At least, unlike in the Zimmerman case, the shooter in the case of State of Florida v. Michael Dunn didn’t get acquitted. On all but one count of the indictment, the trial jury found him guilty. As the New York times reported, “guilty of three counts of second-degree attempted murder for getting out of his car and firing several times at the Dodge Durango sport utility vehicle in which Jordan Davis, 17, was killed. Three other teenagers, the subjects of the attempted murder charges, were in the car but were not struck. Mr. Dunn continued to fire at the vehicle even as it pulled away. On the attempted murder convictions, he could be sentenced to 60 years in prison.”
Naturally, Dunn claimed self-defense. It’s what you do in Florida after you’ve killed somebody. In Florida all you have to do is show that you were in fear of your life — a judgment entirely subjective, unprovable — and bang ! No problemo, you are free to kill again.
Admittedly I have overstated. Your belief that you are afraid for your life must be reasonable in the circumstances. That’s not much to go on, but once there’s a law giving armed people the right to fight back, not under a duty to retreat — which was for hundreds of years the good sense of our common law — it’s some comfort to know that a shooter has to pass at least the “reasonable belief” test.
Dunn failed even this.
He pulls up next to the car with the teens in it, starts an argument with them — perfect strangers to him; who would do that ? — about the loudness of their music; then, when one of the teens objects to being “told what to do,” he takes a loaded gun out of his car’s glove compartment and shoots. He says he saw a weapon. Oh really ? At night, through his driver’s side window and the other car window ? No weapon was found by the police. Not very surprising.
The trial was “racially charged.” How could it NOT be ? Dunn is white, the kids in the car Black. Many a middle aged white man, alone, finding a car full of black teens next to him, is afraid; but his usual response is to say nothing — as people on a late night subway train often do when Black teens get aboard. But Dunn had a loaded gun in his car. He was not afraid. He was ready for battle, and when he was talked back to, battle he gave.
That was why he had a loaded gun in his car. “Fuck with me and it’ll be the last fuck you’ll ever do.’ that — or something like it — was surely his mindset. He then ordered a pizza , went back to his home and poured a drink ? Of course he did.
That’s pretty harsh of me to write, but can you think of anything less harsh to say about a man who closes an argument that he had no need to start by shooting the person who argues back at him ?
Comparisons to the Zimmerman case have been put and will continue to be put. The two cases do not compare, except for the mindset. In Zimmerman, the person he targeted, Trayvon Martin, actually fought back, physically, and seems to have beaten Zimmerman up — at which point Zimmerman probably WAS in reasonable fear of his life. That he had no business initiating the chain of events that led to his being beaten up, the jury was correct to find, did not deny to him a self-defense argument that would have applied even in a “duty to retreat” jurisdiction. In a “duty to retreat” jurisdiction, a person may, if no retreat is possible — as it wasn’t for Zimmerman, on the ground being beaten — use reasonable force to defend himself. My own position in Zimmerman is that, having initiated the chain of events that led to the shooting, he cannot escape culpability by claiming self-defense when the chain of events turned against him. But the Florida jury’s verdict was not outrageous.
This Dunn case is nothing like Zimmerman. Dunn initiated the chain of events and at all points was the aggressor; he was never in any danger at all — certainly not in any danger when he shot ten times at the car driving away. He was angry, so angry that he “lost it,” as one infamous Massachusetts murderer said as to why he shot a woman at a Route 24 rest stop at 2 AM some years ago.
The Florida jury correctly found Dunn guilty on all counts except first degree murder.
The jury seems to have had doubts what occurred while the Dunn car and that of the teens was parked. that a shot was then fired was proved, but first degree murder requires a plan, formed prior to the event, to kill someone. Clearly in the Dunn case there was no such. what i do not understand is why he wasn’t found guilty of manslaughter. if you shoot a gun at someone, and that person dies, the criminal nature of the act of shooting requires , in Massachusetts, at least a manslaughter verdict.
All that being said, I do see progress in the Dunn case verdict. a Florida jury has found that no self-defense argument will lie, even under a right-to-fire law, unless the shooter’s belief that he is in danger is warranted; and that it is not and will not, henceforth, be reasonable for a white man to be in fear merely because he finds himself parking next to a car with black teenagers in it. Or, that he can be in fear, but he must keep that fear to himself and not act it out.
Can there be any doubt that many Caucasian people feel such a fear in the presence of black teenagers ? The President himself, in a speech not too long ago, recalled times in his life when he could hear car doors locking when he walked up the street. this entirely racial fear is a huge reason why the Michael Dunns of America buy guns, load them, keep loaded guns on or near their person. This racial fear is why gun and ammo manufacturers make huge profits; it’s why there are a reported 310,000,000 guns in private hands (as opposed to 4,000,000 in the military). This racial fear is why the gun and ammo makers pay the NRA to bully legislators in every state they target.
Racial fear stoking the gun industry sits at the core of today’s right wing. Not every right wing person is a racist, but racial fear is the message, the anti-social, armed vigilante mindset that gives right wing venom its venomous edge. It’s what those who talk loudest about “the 2nd amendment” really mean. Thus I find it progress in a Florida jury putting at least some limit to how much armed racial venom they will tolerate.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere