Florida Man Uses Stand Your Ground Defense in Killing of Black Teen Over Loud Music

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Friends of Jordan Davis comfort each other outside the funeral home where the visitation with Davis' family was taking place at the Hardage-Giddens Funeral Home in Mandarin area of Jacksonville, Fla., late Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Bob Self)

Friends of Jordan Davis comfort each other outside the Hardage-Giddens Funeral Home in Mandarin area of Jacksonville, Fla., late Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Bob Self)

The killing of another unarmed black teen by a white man claiming self defense under Florida’s shoot-first law — aka “Stand Your Ground” — has made national news. The incident occurred at a gas station in late 2012, when 45-year-old Michael Dunne allegedly ended an altercation over loud music coming from a car with a group of teens by firing multiple shots into the vehicle. Seventeen year-old Jordan Davis died in his friend’s arms. (Ta-Nehisi Coates interviewed Davis’ mother for The Atlantic.)

According to police, Dunne then got into his car with his girlfriend and went to eat a pizza. Dunne later claimed that he feared for his life, and only fired when one of the teens brandished a gun and started to exit the vehicle. Police found no weapons, and witnesses said Dunne was the only person to get out of his car. While awaiting trial for the killing, Michael Dunne wrote a series of “shockingly racist” letters about the case.

At The New York Times’ website, filmmaker Orlando Bagwell, a child of the civil rights movement and one of the producers of PBS’s Eyes on the Prize, has a new short film — part of their excellent “Op-Doc” series — about the killing. Here’s his introduction to the piece:

I grew up with parents who were active in the civil rights movement. My mother and father joined demonstrations to integrate public facilities and theaters. They believed nonviolent intervention was a centerpiece of a safe, healthy society.

Now grown and a parent myself, I am still strongly wedded to those ideals. But I see my children confronting a new violent reality in American society. The “Stand Your Ground” laws spreading across the country allow the use of deadly force when people believe they are in imminent danger and have exhausted other means of escape.

A perception of danger might be reasonable, but can any of us fairly determine whether it justifies irrevocable deadly force? As we’ve seen with the killings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis (both young black men shot by white men), these laws also create a climate of fear that can prey upon and inflame racial tensions.

The seven-minute documentary includes footage of Dunne’s initial interview with police. You can view it at The New York Times website.

Joshua Holland was a senior digital producer for BillMoyers.com and now writes for The Nation. He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio. Follow him on Twitter.
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