February 17, 2014

Dunn trial shows America's pathology

Some commentaries on the jury hung over the murder charge in the trial of Michael Dunn, who killed Jordan Davis over "loud music":

Like George Zimmerman, Racist Laws Let Michael Dunn ‘Get Away With Murder’

By Ryan DensonAfter escaping what should have been a 2nd degree murder charge, Michael Dunn is in, “disbelief and it has not sunk in yet.”

I hope for your sake, Mr. Dunn, that is a positive disbelief and you aren’t weeping in self sorrow while a boy lays six feet under, because you avoided death row. At least for now.

I’m just waiting for the NRA to say “stereos don’t kill people, PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE!”

It’s also strange, these Stand Your Ground Laws, because everyone knows they are racially targeting blacks. How do we know? Well the Urban Institute recently found that Whites who kill Blacks in Stand Your Ground states are 354% more likely to acquitted, or not even charged.

The jury did not find Dunn guilty of killing Davis, plain and simple. They found him guilty of shooting at the other kids in the car, as if Davis was never even there, or even a person who had lost their life. It seems that, in Florida, a black boy is expected to obey a white man, and if he doesn’t, then the white man is entitled to shoot him to to death. That is the intent of the law. It has nothing to do with self-defense. Self defense was already a viable defense before Stand Your Ground laws were ever implemented.
Michael Dunn’s sick license to kill: The hot-blooded murder of Jordan Davis and Florida’s perverted justice

Dunn created the confrontation, then made it deadly. Under Florida's insane laws, the prosecution was still limited

By Paul Campos
Consider how these laws work in the context of Dunn’s actions. Dunn chose to create a confrontation with a group of four young males. He is a middle-aged computer programmer. A middle-aged man who chooses to start a verbal altercation with four teenage boys in a convenience store parking lot on a Friday night knows that he is running a non-trivial risk of suffering great bodily harm, or in non-technical terms, getting his ass kicked.

But because this is America, Dunn has a trump card: the nine-millimeter handgun in his glove compartment, with 10 bullets in the clip, which he has every legal right to bring to the confrontation he chose to start.

And because this is America, the fact that Dunn is white and the teenage boys are black–black boys playing loud “thug” music, to use Dunn’s description–makes it seem “reasonable” to him that the confrontation he started is about to escalate to a point where he will suffer great bodily harm. (In America, being a black teenage male playing loud “black” music in an SUV in a convenience store parking lot on a Friday night makes you a fearsome figure to a middle-aged white man like Dunn).

Furthermore, because this is America, it’s reasonable for Dunn to fear that the scary black boys playing the scary music are armed. After all, there are more than 300 million non-military firearms floating around out there between the purple mountain majesties and the amber waves of grain. That’s no doubt one reason why Dunn has gone to the trouble of securing at least one of them for himself, and (again, perfectly legally) sticking it in his glove compartment, so that it’s within easy reach should he choose to get into a war of words with some black teenage boys in convenience store parking lot on a Friday night.

Choosing Whiteness or Humanity: Jordan Davis and the Minimizing of Black Pain

By Tim WiseSure, despite all of this, some jurors might have believed that Dunn acted out of a genuine concern that his life was in danger. Some people, after all, cling stubbornly to their belief in unicorns, and the idea that the Earth is only 6000 years old, and that God fabricated and then planted all those fossils (which are, shall we say, quite a bit older than that), solely as a way to test our faith. And a full 1 in 4 believe that the sun revolves around the Earth. Some people, in short, are so painfully imbecilic as to suggest that they should never be allowed anywhere near a jury room, whether in Florida or anywhere else.

But then again, it is also possible that the jury hung because although all agreed the shooting was unjustified, some refused to accept that Dunn’s act constituted first-degree murder, while others refused to go along with the notion that it was anything less. Given the defense’s painting of Dunn’s character as generally placid and kind—and given the state’s refusal to impeach this image, by introducing the overtly hateful and racist letters written by Dunn while awaiting trial, or testimony from a neighbor who said Dunn was racist, violent, and had actually approached him to solicit help with killing someone—one can imagine some being unable to see the man in the Mister Rogers’ sweaters (and for that matter, with Mr. Rogers’ voice) premeditating Davis’s death. This, despite the fact that premeditation under Florida law can be formed in an instant, so that it matters not whether Dunn had attended his son’s wedding that night, all the while secretly plotting to kill a black teen at a gas station. That notion of premeditation is a decidedly Hollywood version. It has nothing to do with the law. But perhaps some jurors couldn’t see that. So be it, and the state will get another chance to make that case. Hopefully they will make it better, and this time fully eviscerate the desiccated character of this rancid little man, so that the people of Florida will know: you cannot kill black people simply because you don’t like their music and because they back-sass you when you ask them to turn it down. But if you do, you will be found solely and entirely to blame, and punished accordingly.

Beyond the Xs and Os, however, and beyond the question of what should be done with “Stand Your Ground” laws—which were implicated in this case because of the way Dunn’s attorneys made their self-defense argument and because of the jury instructions—there is another matter, at once more abstract and yet far more important. It is the question of what it might ultimately take for black life to be realized as fully human by some (indeed many) white people? And what it might take for black pain to actually matter? To be seen as worthy of concern, and more than concern, worthy of being seen as equal to white pain, without reservation or hesitation?

I ask this not because whites did in this case what most did in the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman—namely, line up behind the killer of the black child and presume that the latter had it coming—for it appears that the racial fault lines were not so neat and tidy this time. Most whites, or so it appears from what is most assuredly an unscientific observation of social and other media, view the killing of Jordan Davis as far less justifiable than the killing of Martin. So there’s that, one supposes; a small peg of progress upon which to hang one’s hopeful hat, for what it’s worth.

But it probably isn’t worth much. After all, even if most white folks actually agree this time with black people, and are appropriately horrified by murder (a type of progress about which one can hardly become too animated, since condemning murder hardly requires much moral fortitude), there are still plenty of us who are not. Too many of us—millions upon millions no doubt—still find it possible to give equal consideration to a white man’s paranoiac and racist hallucinations as to a black man’s life; to believe that the former is just as worthy of our indulgence as the latter, maybe more so.

America founded on race

Some thoughts on what the non-verdict says about race in the US:

The Souls of Black Folk and the Shame of the Dunn Verdict

By Susan Brooks ThistlethwaiteIt is clearer and clearer that in the United States African American lives are not of equal value, especially in states with "Stand Your Ground" laws where a jury was unable to reach a verdict of murder in the shooting death of unarmed, 17-year-old African American Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn, who is white and who has a carry concealed permit.

The unequal value placed on different human beings, according to race, is not exactly new. I have been re-reading W.E.B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk for a class I am teaching, and it is staggering how contemporary his analysis is today.

"The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line," said Du Bois in 1903.

But in the twenty-first century, with the addition of "Stand Your Ground" laws, as was clear in the Zimmerman case, the "color line" has become a "shooting line."
Michael Dunn and open season on black teenagers: The onslaught of white murder

Since Florida cannot defend black life against white fear, the question now is: How should black people respond?

By Brittney Cooper
Many white folks believe that black criminality has produced white fear and that white fear in the presence of black masculinity is therefore always justified. But the opposite is true. White anxiety and fear and racism have produced the myth of pervasive black criminality. Intraracial black violence is a problem, but white racism has produced the concentrated structures of poverty and lack of access to education that give rise to violent behaviors.

Our national inability to tell the truth about this will only lead to more black victims.

In his famous essay “The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American,” James Baldwin wrote, “Every society is really governed by hidden laws, by unspoken but profound assumptions on the part of people, and ours is no exception.”

The truth we need to be telling is that the myth of black male criminality is foundational, not incidental, to America’s national identity. Even if there were no black male criminals, to riff on professor Hortense Spillers’ work, they would have to be invented. The presence of black criminals justifies white male rage, white women’s fear and subsequent white male violence.

More from Tim Wise:Ultimately, it is their allegiance to the ideological strictures of whiteness that makes their demise necessary; and it is indeed whiteness that calls forth their inability to fully feel the pain of so-called non-white peoples, and causes them to shift the discussion and the burdens of proof to black and brown folks, whenever harm comes their way. It is whiteness—a paradigm of thought that relies upon the presumption of cultural superiority for those of us called white in this society, and which presumes that we better understand the problems faced by peoples of color than they do, which must be demolished.

In short, for America to live, whiteness must die. Not white people but whiteness. You may not know the difference, but if not, that is your problem, not mine.

Do not misread me here. This is not, dear Nazis who so readily regale me with hate mail, a call for “white genocide.” I do not assume, as do you, that whiteness is an inherent essence of people of European descent. I contend it is a sickness foisted upon us by men who sought to maintain their power and control, and needed some among the Euro-peasantry to help them do it; and so they resolved to make us part of their racial team, even as they had maintained us in poverty for generations in England and Ireland and Italy and France and everywhere else from which our people come.

And so they told us to fear them, and to hate them, and to place our boots upon their necks so that they, the elite, could go about the business of accumulating great wealth at the expense not only of those people over there, but us too.
Based on this article:

On the Killing of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn

Facebook friend Brad asked:What do you think? Has America just "grown up" racist?This led to a discussion of what the Dunn verdict says about America:

Yes, you could say we've grown up racist. I think that the genocide of Indians and the enslavement of blacks are fundamental to our core mythology. Which goes along the lines of, "God gave the American wilderness to the white man to conquer, tame, and develop. Anything that happened along the way was just an unfortunate byproduct."So you'd agree with the author then that "devaluation" of black lives goes back to that?Yes. Basically America wasn't an experiment in creating a melting pot of multiculturalism. It was an experiment in setting up a continent ruled by a cult of white supremacy.

Only since the beginning of the 20th century have the two philosophies--white supremacy vs. melting pot--come into real conflict. We're somewhere in the middle of a transition that might take a few centuries. By the time the "Star Trek" era arrives, we may actually achieve the "Star Trek" ideal.

In short, I concur with the others who say racism is fundamental to America.

P.S. This thread alone would disqualify me for political office if I ever wanted to run. Oh, well.

Blacks are the new Indians

Not "new," exactly, but they face the same problem originally faced by Indians. Namely, that their existence confronted the American mythology of white Christian exceptionalism. How is America the "greatest" country if we have to kill and enslave people to become it?

In other words, this isn't simply a black-white problem, as Gyasi Ross explains:

Celebrating Killers: Yes, Natives Should Care About a Dead Black Teen

By Gyasi RossNative Mothers and Fathers: your brown skin little Indian boys’ lives are in danger. Teach them that their beautiful brown skin and powerful long, dark hair puts them in danger. Tell your beautiful brown little Indian girls that they’re a target to be sexually assaulted just for being them—it’s a fact. Let them know that their attackers—both the boys and girls—will never be punished. In fact, they will be celebrated. Hold those powerful descendants of the first people of this continent close. Tell them that you love them. Every single time they go outside or to the store or to the mall, there is a possibility that they can be tried, convicted and executed of being too brown, too scary, too virile. "Their hair is too long." "They have too many tattoos." Treasure their time—their lives mean nothing to America. In fact IF, God forbid, they were to be tragically killed, there are many who would celebrate that death.

Little Indian boys like thug music, too. Like Jordan Davis. Little Indian boys wear hoodies, too. Like Trayvon Martin.

They are no different than these little Black boys who keep getting killed for being Black. Their crime is the color of their skin; they are tried and convicted in the blink of an eye. Now, I know that there are Natives who don’t like Black folks, and Black folks who don’t like Natives, therefore we see each other as "different." "It’s just those ghetto Black boys getting killed." or "It’s just those damn Indians getting killed."

White supremacy doesn’t see any of as any different. At all. How do I know this?

Because white supremacy celebrates those who kill us.

Killer Michael Dunn was somehow convicted of attempted murder, but not murder. Killer George Zimmerman will have a reality show at some point and was already scheduled to be in a celebrity(!!) boxing match, profiting from the name he made while killing Trayvon Martin. Bernhard Goetz—pre-reality TV—became a semi-celebrity and had people willing to pay his legal defense. The point? People celebrate when white people kill young Black men.

As MLK pointed out, celebrating those who take brown lives ain’t nuthin’ new.

Christopher Columbus. Kit Carson. The 20 Medal of Honor winners of the Wounded Knee Massacre. Abraham Lincoln—the Great Emancipator, Honest Abe—ordering the largest mass execution in US History when he ordered 38 Natives killed in Mankato, Minnesota.

We’re in this together. These murders affect us. My son carries the royal lineage of chiefs and spiritual healers and protector/warriors, yet he is a suspect each and every time he goes outside because of his powerful brown skin. Just like the little Black boys. Just like every other brown man in this Nation. We gotta stop lying to ourselves that we’re somehow different and protect our babies together.
The huge amount of violence against Natives, especially Native women, is part of the same problem. From curtailing the safety net to blocking immigration to hyping crime, white America devalues brown lives in innumerable ways. It's all about maintaining the Puritan vision of a select group of Euro-Christian Americans as God's chosen people.

For more on Trayvon Martin and related matters, see America's Dual Justice System and Zimmerman Verdict Shows America's Pathology.

Below:  1890: Chief Spotted Elk lies dad in the shnow after the massacre at Wounded Knee. Twenty soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their deeds."

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