(The Root) — Just weeks after President Obama's triumphant re-election, an all-too-familiar story emerges to remind us that, despite the ascendance of one black man to the White House, we do not live in a postracial, colorblind society.
On Nov. 23, Jordan Russell Davis, a black, 17-year-old high school student in Florida, was shot and killed by Michael Dunn, a 45-year-old white male who claims he felt threatened. Jordan was unarmed.
According to police reports, Jordan and three other black teens had been shopping Black Friday sales when they stopped for food. Jordan was in the backseat of an SUV when Dunn pulled up next to their car and demanded that they turn down their music. An argument ensued, and Dunn pulled a gun and fired eight or nine shots, fatally striking Jordan twice. No one else was injured.
Dunn, a gun collector, fled the scene, initially going to a hotel before returning to his home in Brevard County, where he was arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder. He is currently behind bars and has been denied bond.
Dunn told police that he thought he saw a shotgun in the car before he killed Jordan — but police have confirmed that no weapons were recovered in the teenagers' vehicle. Robin Lemonidis, Dunn's attorney, told CNN that her client will plead self-defense and that they may invoke Florida's controversial "Stand your ground" law. She added that her client's case is completely different from the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. But as the facts unfold, it appears that Lemonidis is wildly mistaken.
Trayvon, also 17, was shot to death in February by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood-watch captain. The case drew worldwide attention after Zimmerman killed the unarmed teenager, who was walking home after buying a bag of Skittles and Arizona iced tea from a local 7-Eleven. Zimmerman followed Trayvon in his car before stopping and getting out, precipitating a confrontation that led to the teenager's shooting death. But Zimmerman, who says his life was in danger before he shot the teen, invoked a "Stand your ground" defense during his initial police questioning and was immediately released. Criminal charges were later filed, but only after widespread media coverage and activist outcry.
The "Stand your ground" law itself states:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.
Both Jordan and Trayvon were in places they had the right to be, but the statute seemingly applies only to the survivor — not the victim — making it a flawed tool for a criminal-justice system that is supposed to be fair.
These tragedies also exacerbate America's sordid history of racial injustice and racial violence, particularly as it has affected young black men. Black males' lives have been subjected to a three-fifths compromise, the atrocities of Jim Crow, police brutality, racial profiling and mass incarceration. For too many African Americans, the stain of the nation's dark racial past makes it nearly impossible to see these deaths as anything but the violence of subjugation and absolute disregard for the lives of young black men.
In a culture that caricatures black youths as perpetrators and criminals, men such as Dunn and Zimmerman seem empowered, entitled and emboldened to use deadly force against any black male — as if brown skin alone were a badge of dishonor. The truth? These were not thugs, gang members or drug dealers. They were sons, grandsons, nephews, brothers and friends.
In the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing, Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott convened a "Stand your ground" task force consisting of citizens, activists and government officials. The commission concluded — despite the seemingly unbridled violence that the law encourages — that only minor changes should be made in the statute. Critics complained that Scott appointed a largely Republican-dominated commission, most of whom were supportive of "Stand your ground" to begin with.
Benjamin Crump, the Tallahassee attorney who represents Trayvon's parents, responded to the task force findings with grave disappointment. "We all believe it's asinine that you can be the aggressor and then shoot an unarmed kid and claim you were standing your ground," Crump told the Huffington Post. "Until we fix this law, there are going to be a lot of asinine claims of 'Stand your ground' when there's another Trayvon Martin."
Crump's prophetic statement came just over a week before the shooting death of Jordan Davis.
Lucia McBath, Jordan's mother, told First Coast News that Dunn will have to answer to God for the killing of her only son. "There's nothing logical you can say that would make me believe that you were threatened."
But race isn't the only factor. Though the spotlight remains on Florida, similar "Stand your ground" laws have been passed in states across the country and are promoted by the National Rifle Association, the nation's largest gun lobby. Critics highlight the fact that the NRA's push for lax gun control measures is increasingly irresponsible. That lesson is clearly on display in the killing of Jordan Davis.
"[Dunn] didn't think he had harmed anybody, and he just thought he had scared them off," Lemonidis told reporters on Wednesday.
How can any reasonable adult possibly believe that no harm had been done after firing eight shots into a vehicle full of teenagers? The attorney's statement conveys why stricter controls are needed to keep guns out of the hands of sociopaths, psychopaths and self-appointed vigilantes.
As innocent and unarmed black youths continue to meet violent ends at the hands of white assailants, perhaps the closest Americans can come to a colorblind resolution is to agree on one simple fact: Guns certainly do kill.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.