On Saturday evening the Michael Dunn verdict came in, and I was thrown. Not because he wouldn't be serving time, as the jury found him guilty for shooting at the three boys he didn't kill, but because I, like many people around the nation, felt like another grown white man had gotten away with killing an unarmed black boy.
It felt weak on the part of jury not to see him for what he was: a stone-cold killer.
A few days before the verdict, Dunn's attorney spoke for the first time about the case. I read the transcript and was struck that the attorney said that this wasn't about race but about a "thug subculture." That got me thinking about who is in this subculture, and if race plays no part in the case and it was Dunn who had the gun and Dunn who started the confrontation and Dunn who did all the shooting, then doesn't that make him the thug?
(This wasn't my first "who’s-a-thug" piece; I came to Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman's defense when folks branded him a thug after his emotional postgame interview.)
I spent fewer than a couple of hours penning the Dunn piece, as the good stories tend to write themselves. And I thought that article was good, if only because it was a different perspective and one that the jury hadn't been able to see because they were blinded by Dunn’s sweaters and his solemn act of bewilderment.
On Sunday at 7:09 p.m after my story posted, I received an email to my personal inbox with the subject line: “I HATE NIGGERS!” It didn’t bother me much, as many writers at The Root are familiar with the n-word and a few other choice phrases in the comments in response to our work.
It was the next line, though, that turned my stomach in knots:
"Michael Dunn should have killed all the niggers in that car."
That felt below the belt, even for the run-of-the-mill racists who troll the site prodding readers with their taunts in the comments section. It felt particularly cold and callous. It was an unsuspecting blow, driven by the divider of race. I don't care to know the psyche of those who can conceive of such a heinous killing as unfinished because three children survived. I am unsure of how many hug-less nights it takes for one to become so vicious.
But know that the hatred was minimally effective, because it landed in a positive place. I have believed in progress. I actually began to assume that Obama's presidency meant change, and while I won't let the emailer's words crack that foundation, they definitely broke glass. A window was shattered from the racist stone-throwing. But I don't blame the writer alone, as he is the extreme and doesn't speak for his race any more than I can speak for mine. But it is good to know where he stands.
It's people like him who agreed with the Dunn jury, which was supposed to be composed of 12 rational people, yet refused to convict a killer who took a black boy's life mainly because they couldn't see the victim as a child. It's people like him who see boys like Jordan Davis as a threat just by nature of his being. It's people like him who wanted Michael Dunn to keep firing at that car full of innocent children, because my emailer wants them all dead.
And he laces his message with the usual racial diatribes: Blacks are lazy, on welfare and live in the projects. And he pushes some new stereotypes: Blacks are always in the way, most notably at bathroom entrances and driving in the middle of the street when we're not pulling over to talk with friends.
But the idea that someone is heartless enough to take time out of their day to craft an email filled with such hate still stuns.
Just know this (and I feel comfortable speaking for all of the writers at The Root): We don't wish any of our readers harm, we don't wish any ill will. In fact we secretly laugh at some of the letters, because what else can you do with such hatred? And even though we are always a little floored that racist groups tend to read a black website, we are still impressed by their commitment to their cause, even if we don't care for the message.
But there are levels to this, and wishing the deaths of teenagers who watched their best friend die on a day that didn't start that way is low, even for spewers of hate.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.