Omar’s Oration: Race matters in Florida’s court rooms

Michael Dunn fired ten rounds at 17-year-old Jordan Davis and his friends on Nov. 23, 2012, but he was only sentenced last Saturday. The Florida jury found Dunn guilty on three counts of attempted murder, but could not come to a consensus to convict him of murder. It must be mentioned that Dunn is white and Davis is black. This racial divide played an oversized role in the case’s lopsided verdict, harkening back to last summer’s Martin-Zimmerman ruling.

Dunn claimed that Davis had a gun and that the young man he shot to death initiated the conflict, so it was his right to defend himself. Sound familiar? But Davis’ three black teenage passengers said they had no guns in their possession and police findings have verified their testimonies. Yet Saturday’s decision indicates that the jury was more prone to believe Dunn’s blatant fallacy than the more credible account of the prosecution.

Though Dunn’s team did not utilize Florida’s “stand your ground” law in their argument, they did suggest that their client acted in self-defense. But the question that the tangible evidence begs is clear: what was Dunn defending himself from? When Dunn pulled his car alongside Davis’ in an empty parking lot and entered a verbal altercation with its passengers, he made a choice. He was irritated by their “thug music.” Suddenly, the claim that race did not play a role seems naive.

It is difficult to analyze Dunn’s ruling without likening it to the case that grabbed America’s attention last year. As the conversation on race and the law reaches a fever pitch, the distance between the Martin-Zimmerman trial and this one shrinks. It is time for Florida’s “stand your ground” provision to go — its influence on the state’s legal culture has grown too large. That “stand your ground” was not utilized in this case but is still being discussed as a factor in the jury’s verdict is a significant testament to the law’s increasing influence. The law, employed or not, wields an oversized impact and has helped justify repeated incidents of unprovoked murder. If two deaths do not galvanize Florida’s legislature to reform their self-defense law, then it is worrisome to imagine what it will take to change the policies.

A group of white teenagers blasting rap music would probably not face the same fate as Davis. That is the unfortunate truth of race relations in America — there is only so much that parents of black children can do to protect them. Though race should not matter, the tragic, unfair loss of two young black men has proven that it absolutely does. The Dunn verdict comes only seven months after Zimmerman was released and is a reminder that inequality, even in our courts, is alive and well. Florida must revisit its “stand your ground” policy carefully, examining the lives that have been senselessly lost in the name of “self-defense.”

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 18 print edition. Omar Etman is a deputy opinion editor. Omar’s Oration is published every Tuesday. Email him at [email protected]

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