Ever since the verdict in the Michael Dunn so-called 'loud music' trial was announced this weekend, many parents have asked me what they should tell their children. How do they even begin to explain why a judge was forced to declare a mistrial on the charge of first-degree murder? How do they say to their young boys and girls that no matter what they achieve, how educated they are or what they do in life, some may only view them as dangerous or threatening? Whether these parents have called into my radio show or stopped me on the street, my answer has continuously been that the very first thing we must do is permanently remove despicable legislation like 'stand your ground' laws. It is 2014 and we must focus our energy on state legislative elections so that we may have leaders in places like Florida and elsewhere that can revoke these laws. Our children's lives are literally at stake.
It seems as if we are stuck in some sort of disturbing pattern. A young Black teen is shot to death, we are all consumed by a trial against the alleged perpetrator, we watch this defendant claim that he was fearful for his life and then we see a jury fail to deliver appropriate justice. Well, it's time to stop dancing around the issue and address the 800-lb. gorilla in the room: 'stand your ground' and similar laws have become an escape route for people to justify anything. And the state of Florida is ground zero for the devastation that has been caused by this legislation. In the Dunn case, just as in the George Zimmerman trial last year, the defense may not have invoked 'stand your ground' specifically, but the jury was instructed using language from that law. Because of this deplorable regulation, an individual has no duty to retreat and can therefore justify his/her actions by simply stating they feared for their life. Despite the fact that Jordan Davis, the 17-year-old victim in the Dunn case, wasn't armed and no weapon was recovered in the vehicle that he and three of friends were in, Dunn claimed he felt threatened. 'Stand your ground' and similar self-defense rules have created a dangerous space where any shooting can be excused by simply stating that you feared for your life. It has allowed an individual's ingrained biases to potentially be protected under the law, no matter who gets hurt in the process. And let's not act like Florida is the only place where this is happening.
There are currently 23 states (including Florida) where legislation like 'stand your ground' exists. That means that in 23 states, cases like the Dunn and Zimmerman trials are taking place continuously without the presence of the media. That means mothers and fathers are burying their young because someone or multiple people felt 'threatened'. And that means jurors across the country may very well fail to convict people who kill others because the burden of proof is virtually impossible to achieve. When we see a guy who shoots 10 times, even pausing in between shots, kills a teenager (who was never found with a weapon) and then turns around and claims self-defense, we have a serious problem. Dunn not only failed to call police after shooting at the teens, but he then drove to a hotel with his fiancée, ordered a pizza, spent the night and then drove 2 1Ž2 hours to his home the next day. His fiancée also testified that Dunn never told her that anyone pointed a gun at him. And yet a jury failed to convict this man of first-degree murder. 'Stand your ground' is out of control and it must go.
Everyone is patiently waiting to hear from the jury in the Dunn trial. We won't know precisely what they weighed and what they didn't weigh until we do. While the 12 jurors did find Dunn guilty of three counts of second-degree attempted murder for shooting at the three friends in the vehicle, they could not agree on whether or not Dunn's shooting and subsequent killing of Jordan Davis was justified. Because of defense laws like 'stand your ground', anyone can invoke a fear for his/her life no matter how egregious their own behavior is. And in the state of Florida, where both the Dunn and Zimmerman cases have taken place, we also see that the law is not applied equally or fairly.
Marissa Alexander, a young mother in Florida who fired a single warning shot to scare off an abusive estranged husband (never struck or killed anyone) was not able to 'stand her ground' and was sentenced instead to 20 years in prison. Though she was thankfully released and given home detention in November (thanks in part to a national outcry), Marissa faces a new trial in the future. Let's hope this time she receives justice.
Whether it is Florida or any of the other 22 states with these ridiculous and incomprehensible laws on the books, we must push back aggressively and immediately. My organization, National Action Network, and I will be focusing much of our time and energy on state elections this year. We must elect people who have our best interest and the safety of our children as top priorities. No parent should ever have to deal with the trauma and heartbreak that Jordan Davis' mother and father are grappling with at this moment. And no parent should be forced to look into their son or daughter's eyes and warn them that anyone can take their life out of 'fear' when all they are doing is listening to music.
We must repeal 'stand your ground', and we must find those leaders with enough backbone to do so.
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