Over Thanksgiving weekend in Jacksonville, Florida, Jordan Russell Davis, a seventeen year old black male, was shot by Michael David Dunn, a white man. This time the young person’s death was triggered because he and his friends were, allegedly, playing music too loud in a car at a gas station and did not respond to Dunn’s request to turn it down. Since the incident, with no supporting evidence from witnesses or the crime scene police investigation, the defendant’s counsel has stated that Jordan had a shotgun, and words were exchanged during which the defendant’s female companion was threatened. This man says that he shot and killed the popular high school student in self-defense.
Without knowing all the details and circumstances, this sounds an awful lot like the Trayvon Martin case in Sanford, Florida all over again — with shades of Emmett Till thrown in. Like the Trayvon Martin case, the accused perpetrator claims the young man was armed, this time with a shotgun, even though no weapon or trace evidence has been found. The man said that he and his passenger’s lives had been in danger. Although Dunn has been arrested and is in jail, his lawyers have already invoked the infamous Stand Your Ground law as legal justification.
Like Emmett Till, the attack seems to be a white man’s response to a perceived threat or interest by a young black male to a white woman. Like Emmett Till’s mother, Jordan’s mother was in Chicago at the time of the shooting. She is now pleading not only on her son’s behalf but on the behalf of other young men just like him. Meanwhile, the defense team has quickly put together and disseminated a familiar story. Oddly, this latest case of a black youngster dying at the hands of a white man so far has not attracted the nationwide outrage sparked by the Trayvon Martin case. And oddly too, this seems to be a marginal story in the view of news outlets that have not given this very similar case unfolding in the Deep South very much attention.
Jordan Davis’ parents will bury their son. They publicly have committed to advocating for change to gun laws in Florida. It is difficult to imagine if the ethnicities of the parties were reversed that justifiable homicide could be plausibly invoked. For many, it still rings true that in this nation young men of color are considered dangerous unless they are obedient, humble, or grinning. In the past, such behavior usually accompanied foot shuffling and avoiding eye contact. Today, the very idea of acting this way leaves a sour taste in the mouths of many people, especially teenagers. These are times when it appears that on the street there are gun toting people who, when they feel vulnerable or threatened by black youth, are likely to act out. In these instances, such people have pulled out weapons for frivolous reasons and started firing. Apparently the Wild, Wild West has erupted once more.
This madness has got to stop! In twenty-five states, the Castle Doctrine that is the basis for the Stand Your Ground law allows anyone who perceives a physical threat to shoot that threat away. If that law remains in place and extends to other parts of this nation we are in for some rough times.
So, what do we tell our children? The following suggestions are offered so that young people can retain as much wisdom as pride, and develop as much awareness and perception as bravery:
- Know with whom you are dealing. Young people of color are not perceived in the same way as young white people;
- Know where you are. There are still places in this country where directly responding, approaching, or staring at some people remains a risky business;
- Never assume that you are perceived as an equal. Your equality is dismissed by many, especially when you are away from home;
- Know when you are overmatched and outgunned. Guns, alcohol, drugs, and anger are a deadly mix easily ignited on either side when trash-talking gets out of hand;.
- Understand you do not have to “take low,” but you do have to be wise enough to pick the right time to stand up for the right thing;
- Be aware that there are armed people out here who dislike you to the point that even your appearance is enough to trigger hostility and they will use the least provocation to harm you.