There are days, living in this state, when the old wounds and worries of past racism seem to never heal, days when it seems as if bigotry is as indestructible, as resilient, as Japanese knotweed. There are days when you can’t turn around without seeing some member of the new generation of the fearful, stupid and hateful pour their own measure of poison into that ancient well. There are days when the system seems too tilted in the old, well-worn grooves of privilege and bias to ever stand balanced again.
I do not want this to be one of those days.
Read on . . .
The facts of the Jordan Davis case are simple enough: On November 23rd, 2012, 47-year-old Michael Dunn pulled into the Gate gas station at the corner of Baymeadows and Southside. I know this station – I’ve worked just down the road from it for nigh-on 20 years, and I’ve been to it several times. It’s in one of the nicer areas of town, not far from our gargantuan new commercial center.
Dunn parked next to an SUV with four teens – who had, in fact, just left that gargantuan commercial center. Dunn’s fiancé, Rhonda Rouer, went inside the convenience store to buy wine, while Dunn waited in the car.
At some point, Dunn and the teens got into an argument over the teens’ music. Dunn pulled a 9mm from the glove compartment and fired a number rounds into the SUV. The teens sped away into an adjacent parking lot, while Dunn got out of his car and fired additional shots at the fleeing vehicle. Jordan Davis,17, was one of the teens in the back seat of the SUV. He was struck three times, and died at the scene.
Dunn then quickly gathered his girlfriend and left, heading to a nearby hotel. The next morning, the couple went home to Satellite Beach. Police were able to identify Dunn from his license plate, and he surrendered himself after local police contacted him at home.
That’s about as clear a scenario of hot-headed murder as you could come across. And yet, we’ve all been waiting two days now for a verdict.
Dunn claims Davis threatened him - threats he supposedly heard after the music had been turned back up, and while his own window was rolled up. Dunn also claimed Davis brandished a shotgun and started to get out of the SUV – claims neither the physical evidence or the other witnesses support. He claimed to have been in fear of “gang reprisal” – but he never called police, and left his gun in the car at the hotel as he walked his dog and ordered pizza. He didn’t mention the supposed shotgun to anyone – including his fiancé – until he talked to police in Satellite Beach.
This is the kind of stuff you pay a defense attorney to throw out with a straight face – legal chaff, verbal squid-ink, meant to provide just enough confusion to reach reasonable doubt. In a case like this one, it should be laughable.
It isn’t. Because it’s been two days, and we’re still waiting for a verdict, and I honestly have no real certainty as to what it will be.
I’ve scanned the local news message boards the last few days, reading the comments. They are, in all too many cases, what I expected to see – bigots taking Dunn’s ridiculous claims not only as reasonable but as the Official Version, the everyday racism that crawls beneath the skin of normal society in a place like Jacksonville, bursting forth in more stringent and more noxious expressions.
Michael Dunn has a lot of supporters here.
Not long ago, white men – any white men – felt fully empowered to “police” black people, to enquire what they were doing, where they were going, why they were there. There was the bedrock concept that the world belonged to the White Man, and black people just lived in it – or didn’t – as the White Man allowed.
We are supposed to be past those days. What I’ve seen around this case reminds me – because, as a white man myself, I have the luxury of forgetting – that we have not. There are still men who feel empowered to police the “other” – and many more who support them for doing it. A white man can still kill a black man on the flimsiest of reasons, and walk free because of how that black man - any black man, all black men - are viewed by the system and the society it serves.
The poison is still in our blood, even though for all too many of us, it takes a case like this for us to notice the symptoms again.
So I’m waiting for the verdict, with no idea how it will turn out. I’m waiting to either be given hope for the future, or just another crashing disappointment that reminds me that the system is still wrong, still tilted, and that Justice is still not yet blind.
Which will be answer be?