The slaying of Jordan Davis on Black Friday by Michael Dunn has got me contemplating my own mortality lately. But for a few differences, I could have been Jordan Davis eighteen years ago.
My story begins at an evening Christmas party for my church youth group in the Tidewater area of Virginia. My friends and I were playing video games and decided to drive over to one of our houses to pick up another game that we could all play together. As I drove my dad’s red pick up truck to my friend’s block in the same neighborhood, I made a u-turn trying to park and hit a curb. While waiting for my friend to go into his home and get the game, two of my friends, who also lived in this neighborhood, began messing with some kids who were playing in the neighborhood’s common area by pretending to have shotguns and “firing” at the kids from the bed of the truck (a stupid idea, I know, but we were kids ourselves). Shortly thereafter, my friend came back to the truck with the game and we returned to our party.
About 30 minutes later, police appeared at the door saying they received reports that people with guns were driving around the neighborhood in a red truck trying to shoot, run over, and intimidate neighborhood children, and asking to speak with the owner of the truck. Not having a clue as to what they were talking about, I went outside where ten officers asked me what was I doing and whether I had guns in my vehicle. I (rather foolishly now, but I didn’t know better, I was only 16), invited them to search the vehicle. I had no guns, I did not try to run over any kids, and I had no intention or desire to harass anybody. I simply drove my friend to his house to pick up a video game, accidentally hit a curb when making a u-turn, and drove back to my party. The officers told me that the caller claims to have heard shotguns cocking and swore that he knew the unmistakable sound because he had been around shotguns all his life. I further explained to the officers that my friends, who knew some of the kids playing in their neighborhood that night, made gun noises with their mouths and I had no idea if they sounded anything like real shotguns, but highly doubted it. I also reasserted that we had no guns and no ill will towards anyone in the neighborhood. After a brief huddle, the officers let me go without searching my vehicle.
No shots were fired, no guns were produced. I did not get into a heated argument with my accuser, yet I find that the story relates to the tragic story of Jordan Davis’ encounter with Michael Dunn. In both cases there was a presumed belief in the criminality of young black males that ought to be frightening and maddening to us. At least in my case, the accuser called the police rather than taking matters into his own hands out of a warped sense of “self-protection.” But the irrational fear of young black men often makes them suspects for imagined crimes who do not deserve at the very least the benefit of the doubt. Just like my accuser “knew” that we had guns based on his “experience” and that my friends and I did not belong in their own neighborhood, Michael Dunn “knew” that he saw a shotgun based on his experience. Jordan Davis and his friends were young black men, playing loud music, out late at night, driving around in an SUV with tinted windows. Translation: they looked like gangsters and were a threat, so he had to take and was justified in taking violent action.
I have no doubt that Michael Dunn “saw” a shotgun, but I’m pretty sure it was just his imagination. But his “experience” of young black men, the conditioning of society’s general attitude towards this segment of the population, told him that these gentlemen were potentially dangerous criminals. We ought to question, not only this racially spurious attitude by Dunn as articulated by his own attorney, but we ought to question the conditions in society which suggest that it is okay to presume the criminality of black male bodies to begin with. I was an honor student whose only run-in with an officer was meeting Officer McGruff in the 3rd grade. I shudder to think what would have happened if this event in my life occurred in Florida’s “Stand Your Ground against the Black male criminal element” culture eighteen years later. Actually, I don’t have to think about it. I very well might have been Jordan Davis. May God rest his soul. And bring justice for his murder.