Michael Dunn will likely receive a lengthy prison sentence after a jury found him guilty on three counts of attempted murder and one count of firing into a vehicle. The jury however was unable to reach agreement on the charge of first degree murder for killing Jordan Davis. On that charge, a mistrial was declared, but the four felony counts that Dunn was found guilty of could still send him to prison for up to 75 years. Dunn’s sentencing is scheduled for March 24th.
Dunn was remanded to custody after being convicted, and if the judge gives him anything close to the maximum sentence on each charge, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. Yet, the verdict was disconcerting for one simple reason. Dunn was not convicted for murdering Jordan Davis. Had he confined his shooting to firing one or two fatal shots, he conceivably could have dodged the four felony counts and been in a position to get away with murder.
The case once again highlights the difficulty in convicting shooters who kill unarmed young black men. Although Dunn did face some consequences for his behavior and the case was so egregious, the jury still struggled with the notion that Dunn was guilty. Apparently by merely raising the suggestion that Jordan Davis could have had a gun, even though no gun was found, Dunn’s attorneys were able to plant the seed of doubt in the jury. A white guy who shoots black teenagers should be given the benefit of the doubt, the jury apparently reasoned. Even if the shooter fails to contact the police after murdering a black youth and instead orders pizza for take out, he is entitled to the benefit of the doubt because after all the guy he shot was black and black people are scary to white people.
In Florida, and in the United States, it is easier to get away with homicide if the victim is black. This is true no matter what race the shooter is although black shooters who shoot African-Americans are less likely to successfully claim self-defense than white or Hispanics who kill African-Americans. In Stand Your Ground cases in Florida, whites or Hispanics who kill African-Americans are only convicted about ten percent of the time. When a non-white kills a white person and tries to use Stand Your Ground defense they are four times more likely to be convicted than a white or Hispanic person who kills a black person. While the Michael Dunn case did not technically invoke Stand Your Ground in a pre-trial motion, his self-defense argument underscores the racial disparities that define American court cases.
Had the shooter been an African-American who shot four white teenagers who were listening to country music in their pickup truck, does anybody think the jury would have struggled with convicting the black man of murder? It is possible but unlikely. In the United States, racial prejudices still operate and many Americans who find there way on juries presume that young African-American males are threatening or potential criminals. With such latent prejudices looming beneath the surface in the psyches of jurors, it makes convicting a white man who claims he felt threatened by a young black man extremely difficult.
Dunn will go to prison simply because his behavior was so egregious and because he was so trigger happy that he pumped an SUV full of bullets, firing ten shots into the vehicle even after it was retreating. Nevertheless, the jury’s inability to agree that Dunn committed first degree murder still should give our nation cause for collective pause. A jury once again has raised questions about whether our justice system places the same value on young black lives as it does on white lives. The answer appears to be negative, but perhaps Dunn will be convicted if and when the case is retried. While he awaits a possible retrial, at least he will be doing so from a prison cell. The only irony is that he will be doing time for the shots that missed and not for the fatal shot that took Jordan Davis’ life. That is a tragedy, even if Dunn spends the rest of his life in prison where he belongs.