Is it reasonable to use excessive deadly force against an empty threat? That is the question the jury should have answered in the Michael Dunn murder trial. Instead, as provided by one juror, the question was whether Michael Dunn believed his life or the life of his fiancé was in imminent danger when he killed Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida. If his belief was motivated by prejudices, white entitlement, stereotypes, etc., then it should be considered unreasonable and outside self-defense protection. But instead, the precedent remains that if you’re armed with a gun, you have the right to escalate a situation and use deadly force when challenged.
Michael Dunn was charged with killing Jordan Davis, a black teenager, with the intent or “premeditated design” to cause his death. Since the jury could not decide unanimously on the murder charge, let’s presume his version of the facts is true. He testified that on the night in question, he stopped at a gas station for his fiancé to purchase chips and wine. While waiting for her, a red SUV pulled up beside him with a loud base causing his rearview mirror to shake and body panels to rattle. He asked the passengers of the SUV to turn the music down, and someone subsequently turned it off. After saying “thank you” he rolled his window up and later heard someone say “F** him, F** that.” The loud music resumed and Dunn heard “I should kill that Motha F**ker.” At this point, Dunn admits he was not in fear of his life. He therefore escalates the situation by rolling his window down and asking them if they were talking about him. At some point he alleged to have seen a 12 or 20 gauge shotgun and a voice from the SUV’s back seat saying “this s** is going down now.”
Michael Dunn retrieved his gun in the car and fired several shots into the SUV even as the vehicle was driving away. The moment the passengers retreated, Dunn’s mental state shifted from self-defense to intent to kill. Yet once again Florida, shortly after the George Zimmerman trial, reminded us that the right to stand your ground entitles gun holders to the right to confront any situation armed to kill. If Michael Dunn did not have a gun in his car, would he have rolled down his window to strangers threatening his life? Perhaps he would have called the police, prayed, or patiently waited on his fiancé. In hindsight, he has probably considered several alternatives he would have preferred to take that night instead of firing multiple shots and killing a teenager. The fact that alternatives exist should show his death was not imminent, and firing multiple shots was unreasonable.
But we have been down that analysis after George Zimmerman was found not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin. We know that amending stand your ground laws and right to carry laws are solutions to some of the problems arising from the Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman cases. How, however, does a parent explain to a child that their presence incites fear? How do you teach a child to protect themselves against unjustified fear like George Zimmerman? Even the hope and progress from the election and re-election of President Obama was countered with hate and disrespect towards him and his leadership. How do you encourage a child to pursue happiness, knowing the unhappiness and paranoia that comes from the hatred and fear that awaits. What do you tell a child longing for love and acceptance, when asked if America loves him?