As this verdict shows, we have a problem with the objectification and demonization of young Black men in America.
"We will continue to wait for justice for Jordan." Those were the powerful words by Jordan Davis' mother Lucia McBath Saturday night after a 12-person Florida jury could not reach a verdict on the shooting death of her son.
The partial verdict in the trial means there is no conviction for killing Jordan Davis, only for shooting at the three other young males in the car the night he was killed. That means at least one juror believed Michael Dunn was justified in killing Jordan Davis, in fleeing to his hotel, in ordering a pizza, in taking his dog for a walk, in misleading his fiancée, and in never reporting the shooting to police.
At least one juror believed Dunn's wildly unrealistic story that he feared for his life even though there was no evidence his victim had a gun, even though Dunn never mentioned a gun to his fiancée, even though Dunn kept his gun in the glove compartment of his car at the hotel after he said he was afraid the teens were coming to get him, and even though Dunn never bothered to call police to report his encounter with what he called "menacing" gun-toting "thugs" in the street.
I watched most of the trial, and I was stunned, but sadly not surprised by the verdict. I know that some are ready to blame prosecutors for their failure to win an outright murder conviction, but I saw it differently. Prosecutors exposed so many lies and inconsistencies in Dunn's story that I could not imagine how any "reasonable" jury could vote for acquittal.
Yes, the prosecutors declined to call Michael Dunn's former neighbor Charles Hendrix, who told interviewers that Dunn "always wanted to shoot somebody" and that Dunn felt "that Black people and Hispanics were beneath white people." The prosecutors apparently made a strategic decision not to call Hendrix or his wife, and not to introduce other evidence that could have impeached testimony about Dunn's alleged good character. But I'm not convinced that would have been enough for at least one juror who was willing to believe Dunn's ridiculous lies from the beginning.
The problem is bigger than prosecutor Angela Corey or her team. It's even bigger than Michael Dunn, the man who hated "rap crap" and fired 10 shots at a carload of unarmed teenagers. We have a problem with our attitude toward guns in America. We have a problem with white racial entitlement in America. We have a problem with the objectification and demonization of young Black men in America. And we have a problem with a legal system that enables private citizens to take the law in their own hands and execute Black kids on the street.
Yes, I'm mad as hell about the failure to convict Dunn for murder. But I'm just as angry at my country for empowering people like Dunn in the first place. I'm mad at my own state of Florida for acting out of irrational fear to embolden angry white men with weapons. And I'm mad at the citizens of this country who blithely continue on with colorblind fantasies and pretend that racism has been abolished, except when attributed to resentful Black people.
It's well past time to change our attitudes, but it's also time to change the law. If you kill someone and don't report it to the police, you should forfeit the right to invoke self-defense as a justification. If you approach and accost someone who is minding his own business, you have no right to kill that person if a conflict ensues. And if you're out in public, you do not have a right to "stand your ground" against unarmed civilians.
The teens in this case did everything they were supposed to do after the incident. They returned to the scene after the shooting. They spoke to police. And they cooperated with the investigation. But Dunn, the adult, did none of these things, and yet he managed to see himself as the victim, complaining that "they attacked me."
Dunn's perceived victimhood personifies white privilege. Young Black men are not allowed the freedom to wear a hoodie, walk in a white neighborhood at night, play loud music in their cars, or get upset in a TV interview without being labeled thugs. And even when they do what society tells them to do, their Black maleness makes them inherently suspicious unless it exists within the ever-changing boundaries that are acceptable for white men who define them.
Michael Dunn will, most likely, spend decades in jail, but, as of now, not for the death of the boy he killed. So today, one day before what would have been Jordan Davis's 19th birthday, it's still open season on Black kids in America, and we continue to wait for justice for all of them.
Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for BET.com each week.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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