Dear Dunn Juror No. 4: You’re Wrong. Race Was a Factor

Sorry, Valerie, but avoiding the word “race” doesn’t change the reality of who is feared and who gets justice in this country. It never has.

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Screenshot of juror No. 4 being interviewed by Byron Pitts

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Dear Valerie:

We haven't met, but I watched your interview with ABC News' Byron Pitts on Nightline last night. You're a 30-something white woman who sat on the jury that deadlocked in an attempt to decide whether 47-year-old Michael Dunn was guilty of murdering then-17-year-old Jordan Davis. You said you wanted a conviction on the murder count. You said you and your fellow jurors yelled and screamed at one another, and that you knew within the first hour of 30 hours of deliberations that you wouldn't reach a unanimous decision. You say Dunn got away with murder. You said you're sorry.

Here's what gave me pause. You also said race wasn't a factor in the decision.

And your explanation was that "sitting in that room, it was never presented that way." You noted that you didn't mention the race of the defendant or his victims.

Valerie, I want you to consider that in this characterization of the deliberations, which may have been some of the most intense days of your life—and during which there is no reason to believe you didn't do absolutely everything that was asked of you—you are 100 percent wrong.

Here's how it looks to people who don't have the option of announcing that race is "not a factor" and erasing it from our lives: Sure, we'll take you at your word that you didn't mention race. Yes, we believe that the jury instructions avoided the topic. And we're well aware that the law didn't specifically contemplate it.

But we don't believe for a minute that race didn't have everything to do with the mindset that led Dunn to kill Jordan in the first place, or to the very idea that an unarmed teen listening to "thug music" just might have represented a deadly threat.

Let me make this plain, Valerie: Whether inside or outside a jury deliberation room, you don't have to say "black," "white" or "race" for race to be a factor. 

No one has to say "race" for people of color to be denied mortgage lending and insurance because of redlining.

No one has to say "race" when candidates of color are judged more harshly (pdf) in job interviews.

No one has to say "race" when black defendants receive harsher sentences (pdf) for the same crimes committed by their white counterparts, or when those who murder whites are more likely to get the death penalty than those who murder blacks.

No one has to say "race" when African-American customers are detained in high-end stores after making legitimate purchases.

No one has to say "race" when little black girls say that white dolls are "prettier" and "nicer" compared to dolls that look more like them.

No one has to say "race" when the vast majority of people who are stopped and frisked in New York City are black and Latino.

No one has to say "race" when a president is mocked with banana-eating memes and dismissed as non-American.

No one has to say "race" when we know that choosing to turn on a car stereo or put on a hooded sweatshirt can be a life-and-death decision for some kids and not others.

In these situations, no one—no police officer, judge, security guard or loan officer—has to utter the words "black" and "white" to make race the main predictor of who suffers and who doesn't, of who wins and who loses, of who gets the benefit of the doubt and who doesn’t.

By the way, you don't have to speculate about what the man who you say "got away with murder" thought about all this. He made it clear when he wrote, "Jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs ... [I]f more people would arm themselves and kill these [f--king] idiots when they're threatening you, eventually they may take the hint."

Yes, Valerie. Jordan Davis is dead. You did your best, but Michael Dunn wasn't convicted of murder. And race was a factor.

Sincerely,

Someone who doesn't have the luxury of pretending it wasn't.

The Root’s senior staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. Follow her on Twitter.

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