Skip to main content

The extermination of Jordan Davis: An empty verdict, a hollow victory

By Tonyaa Weathersbee
February 16, 2014 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tonyaa Weathersbee calls the verdict in the Michael Dunn murder case a hollow victory
  • Dunn admitted firing into an SUV, killing Jordan Davis, 17, but said it was in self-defense
  • Dunn was found guilty of three counts of second-degree attempted murder
  • The Florida jury could not reach a verdict in the murder charge for Davis' death

Editor's note: Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist based in Jacksonville, Florida, who spent the past few weeks covering the Michael Dunn murder trial. Follow her on Twitter @tonyaajw or on Facebook at tonyaajweathersbee.

(CNN) -- So it looks like Michael Dunn, a white man who fatally shot black teenager Jordan Davis for refusing to turn down his "thug music," may be going to prison for the rest of his life.

But that's a consolation prize. Not a real victory.

It's not a real victory because the jury that convicted Dunn, 47, didn't convict him for killing the 17-year-old Davis. They convicted him for almost killing Davis' three friends who were riding in the Dodge Durango with him. They found Dunn guilty of three counts of second-degree attempted murder and one count of shooting deadly missiles. Each attempted murder count carries a minimum sentence of 20 years.

But it's a hollow victory.

Tonyaa Weathersbee
Tonyaa Weathersbee

It's hollow because it means that, in 21st century America, the notion that a mouthy young black male could be a threat carries more weight with some people than the fact that an impulsive middle-aged white man could be a liar.

Think about it.

Apparently someone on the Dunn jury -- a jury that took four days to deadlock on whether Dunn was justified in killing Davis -- believed that Davis' cursing at Dunn and arguing over the volume of his music equaled a serious enough threat to make Dunn reasonably fear for his life.

Gunman 'in disbelief' over loud-music verdict

Someone on that jury saw Davis with a shotgun that likely never existed, but didn't see the real bullets -- 10 in all -- that Dunn pumped into the SUV and into Davis' body, bullets that left Davis bleeding and dying in his friend's lap.

It's hollow because it underscores what seems to be a scary trend. 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.

See evidence in case

We first saw this with Trayvon Martin.

Martin was walking to his father's home when George Zimmerman took it upon himself to follow him because he was wearing a hoodie.

Dunn's attorney: There were no winners
Jordan Davis' mom: Grateful for verdict
Dunn's attorney: There were no winners

Yet just as Zimmerman thought Martin looked suspicious, the 17-year-old thought Zimmerman looked suspicious. But when Martin responded to Zimmerman's stalking and wound up in a fight with him, Zimmerman fatally shot him.

And he got away with it. Zimmerman claimed self-defense. In a confrontation that he provoked.

So did Dunn with Davis.

Dunn took it upon himself to drive up to a convenience store in Jacksonville and, even with a number of empty spaces available, decide to park next to the one vehicle full of young black men playing some thumping hip-hop music. Rather than avoid music he hated, he parked right next to it.

And when Davis didn't submit to his wishes to turn it down, he didn't like it. They had words. He didn't like that. Michael Dunn was not going to be sassed by a black kid.

So Dunn reached into his glove compartment, pulled out his 9 mm handgun and started shooting at Davis and his friends. And he killed him.

Verdict evokes mixed reactions

Yet this jury believed that the unarmed black teenager, Jordan Davis, was so scary, so profane that they couldn't see their way to convict Dunn of murdering him.

So even though Dunn is going to prison, it's tough to feel good about the verdict.

It feels hollow.

What the verdict says is that in this nation, in the 21st century, some white men still believe they have the right to intrude into the space of young black men and make demands. And if the black man is unarmed -- with no weapon except his words -- those white men can still kill him. And call it self-defense.

All they need is a jury to buy it.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tonyaa Weathersbee.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT