On today, February 16 which would be the 19th birthday for Jordan Davis, there is still no justice and no peace for the family of Jordan Davis and those who support justice in our criminal justice system. The jury in the case of Michael Dunn spoke late on Saturday evening with a hung jury for the killing of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn, after reaching guilty verdicts of attempted murder for the 3 other males. For many, the case was a test of whether a Florida jury would convict a white man for the killing of a black teen. And the question was answered in the negative. The reasons for the jury’s failure to reach a verdict in the Dunn case is not as difficult to understand for many African Americans who experience racial bias but nonetheless are still disappointed and disheartened.
The overwhelming evidence at trial revealed that Michael Dunn fired ten shots in the car in which Jordan Davis was a passenger after complaining about the loud music coming from the vehicle; the other occupants testified that there was no rifle in their vehicle; no weapon was found in the vehicle; Dunn’s fiancé testified that Dunn did not mention a gun or rifle being pointed at him; Dunn did not contact the police but the police had to find him; Dunn left the scene, returned home, ordered a pizza and walked his dog; Someone on the jury still apparently may have believed Dunn’s testimony that he saw a gun and feared for his life. While many persons blame the prosecutors for putting on an inadequate case, for overcharging the case, for failing to submit testimony about Dunn’s hatred of blacks, for not doing a better closing argument, it is the criminal justice system and racial bias that failed Jordan Davis. Racial bias is rampant in the criminal justice system. And it is pervasive when it comes down to a black victim and a white defendant.
No case is a perfect case. And if the prosecutors had done everything that everyone is complaining about, the end result may have been the same due to inherent subconscious or conscious racial bias when it comes to cases involving white defendants and black victims. It is as if the word of a white man is superior to a black man. And there is the issue of how black men, particularly black teens are perceived as menacing or possessing superior strength like King Kong.
Racial bias in the criminal justice system stems as far back as slavery and still persists today. During slavery, a freed black man could not testify against a white man in many state courts. Northup Solomon, the person for whom the movie, Twelve Years a Slave is based on, filed a lawsuit against the two white men who tricked and abducted him into slavery and caused him to become enslaved for twelve years. The case was filed in Washington, DC after his escape from slavery in 1853. But Solomon lost his case as District of Columbia law in 1853 prohibited a black person from testifying against a white man. While these laws no longer exist today, the aftermath can be seen today and in the racial bias in the criminal justice system. Someone on the jury found Dunn’s testimony to be credible, however bizarre and unsupported even by that of his fiancé. The mistrial most likely resulted because some juror(s) still believed Dunn’s word over that of the black teenage friends of Jordan Davis.
Black men are perceived by many whites as menacing black men or as Michael Dunn described Jordan Davis and his friends as “thugs” or “gangstas” who either possess weapons at all times or possess superior human physical strength. In the case of Trayvon Martin, it was superior physical attributes that Zimmerman alleged to be afraid of. With Jordan Davis, it was the possession of a mysterious gun that only Dunn saw. But Michael Dunn also described Jordan Davis as getting out of the car at one point. That image for some whites may invoke the image of what Denzel Washington referred to in his role in the movie Training Day, describing his character as being superior to even King Kong. If a white juror thinks of black men as being King Kong, it fits perfectly for them into the Stand Your Ground defense of being in fear of imminent bodily harm or death at the hands of a black man.
And so as long as racial bias exists in the minds of many white persons who sit on juries, there are going to be cases where a mostly white jury will give the benefit of the doubt to a white man for killing a 17 year old black teen, regardless of how bizarre and unbelievable his testimony sounds to people of reasonable minds. And the benefit of the doubt is not the same as a reasonable (emphasis added) doubt. And as long as racial bias is in the minds of any jurors sitting on juries in cases with a black victim and white defendant, common sense and reason may be cast aside to favor the white defendant.
And so, in the case of Jordan Davis, the quest for justice continues. But for right now, there is still no justice, no peace for Jordan Davis.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, member of the Supreme Court bar and former prosecutor. As a former prosecutor, she conducted Grand Jury investigations, tried murders, attempted murders, robberies, drug and economic crimes with a high conviction rate. As a trial lawyer, she has successfully tried cases across the country. She contributes to the Huffington Post and the Women’s Media Center.