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Protecting ‘Our’ Children in the Wake of the Michael Dunn Verdict

Posted on Feb 20, 2014

By Sonali Kolhatkar

  Michael Dunn leaves the courtroom after the verdict is read in Jacksonville, Fla., on Feb. 15. (The Florida Times-Union, Bob Mack, Pool)

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When Florida shooter Michael Dunn heard his verdict Saturday, he may have been shocked to find that he faces at least 60 years in prison for the attempted murder of three young black men. Judging by letters he wrote while in prison, Dunn fully expected to be exonerated for shooting nine bullets into a parked car, endangering the lives of the four black youth in it, and killing one of them—a 17-year-old named Jordan Davis. 

Writing to his fiancee and several family members, Dunn expressed certainty that “I will be acquitted or found not guilty,” and even made plans to file a lawsuit against Florida for supposed violations of his rights.

Given the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, it surprised me that Dunn was found guilty of anything. It is a testament to how low a bar we have set for justice for people of color—particularly young black men—that a conviction, any conviction at all, could feel like a victory.


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But even though he will likely remain in prison for the rest of his life, Dunn was not convicted of the first-degree murder charge against him in the death of Davis (about whom I have previously written). He was convicted on three counts of attempted second-degree murder regarding the three surviving youth—each count comes with a 20-year minimum sentence—and on one count of shooting into an occupied vehicle. On the first-degree murder charge, the jury could not come to a decision after four days of deliberations, leading the judge to declare a mistrial on that count.

What if Davis had been the only one in the car? Would Dunn have walked free, or simply been charged with shooting into an occupied vehicle? Despite the fact that Davis’ parents may rest assured Dunn will probably spend the rest of his life behind bars, he will not be legally held accountable for their son’s death.

The verdict has sparked deep soul searching, particularly among black commentators in the media, many of whom are questioning how black parents can keep their children safe. Mary C. Curtis, writing for The Washington Post, mulled, “My husband and I have been thinking of little else since the verdict was announced, and wondering what parents can do, besides avoid Florida.”

Independent journalist and author of “No Doubt: The Murder(s) of Oscar Grant,” Thandisizwe Chimurenga, reflected on her Facebook page the collective rage and helplessness many African-Americans are feeling after Dunn’s verdict, even if they are not parents themselves:

How do “we” keep “our” children safe? I speak in the collective sense because I have never given birth to biological children of my own.

People who have given birth to (and raised) children tell us all the time, we don’t “really” know what it’s like, since we have not given birth and/or are not raising children. And that is true. I don’t know the pain of childbirth, or how you “forget” about that pain when you see your newborn child for the very first time. I don’t know the enormous responsibility involved in trying to prepare that tiny being for adulthood.

And I certainly don’t know the fear and anguish mothers and fathers have when they “hear” about Renisha and Oscar and Trayvon and Jonathan and Jordan. I don’t know what it feels like deep down in their stomach. I can imagine it; if they tell me what it feels like, I can nod my head and say “uh huh,” but I don’t “know” it.

How do “we” keep it from happening again? To “our” collective children? I mean, other than having “The Talk”? Since I don’t have any biological children, it is the easiest thing in the world for me to sit back and criticize “The Talk” as caving in to murderous white supremacy. It is. It is caving in to murderous white supremacy. And it is easy-peasy for me to say that.

If the legal system seems rigged to protect white shooters of unarmed African-Americans, it is not surprising that journalist Tonyaa Weathersbee, writing on CNN, concluded, “I guess now any random white man can confront a black teenager whose style of dress or music he doesn’t like or views as suspect. And when that teenager doesn’t submit to him, or responds to him in a confrontational manner, or in a way that any rebellious teenager is apt to respond, then it’s perfectly fine to exterminate him.”


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