PROGRESS, ACTUALLY : THE MICHAEL DUNN TRIAL

Image

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.

Sentencing now awaits. Dunn faces a substantial prison term : Image

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON MAYOR CAMPAIGN : RACISM INTERRUPTS

IMPORTANT UPDATE : Even as I wrote this story, the St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast issue was being settled. District Councillor Bill Linehan and Linda Dorcena-Forry issued a joint statement, that Senator Dorcena-Forry would, in fact, be hosting next year’ St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast. The dispute lasted all of two days.

However, the other half of this story — the Freedom House Forum for Mayoral candidates “of color” only, remains. And so I ask you all to read, below, what I wrote before news of the South Boston resolution broke…

The last thing that Boston’s Mayor campaign needs is an interruption by racism. Yet that is what has happened these past two days — through no fault of the candidates, let me make very clear. The 12 hopefuls running, and their campaigns, all speak for the new Boston, long since grown beyond a sadly racist past — 40 years ago and more — and have made this one of the most intelligent, forward-thinking issues conversations I have ever seen in the political arena. It has been citizenship at its high school, civics class best.

And yet the past intrudes. Some voters, and even some civic leaders, can’t help themselves.

First came the news that the committee that puts on South Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s day breakfast was divided on whether to invite its newly elected State Senator, Linda Dorcena Forry, to host the affair. South Boston’s State Senator has, ever since Bill Bulger’s time, done the honors; and all have been white and of Irish heritage; whereas Dorcena Forry is a person of color and of Haitian parentage; and lives in Dorchester Lower Mills. Of course, a case can be made that, as the breakfast is a South Boston event, a South Boston spokesperson should host it. Fair enough; and now, since the resignation of State Senator Jack Hart, South Boston’s City Councillor, Bill Linehan, has claimed host status. But that’s not at all the last word. Though never a rule of the breakfast, the area’s State Senator has hosted it for at least the last 20 years. Thus the problem of Linda Dorcena Forry.

Image

^ Linda Dorcena-Forry : South Boston’s next St Patty’s day breakfast host ?

Will she be invited to do what the District’s last three state senators have always done ? It would be next to impossible, were she not so invited, to avoid that race is the reason. It would be bad business indeed for the breakfast committee to accord any such prospect. Linda Dorcena Forry should host the 2014 St. Patrick’s day Breakfast. She will do just fine.

The above discussion was not till today on my task list. Indeed, I had intended not to mention the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast at all. To me it is a neighborhood affair, and that was that. And then came my discovery, at last night’s Mayoral Forum at the Reggie Lewis Center in Madison Park High School, of the Freedom House Mayoral forum flier pictured below. It forced me to set aside, for awhile, the excellent conversations at Madison park High about jobs, construction,l and schools. Please take a close look at it :

Image

Like you, I could not believe what I was reading. I was stupefied. “The First mayoral Forum for candidates of Color.” proclaimed the flier.

If the South Boston St. Patrick’s day breakfast is just a neighborhood affair, in no way a government-funded or public function — you have to buy a ticket — Freedom House’s Mayoral Forum is every bit a public function.

The flier adds insult to injury. “Free and open to all,” it proclaims. Open to all ? But not to all candidates ? What ARE they thinking ?

This is one Forum that Here and Sphere will, not attend. Nor should any of the candidates “of color.’ All should say “thanks, but no thanks.”

Then it will be time to address the matter of who will host the 2014 South Boston St. Patrick’s day Breakfast. After which the last strokes of old racism will, hopefully, fade away like what they are: the ghosts of failed, immoral attitudes.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE PRESIDENT’S SPEECH ON RACE IN AMERICA

Image

President Obama gave an unscripted, 18 minute speech yesterday, on race relations, race perceptions, and racial injustice in America as they live on today, 50 years after Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It was a speech that touched us at Here and Sphere to the core; it spoke to our soul and to yours. In it the President laid bare the fear and discouragement that black men feel every day as others make clear their wariness of Black men’s presence.

It is horrific to go about knowing that people fear you; that they assume that your presence is a menace. It collapses one’s soul, wounds one’s dignity, cripples one’s confidence. It makes one angry, bitter, determined — not always in a positive way; and this is very understandable. you would react the same.

The specific occasion for the President’s words was People v. Zimmerman. Not the verdict, not even the evidence and testimony, most of it garbled or amateurishly handled. What occasioned the President speaking was simply that the entire mindset which gave rise to the Zimmerman case should never, ever have taken place. Not the profiling of Trayvon Martin, not Zimmerman’s disregard for police advice, not the tracking of Martin. None of which was justified in any way whatsoever. A young man going about his peaceful business was killed as a result.

People, we must do better. We must rid OURSELVES of the fears that corrode us and injure men of color. The President said it all, eloquently as he has ever spoken of it; his speech should be required reading for every American, young and old. To that end, we reprint it entire, as follows :

Image

THE PRESIDENT: “I wanted to come out here, first of all, to tell you that Jay is prepared for all your questions and is very much looking forward to the session. The second thing is I want to let you know that over the next couple of weeks, there’s going to obviously be a whole range of issues — immigration, economics, et cetera — we’ll try to arrange a fuller press conference to address your questions.

The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions, but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the last week — the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling. I gave a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday. But watching the debate over the course of the last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.

First of all, I want to make sure that, once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation. I can only imagine what they’re going through, and it’s remarkable how they’ve handled it.

The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday, which is there’s going to be a lot of arguments about the legal issues in the case — I’ll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues. The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a case such as this reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury has spoken, that’s how our system works. But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling.

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn’t to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

I think the African American community is also not naïve in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else. So folks understand the challenges that exist for African American boys. But they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it and that context is being denied. And that all contributes I think to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.

Now, the question for me at least, and I think for a lot of folks, is where do we take this? How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction? I think it’s understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through, as long as it remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family. But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do.

I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government, the criminal code. And law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.

That doesn’t mean, though, that as a nation we can’t do some things that I think would be productive. So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff, so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.

Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.

When I was in Illinois, I passed racial profiling legislation, and it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.

And initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and, in turn, be more helpful in applying the law. And obviously, law enforcement has got a very tough job.

So that’s one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought to bear if state and local governments are receptive. And I think a lot of them would be. And let’s figure out are there ways for us to push out that kind of training.

Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it — if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations.

I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that the “stand your ground” laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case. On the other hand, if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these “stand your ground” laws, I’d just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.

Number three — and this is a long-term project — we need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys. And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?

I’m not naïve about the prospects of some grand, new federal program. I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here. But I do recognize that as President, I’ve got some convening power, and there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front. And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes, and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed — I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation. And we’re going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.

And then, finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have. On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

And let me just leave you with a final thought that, as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I seem them interact, they’re better than we are — they’re better than we were — on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.

And so we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues. And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature, as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did; and that along this long, difficult journey, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.

Thank you, guys.”

Image

—- posted by Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere