By now you’ve all heard the story that a middle-aged white man, Michael Dunn, visiting Jacksonville, Florida, for his son’s wedding, shot “at least 8 shots” at four African American teenagers in an SUV while waiting outside a convenience store. Dunn killed 17 year old Jordan Davis, allegedly, because he claimed he was in fear for his life after he initiated a dispute with the teens over the loud music they were playing. There were no weapons in the vehicle into which he fired “at least 8 shots” from his gun, bullets that ultimately claimed the life of Jordan. In other words the kids he fired “at least 8 shots” at from his handgun were unarmed. Mr. Dunn was the only one carrying.

Dunn’s daughter has given an interview in which she claims her father is not like George Zimmerman in any respect. According to her, Dunn is not a racist, is a good man and loving father and is heartbroken at the death of of young Jordan. He’s no “vigilante” claims Dunn’s lawyer. This was all simply a horrible tragedy and when the truth comes out Mr. Dunn will have been shown to have acted reasonably when he fired “at least 8 shots” into the backseat of the SUV where Jordan was sitting.

Oh and Dunn’s attorney has indicated that he plans to rely upon Florida’s notorious “stand your ground” law to claim self defense. Now, it’s not often that a person can fire “at least 8 shots” at an unarmed teenager and claim he was acting in self defense, but then that’s the “beauty” of Florida’s Statute Sections 776.012 for criminal defense attorneys. It expands the universe where defense can be used to avoid prosecution or conviction when you shoot someone with your firearm. Here’s the text of the law:

776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—

A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; …

Now what constitutes a “reasonable belief” that “shooting at least 8 shots” at another person is “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself” is a matter of fact. I have no idea if a Florida jury in this case will decide that Mr. Dunn;s confrontation with the four teens who included Jordan Davis, sitting in the backseat of their vehicle, gave rise to a “reasonable belief” that he was in imminent danger of death of great bodily harm. All we have at this point is a sketchy version of the events that led Mr. Dunn to fire at least 8 shots into the SUV killing Jordan Davis.

Dunn told authorities that he had asked the teens to turn down the blaring music from their vehicle adjacent to his, as he waited for his girlfriend to return to the car.

He heard threats from the teens, Dunn told police, he felt threatened and thought he saw a gun in the teens’ car. He grabbed his gun and fired at least eight shots, authorities said.

A few more details about Dunn’s version of events are presented by his defense attorney, Robin Lemonidis, in this CNN report:

Dunn’s attorney, Robin Lemonidis, told CNN Monday that Dunn told police that he reacted after having seen a gun barrel in the window of the teens’ car and after hearing a profanity-laced string of threats against him and his girlfriend while the teens motioned they were opening the door.

Lemonidis said that was when Dunn reached for his gun and opened fire on the vehicle. She added that, “When all the evidence has been flushed out, I believe that it will be extremely clear that Mr. Dunn acted as any responsible firearm owner would have under the same circumstances.”

That’s more detailed than what police officials told reporters, but not by much. As of yet we have no word on what the other teens in the car will say regarding their confrontation with Mr. Dunn, but we do know that Jordan Davis’ father has stated that at least two of the other teens present were very shaken up by the experience.

Ron Davis, the victim’s father, said he is devastated and doesn’t believe the shooting was self defense.

“He did something that there was no defense for,” the father said of the suspect.

Ron Davis said his son didn’t own any guns, wasn’t part of a gang and was a good kid. When Dunn pulled out the gun, the teens’ initially thought it was a fake then frantically tried to back up the car before being caught in the gunfire, Ron Davis said.

I suppose whether Dunn’s self defense claim is accepted depends on whether a jury believes Mr. Dunn and his girlfriend regarding the alleged threats by the black teens towards him and whether they believe he had reasonable grounds to believe he saw a weapon held by someone in that SUV that threatened his life. We do know the following: (1) there were no guns or other weapons in the car, (2) Mr. Dunn initiated the confrontation and (3) Mr Dunn killed Jordan Davis by using his gun to fire “at least 8 shots” into the car where young Mr. Davis was sitting.

In many ways this brings to mind the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case. Both of the black teens who were killed were unarmed and were killed by gunfire from an older non-African American male. Both of the killers initiated the confrontation. However, there are significant differences between the two cases. Zimmerman has alleged that he was attacked by Trayvon and there is some evidence that both men were engaged in a fist fight before Trayvon was shot dead with a single shot by Zimmerman. In the Dunn/Davis case, there is no claim as yet that anyone on the SUV engaged in a physical altercation with Dunn, and evidence to suggest that Jordan Davis, shot while sitting in the backseat of the car did not engage in any physical confrontation.

However, there is one big difference between the Dunn case and the Zimmerman case. Zimmerman did not flee the scene after shooting Trayvon Martin. He asked someone to call 911 and he stayed until police arrived. Dunn on the other hand chose to act in a completely different manner after firing his “at least 8 shots” at Mr. Davis and his friends:

[Attorney] Lemonidis said [Dunn] and his girlfriend left the scene after the shooting, fearing that they had encountered gang members and that more would follow.

Please take note of that artful wording by Dunn;s attorney, because it attempts to distract us from the one essential fact regarding Mr. Dunn’s actions after he shot up the car in which Jordan Davis was wounded and killed. The attorney speaks about Dunn and his girlfriend’s “fear” that Jordan Davis and his three friends were part of a gang, even though no one from the car fired back at them as they fled the scene
of a shooting in which only Dunn fired any bullets. Zimmerman, for all the evidence of his racist attitudes, did not flee the scene after he shot Trayvon Martin. He waited for the police. Mr. Dunn and his girlfriend did not call the police or wait for them to arrive after he used his gun to shoot his eight bullets, nor did they report the shooting incident to police after they fled the scene. Furthermore, the next day after Dunn learned Jordan Davis had died this is what he did:

The couple went to a local hotel for the night, and saw the news the next morning that Davis had died. They returned to Dunn’s home in Brevard County, where local police arrested him Saturday on an out-of-county warrant.

Mr. Dunn never notified law enforcement authorities of his use of deadly force. He didn’t surrender to police after he learned Jordan Davis had died. Instead he went to his home in a different county from where this shooting occurred and that is where police found and arrested him.

Now, perhaps Dunn really did fear that his life was at risk and that these teens were members of a vicious gang who might come after him, but by the time he learned of Jordan Davis’ death did he turn himself into police? No, they had to go find him. That points to a man who is, at the least, attempting to evade responsibility for killing another human being.

The other question that must be asked is whether the mere fact that four young black men, who refused to turn down their music and allegedly made profane threats towards Mr. Dunn (though what those alleged threats entailed we still do not know as no one has stated for the record that Dunn was threatened with death or great bodily injury) justified Mr. Dunn to reasonably believe he was in imminent danger of death? That is that he was in such danger it would justify his use of his gun to fire “at least 8 shots” at the backseat of the car where Jordan Davis sat, unarmed. I will be very interested in how a jury answers that question should this case go to trial.

What evidence did Dunn have that Jordan Davis and his friends might be gang members? None that I can see. The teens had not fired any weapons at him. His own statements indicate that he believed he saw a weapon in the car but we know from the police that there were in fact no weapons in that vehicle. Only Mr. Dunn had a weapon. So why was his fear that they were gang members justified? If he really believed that, why did he start up a confrontation with them over their music in the first place when he and his girlfriend had only made a brief stop at a convenience store? Wouldn’t the reasonable thing to do have been to ignore them if he honestly believed they were dangerous gang members?

In short, what evidence is there, other than the statements made by Dunn, and his attorney, that his fear was reasonable that these four young men were gang members who were about to kill or seriously harm him? Even assuming that he was afraid they were gang members, why didn’t he contact the police after the shooting? Isn’t that the reasonable thing to do if you are in fear for your life from retaliation by a criminal gang?

I cannot say that Dunn wasn’t afraid. I don’t know how he felt or thought in that moment of violence. However, based upon what we know of his actions after the shooting it’s hard for me to seriously consider any claim that his fear of imminent harm was reasonable and justified his killing Jordan Davis with the eight bullets he fired. I cannot yet see any grounds that he acted out of a “reasonable” fear for his life. It appears more likely that his fear, if fear it was that motivated this shooting, was based on his own prejudice and stereotypes regarding young black men. Should we allow prejudice and assumptions to form the basis for what beliefs about others are reasonable, particularly when it is the “reasonableness” of those beliefs that is being offered as a justification for killing another person?

To me, his actions are those of a man who panicked –I mean, really, firing 8 shots at the car when not one shot was returned by the people he painted as the alleged aggressors in this violent confrontation? Then Dunn attempted to escape any legal accountability for his actions. Nothing he did that night or the next day seems reasonable to me if he was convinced he had acted out of a legitimate need to defend himself from the imminent use of deadly force.

Perhaps that’s why he was arrested and charged with murder by the authorities as soon as they were able to do so. We will have to wait and see if, in Florida, this white man can escape a murder charge based on self defense after shooting “at least 8 shots” and killing a young black teen who did not engage in a physical altercation with him. One can only hope that justice will be served.

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