Michael Dunn was strapped when he pulled into the gas station that night as Lil Reese’s “Beef” blared from the speakers of the red Dodge Durango already parked there. He let his lady know he wasn’t feeling the “thug music.” She left the car to get wine, and Dunn decided he was going to do something about it.
In prison terms, he was handling the yard.
In government terms, he was using his white privilege as his bully pulpit.
When the loud-music-playing teenagers responded by cutting the music down, he was satisfied. But when the kids realized that Michael Dunn wasn’t the police or their parents or an authority figure whose instructions they had to follow, they cranked “Beef” back up to eardrum-rattling levels. Dunn was disrespected. In D.C. terms he was “carried,” in New York City terms he was “sonned,” and any thug from the streets to the jailhouse will tell you that disrespect doesn’t get argued about. It gets dealt with fast.
The lyrics of “Beef” would have been more fitting coming from the shooter’s car: “F–k nigga you don’t want no beef/In the field we play for keeps.”
Michael Dunn’s attorney is absolutely right when he says that this is about a “thug subculture,” as George Zimmerman and Dunn are a part of a vigilante thug mentality that seems to be accepted in Florida. This new breed of thug is as elusive as he is gangster. At the front end he’s angry, armed and looking for a fight. Then he morphs into a cherubic teddy bear like George Zimmerman did in court or he dons goofy science teacher, Mister Rogers sweaters like Michael Dunn.
This new breed of thug bears arms and shoots unarmed black children with impunity, and what’s examined after isn’t the shooter’s thug mentality but whether the child’s hoodie made him menacing or if the child was armed or if the children were criminals because they enjoyed rap music that had too many curse words. All of this under the guise of Florida’s “Stand your ground” law.
In Florida a black boy is a criminal-until-proven-otherwise and can be shot and killed and put on trial later. From the grave the burden of proof is put on the prosecution to prove that the boy was nice, and kind and decent. Say that he was listening to violent music and that’s almost enough to accuse him of a violent act.
What was on trial in Florida wasn’t Dunn as much as the young men who are ostracized for their dress and the stereotypical assumptions that come with young black life. What Michael Dunn stood his ground against wasn’t violence initiated or enacted; it was violence imagined. He heard the music, made assumptions and responded in kind, and we’ve heard this song played out before.
Instead of the common-sense idea that the boys were leaving the gas station where they were being fired upon, the defense turned this into a fleeing of the scene to dispose of a gun that had to be there because Dunn said it was so. And coming from a white man, his word held more weight than that of three of the teens who were under fire. Dunn’s word held more weight than that of the police who said there was no gun.