If a person feels they are at risk of becoming endangered, or in a situation where there is an uncertain chance of continued survival, they surely feel threatened. Most reasonably intelligent human beings would flee a threatening environment out of self-preservation and alert authorities to assuage the danger to others and if possible, arrest whatever posed the threat whether it was a raging fire or a vicious animal. Last Friday in Florida, a gun enthusiast claimed he felt threatened by teenagers playing loud music and instead of leaving the terrifying situation, he pulled out a gun and fired eight or nine times into an SUV killing an unarmed African American teenager. The man is expected to mount a “stand your ground” defense according to his defense attorney’s intimations, and they are altering his story to fit the requirement.
The shooter, 45-year-old Michael David Dunn, in Jacksonville for his son’s wedding, decided to stop at a gas station convenience store afterward so his girlfriend could buy a bottle of wine. Dunn parked next to an SUV with 4 teens inside and complained about their music that elicited a verbal response from the teenagers. Dunn pulled out his gun and fired eight or nine shots into the vehicle striking 17-year-old Jordan Davis several times killing him, and then fled the scene after Dunn told his girlfriend he “fired at these kids.” It was not immediately clear if Dunn had a permit to carry a loaded firearm. After arriving at their Jacksonville hotel, they heard on the news that someone died in the shooting prompting them to flee to their Brevard County home. Witnesses to the shooting took down his license plate number which helped police find Dunn’s house where he was then arrested on Saturday.
When he was arrested, Dunn claimed he was going to turn himself in, but it does not explain fleeing the scene, or the county, or why his girlfriend failed to alert law enforcement about the shooting. After his arrest, Dunn told detectives “he felt threatened and that is the reason he took action.” Police in Jacksonville said the teens were unarmed, and Dunn is being held without bail and was transported to a jail in Jacksonville Monday to face murder and attempted murder charges . On Monday he pleaded not guilty in Brevard County court, and his attorney claimed “it will be very clear that Mr. Dunn acted very responsibly and as any responsible firearms owner would have acted under these circumstances.” On Tuesday, his lawyer told a different story and claimed “he acted the way any responsible firearms owner would act in a similar situation because a shotgun was aimed at him,” and that her client was “devastated that anyone was harmed in this instance.” Dunn did not tell police about a shotgun, and it is incredulous that he fired eight or nine shots into an occupied parked car and was devastated anyone was harmed. Police still claim the teens were unarmed, and that they admitted their music was loud, but that the confrontation was a verbal exchange over loud music. Apparently no-one left either vehicle.
A Florida attorney said using a “stand your ground” defense was tricky because “Mr. Dunn is going to have to answer the question, ‘Why did you not call the sheriff’s office? If you are reasonably protecting yourself, why did you leave the scene, get in the car, and the next day, flee the jurisdiction of Duval County?’ There’s no indication that Jordan or anyone else in that car had a gun, there’s no indication that they were any threat to Mr. Dunn.” Maybe the threat to Dunn was that 17-year-old Jordan Davis was African American, or that after just leaving his son’s wedding he was alcohol impaired; police will never know whether alcohol was a factor because they did not locate and arrest him in another county until the following day.
A little over a week before Dunn killed Jordan Davis, a task force created by Florida governor Rick Scott after George Zimmerman shot and kill unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin found the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law is “mostly fine” and recommended only small changes. The task force made their conclusions despite research that shows “Stand Your Ground” laws actually increase homicides. According to a new study by Texas A&M University using police data, Stand Your Ground laws are associated with significant increases in homicides, and that the homicides are classified as murders. Another study from Georgia State University using public health data found passage of Stand Your Ground laws are associated with a significant increase in homicides, and they concluded “these findings raise serious doubts against the argument that Stand Your Ground laws make public safer.” In fact, the Texas A&M study found no evidence Stand Your Ground laws deter crimes like burglary, robbery, and aggravated assault, and instead, the law is used to protect criminals rather than innocent victims.
Researchers at the Urban Institute also found striking racial disparities in how Stand Your Ground laws played out once a defendant claims self-defense. In Stand Your Ground law states, twice as many homicides are justified than in non-stand your ground states, and when white shooters kill black victims, 34% of the homicides are deemed justifiable, but when the shooter is Black and the victim is white, only 3% of deaths are ruled justifiable. The proliferation of stand your ground laws is the gift of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and they may help Michael Dunn as a defense for killing another unarmed African American teenager.
There are several differences between Trayvon Martin’s death and the most recent case of an unarmed African American teen’s death and none as important as the number of witnesses. Dunn fled the scene immediately after firing into the vehicle Jordan Davis was sitting, and the county upon learning he had killed the teen. Dunn’s attorney said “He didn’t think he had harmed anybody and he just thought he had scared them off and he wanted to report it, but he didn’t want to throw himself to the wolves in a strange city without representation,” but if he “acted in self-defense” and saw a shotgun, then he had nothing to fear from law enforcement officials. However, it was three days after his arrest that his attorney claimed Dunn acted responsibly after having a shotgun pointed at him. The story is as suspicious as Dunn’s lawyer’s claim he was “devastated anyone was harmed” after firing eight or nine times into an occupied vehicle.
Any death of an innocent victim at the hand of a gun owner is tragic, but this is the second unarmed African American teenager killed under the guise of self-defense by a white man. Residents were shaken after the shooting death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, and police do not suspect Dunn knew the victim, but it appears he knew the victim was African American. The shooting may not have been racially motivated, and maybe Dunn imbibed a bit much at his son’s wedding, but one thing is perfectly clear; another white man killed another unarmed African American teenager and claimed it was self-defense. Based on his attorney’s allusions, he may claim he was standing his ground after being angered by loud music and threatened by words, and in a “stand your ground” state like Florida, one can only hope he doesn’t get away with it.