information travels from one hierarchical structure (see below) to another. He argues that a news frame, or message, is “activated” by administrators in the government (typically the White House or Congress). Then leaders and experts spread the intended message. News organizations repeat the spokesperson’s rhetoric and keeps it circulating as long as the news angle (race, civil rights, etc.) is congruent with the political culture at the time.
But it can also be reversed. With social media in the palm of our hands, the people can influence the news. This is exactly what happened in Martin's situation. The protesters caught the national media's attention, which influenced activists like Reverend Al Sharpton to become a national spokesperson for them. (He actually devoted half of his show PoliticsNation on Martin during the time.) Reporters kept asking congressmen their opinions on the case. Soon enough, President Obama uttered the statement heard on repeat for weeks, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin.” Since all structures in the cascading model were reached, the story became a media success and influenced the public opinion.
From a journalistic standpoint, Jordan's story had "no legs." It did not have the potential to become a national news story because the facts were already present. Citizens did not need to rely on “The Big Three” for breaking investigation news. Dunn gave himself away too easily for reporters to question his motives. There were surveillance cameras that validated his actions. There were no protests held to put Dunn in jail because police took the steps the public expected.
While some newspapers and websites are circulating Jordan Davis’ untimely death, it is discussed under Trayvon Martin’s shadow. Hopefully a difference in the two stories will emerge if the jury turns down Dunn’s Stand-Your-Ground defense in his trial set for September. While it is undetermined if the trial will garner coverage, the verdict could have the power to finally bring justice to these young men.