When a Florida jury on Saturday night failed to convict a 55-year-old white man, Michael Dunn, in the shooting death of a 17-year-old black kid, Jordan Davis, whose only crime was playing his music too loud in a car outside a Jacksonville, Florida gas station, a friend asked me, "Why are you so surprised?"
Because he was convicted of attempted murder and will likely serve three consecutive 20-year terms, Dunn will be in jail for the rest of his life. So' its not accurate to say he's facing no consequences for firing 10 shots into a car full of unarmed teenagers playing what he called "thug music."
Juries often screw up slam dunk cases, and with a prosecutor that makes Marcia Clark look like Jack McCoy of Law and Order, it's a minor miracle that Dunn was convicted of anything. But the result was hardly justice. The Davis killing and its aftermath are another reminder of the cloud of racist suspicion that surrounds every young black male in America.
This case wasn't fascinating enough to take over our daily lives the way others have. It didn't have the celebrity buzz of the OJ trial or the bizarre complexity of the Amanda Knox case. Even Dunn's girlfriend was willing to admit on the witness stand, that he killed Davis for little reason other than a deep seated racist paranoia.
The motive was sadly predictable. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in The Atlantic of the educing bleakness of black life in America. "We cannot protect our children because racism in America is not merely a belief system but a heritage," Coates writes. "The inability of black parents to protect their children is an ancient tradition."
Let's review the current state of the union for young black men, If you're in that demographic in 2014 in many areas of the United States, you run the risk of getting shot if you:
- Go to 7/11 to get a pack of Skittles.
- Sit in your car and listen to music.
- Run to the police for help after being in a car accident.
- Knock on somebody's door after being in a car accident.
- Take out the trash.
What separates the Michael Dunns and George Zimmermans of the world from your average killer is their insistence that they are not only innocent but wronged. Dunn actually compared himself to a "rape victim," while Zimmerman referred to his "suffering" as being similar to that of a "fallen soldier."
These two aren't Charles Manson types that can brushed off as crazy. The amount of emotional and financial support Zimmerman and, to a lesser extent Dunn, receive from many Americans suggest that they represent more than a constituency of lone wolves and twisted losers.
These two stains on American society represent the current state of our self-regard. No matter the circumstances these days, everyone gets to play the victim card. If you're in the 1 percent, you can say you're like the Jews under Hitler and in danger of being murdered. If you're a straight man living in Kansas, you're being oppressed by the "gay agenda." If you're a NFL player exposed as an abusive bully, it's the league that's really at fault for attempting to punish you.
There will be more Jordan Davis cases. The flammable combination of millions of guns and hair-trigger anger make them unavoidable. A culture of victimization breeds violence. It always has.