Justice was finally served on Oct. 1 when a Florida jury convicted Michael Dunn of the first-degree murder of Jordan Davis, 17. The unarmed African-American youth was fatally shot by Dunn in November 2012.
Dunn, a white computer software developer, now faces a life term in prison with no possibility of parole.
This was Dunn’s second trial on the murder charge. The jury in the first trial last February was deadlocked on the first-degree murder charge. However, jurors agreed that he was trying to kill Davis’ friends and convicted him of attempted murder of Davis’ three surviving companions: Tevin Thompson, Leland Brunson and Tommie Stornes.
On Nov. 23, 2012, Davis and his friends had been listening to rap music while sitting in an SUV in a store’s parking lot in Jacksonville, Fla. Dunn got angry at their music, which he referred to in vile, racist language. He took his loaded automatic weapon out of his car’s glove compartment, crouched and fired off 10 shots, killing Davis and continuing to fire at the vehicle as it sped from the scene. Dunn then fled, went to a motel and the next day drove 200 miles to his home.
Claiming the youth had a gun, so he feared for his own life, Dunn used the “Stand Your Ground” law as his defense in the first trial. This was a fabrication. Witnesses, including Dunn’s then-fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, validated that the youth had no gun, contradicting Dunn’s self-defense claims. However, the jury voted 9-3 against convicting Dunn for the murder of Davis.
At the second trial, which began on Sept. 22, the jury, made up of 10 whites and two African Americans, found that Dunn’s violent actions were motivated by rage, not fear, and were premeditated.
Although prosecutors did not say this, Dunn was also motivated by racism, as further demonstrated by the vile, bigoted tirades he has written from prison to relatives, friends and others. In them, he called on whites to kill Black people, according to a report in Color Lines on Feb. 17.
Remember Trayvon Martin
The state’s decision to retry Dunn on the murder charge must be seen in the context of other monumental events in Florida. State officials a year earlier had seen the tremendous, militant, mass struggle that spread throughout the United States, and even internationally, after a jury in Sanford, Fla., acquitted racist vigilante George Zimmerman of murdering another unarmed African-American youth, Trayvon Martin.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters demanded “Justice for Trayvon Martin!” Three days after Zimmerman’s acquittal, dozens of youth, primarily from oppressed communities, began a month-long sit-in at Florida’s Capitol in Tallahassee, demanding repeal of the Stand Your Ground law and an end to racial profiling and other injustices.
Nonstop criticism of Florida’s half-hearted prosecution of Zimmerman made it into the media, especially its more progressive sector; much of it reached a global audience. Lawyers, legal organizations, and civil and human rights’ groups criticized the state’s attorneys and their legal tactics. Leading African Americans and their allies exposed the prosecution’s refusal to cite Zimmerman’s racism or his racial profiling of Martin.
So when Dunn’s trial in February did not result in a conviction for first-degree murder, criticisms and protests began of the state’s weak case against him. Ron Davis and Lucia McBath, the young victim’s parents, frequently appeared on television appealing for a retrial and justice for their son. They were joined by supporters in Florida and throughout the country. The movement that had mushroomed after Zimmerman’s acquittal began to re-emerge.
Quickly, Florida state attorneys announced in February that Dunn would be retried for murder.
Remember Michael Brown
Then, on Aug. 9, Michael Brown, another unarmed African-American youth, was shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. A militant struggle erupted there, with strong protests night after night led primarily by youth of color. Supporters came from the surrounding area and even far-away cities and towns to show solidarity and demand justice for the slain young man. This struggle continues.
Dunn’s retrial in Florida began in September, weeks after the struggle in Ferguson had taken off. The strength and determination shown in Missouri undeniably reached participants in Dunn’s trial, including members of the jury. On Oct. 1, they unanimously found Dunn guilty of first-degree murder.
McBath, Davis’ mother, said, “We’re very grateful that justice has been served, not only for Jordan, but justice for Trayvon and justice for all the nameless faces and children and people who will never have a voice,” reported the Oct. 1 New York Times.
The many people of color who have been gunned down by racist vigilantes or police officers are entitled to and must obtain justice. Moreover, the laws must be overturned that enable bigoted assailants to justify murdering people of color and that allow racists to “bear arms and shoot unarmed Black children with impunity,” in the words of The Root of Feb. 16.
The struggle for justice for Trayvon Martin is not over. Zimmerman is still out in the community, a danger to society. In September, while armed, he was involved in a “road rage” incident where he reportedly threatened to kill driver Matthew Apperson in Lake Mary, Fla.
Yet the Department of Justice, which has been investigating Zimmerman for two years, is not likely to bring federal civil rights charges against him, say three law enforcement officials. Benjamin Crump, attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family, responded that his clients have not yet been notified of the DOJ’s decision. (Washington Post, Oct. 1)
When the federal government and the courts cannot be relied on to dispense justice, people’s movements as in Ferguson become ever more important. They can put people’s pressure on the state as they galvanize countrywide solidarity and even global support. All progressives and all workers from every sector must support these struggles. It is crucial.
Moreover, there must be fundamental changes in this society so that racist aggressors are held accountable and punished for their anti-human crimes, whether vigilantes or police officers. Ultimately, until every member of an oppressed community, every African-American, Latino/a, Asian or Native person can live free of harassment and assaults, there will be no real justice.