'Stand Your Ground' hysteria is always on sale at the Jerk Store

In response to Michael Dunn: The Zimmerman Media’s ‘Jerk Store’ Trial:

As a Florida resident, John, I can tell you the Dunn trial has been big news down here, but nowhere near the all-consuming feeding frenzy as the Zimmerman-Martin incident became.  I suspect there are several reasons for that:

Zimmerman-mania was very carefully packaged and sold by activist groups, who immediately deduced they had something they could use for political and media leverage.  I was able to watch the Zimmerman story “break national” in real-time, as it went from Florida news wires to every major-media organization in the country overnight.  That early reporting was, in essence, emails from activist groups getting printed out and used as “news coverage” without serious question.  Remember how instantly and universally those six-year-old photos of Trayvon Martin became his official public face, as though Zimmerman had blown him off a tricycle?  Nothing quite so flood-the-zone and coordinated about the Dunn story; it’s following a slower media trajectory.

That’s probably because Dunn is not as useful to The Cause.  He did not invoke Florida’s Stand Your Ground law… although most media reports either falsely implied he did, suggested before the trial that he probably would, or simply made a point of prominently mentioning SYG laws in their coverage even though they weren’t involved in the case.  (I.e. “Although many experts expected Dunn to mount a Stand Your Ground defense…” or “While Stand Your Ground was not a factor in this case, Dunn did claim to have fired in self-defense…”)

Perhaps there’s a bit of Trayvon fatigue in the activist community, which invested a huge amount of effort into canonizing him as the face of young black America, but didn’t really get the political payoff they were looking for.  Ironically, the Dunn case is more outrageous on its face.  Dunn approached a car full of black teenagers and complained about the loud music blasting out of their vehicle; an ugly verbal altercation ensued; Dunn claims he saw someone in the car pointing a shotgun at him; he sprayed the car with ten rounds from his pistol.

As the verdicts to date would suggest, the trial doesn’t seem to have produced evidence to paint Dunn as a homicidal maniac or racist spree killer.  He’s probably going to be in jail for the rest of his life – he’s looking at 20 years for each of the three attempted murder counts he was convicted on, plus another count for firing into a parked car.  The family of the boy who died, Jordan Davis, understandably wants a conviction for his death, but the jury deadlocked on the murder charge. 

Naturally, the activists are trying to build this into another racial drama, and as mentioned above, insert their political crusade against Stand Your Ground laws.  For example, here’s an excerpt from a Christian Science Monitor piece that falsely asserts “Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground self defense law” was an element in both the Dunn and Zimmerman trials (in truth, it was not an element in either of them) before getting into the racial angle:

In letters he sent from jail while awaiting trial, Dunn (who is white) voices a problem he seems to have regarding race, or at least black culture and attitudes as he sees it.

“This jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs,” he wrote. “This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these … idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior…. The more time I am exposed to these people, the more prejudiced against them I become.”

In particular, he seemed outraged at what he called the “thug culture” of rap music reflected in the way many young black men express themselves.

“Jordan Davis didn’t have a weapon. He had a big mouth,” prosecutor John Guy said during closing arguments, referring to the verbal exchange in the parking lot and the fact that no weapon was found in the black teens’ car. “That defendant wasn’t gonna stand for it, and it cost Jordan Davis his life.”

I think what makes observers uneasy about this case is that it’s not difficult to imagine the scene – loud music blasting out of the car, you ask the kids to turn it down, a confrontation ensues.  It’s not necessarily a racial conflict.  It’s more like a clash of extremely bad manners that escalates into bloody horror.  I gather the jury was not sufficiently convinced that Dunn had a motive beyond anger, and perhaps they were not entirely willing to discount his evidently mistaken claim to have seen a weapon in the car.  It is possible to ask questions about the role played by the behavior of the young men in the car without minimizing or excusing the wrongness of Dunn’s ultimate response, for which he will forfeit the remainder of his days.

Of course, that doesn’t stop the usual suspects from trying to use the case for their purposes, patching in SYG, Trayvon Martin, and the mythology of a bloodthirsty white (and white Hispanic) culture that shoots young black men for sport:

After the verdict, Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin, told CNN: “As black males and black people in America, and other minorities and Hispanics as well, it is somehow, if you kill us, the justice system isn’t equal. It is almost as if your life is less valuable.”

“The rules are different,” Mr. Crump said. “If it were equal, I believe Michael Dunn would have been convicted of first-degree murder.”

“Stand your ground” laws aren’t as egregious as the worst of Jim Crow, writes Jamelle Bouie, a staff writer at The Daily Beast. “But there’s no denying that it harkens to a time when you could shoot first and never ask questions, as long as the victim was a black person.”

“I think I speak for many black people when I say that’s terrifying,” he writes.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a national correspondent at The Atlantic, puts it more starkly.

“I wish I had something more to say about the fact that Michael Dunn was not convicted for killing a black boy,” wrote Mr. Coates, noting that he has a son. “Except I said it after George Zimmerman was not convicted of killing a black boy. Except the parents of black boys already know this. Except the parents of black boys have long said this, and they have been answered with mockery.”

“We cannot protect our children because racism in America is not merely a belief system but a heritage, and the inability of black parents to protect their children is an ancient tradition,” Coates wrote. “I insist that racism must be properly understood as an Intelligence, as a sentience, as a default setting to which, likely until the end of our days, we unerringly return.”

Yes, it would have been nice if those youngsters had been attending the convenience store in the company of their parents, who could have prevented the entire situation from occurring or escalating into threats and violence.  But we don’t require teenagers to travel everywhere in the company of their parents.  We just ask them to behave like adults.  

Failure to do so does not justify shooting them, of course, but observing some simple standards of decorum goes a long way toward creating a more peaceable society.  Disarming law-abiding citizens to make them easier prey for criminals is not the key to restoring that decorum.  Neither is peddling sinister fantasies about whites being a pack of psychopathic killers who kill minorities for fun, or whatever eternal guilty verdict for racism Coates thinks we should be enforcing on each other.  Racism as the “default setting” for humanity, for all of eternity?  Children of all colors, I beg you, do not listen to people like this.  You deserve so much better.

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