A Call to Action
“Stand Your Ground”
Last Saturday a jury in Jacksonville, Florida handed down a verdict in the case brought by the State of Florida against Michael Dunn who was accused in a five count indictment of murder in the first degree, three accounts of attempted second degree murder and one count of shooting at an occupied van. After almost 32 hours of deliberations the jury reached a verdict on four of the five charges, finding Dunn guilty on the three charges of attempted second degree murder and one count of shooting at an occupied vehicle. The jury said it could not reach a verdict on the first count, murder in the first degree. Jordon Davis, a seventeen year old black male died as a result of the shots fired by Michael Dunn. Jordon Davis would have turned nineteen on February 16th. Michael Dunn could serve at least sixty years in prison, as a result of his conviction on the four counts, meaning he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
As much as we are pleased that Michael Dunn will spend the rest of his life in prison, the jury’s failure to reach a verdict on the first count, murder in the first degree, should cause all of us concern and disappointment. Dunn says he shot Davis because he felt threatened. At a Jacksonville gas station, he asked the young men in the van to turn down their music and Davis threatened him verbally, and then he saw Davis with a gun, causing him to fire at Davis and the other young men in the vehicle. Police at the scene of the shooting found no gun, and Dunn’s girlfriend who was with him but in the store when the incident occurred says her boyfriend never mentioned Davis or any of the other males having a gun. Following the incident Dunn drove back to his hotel, ate pizza, walked his dog and drank rum and coke. He never called 911 to report what happened.
During the trial Dunn used Florida’s “stand your ground law” to justify him killing Davis and shooting at the other young men. What should alarm and disappoint us is that the jury’s failure to convict Dunn of first degree murder says that some of the jurors felt Dunn was justified in killing Davis, despite the fact that no evidence was entered during the trial to corroborate his testimony. How can you convict him of wrongly shooting at the other three passengers, and find nothing wrong with him killing Jordon Davis? Failing to convict Dunn of killing Davis says that Davis's life didn’t matter and has less value than other lives. Jordon Davis lived and justice demands that someone has to be accountable for taking his life.
This lack of a verdict also requires that action be taken to change “stand your ground laws.” These laws are causing some people to act irresponsibly and feel they can shoot people without having to show or explain why. It is particularly alarming and cries out for action because of its impact regarding shooting of black males. The shooting of Trayvon Martin’s and Jordon Davis’s are becoming too familiar and these shootings are not coincidental. “Stand your ground laws” require us to do more than be disappointed, angry, grieve and pass resolutions. It requires us to act.
But what can we do. The Social Action Commission recommends the following action:
We must be insistent on meeting with the governors and state legislators, they are the decision makers and we are their constituents. It would be wise to expand the group to include other denominations to join us. Additionally, it would be wise to inform the press of our efforts to meet with political leaders
The Social Action Commission stands ready to assist any Episcopal District or Annual Conference to act on this issue. Again, we have lost another unarmed young black male to “stand your ground” and again the person who shot them has not been found guilty for taking their lives. It is time for us to act!
Bishop Reginald T. Jackson
States with “stand your ground laws” with gubernatorial elections this November: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina,, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas