The Killing of Jordan Russell Davis


From Florida we get the sad tale of a teenage boy killed by a 45-year-old man after a dispute about loud music:

Michael David Dunn, 45, acted "as any responsible firearms owner would have," his lawyer said of the Friday evening incident at a gas station outside a convenience store in Jacksonville, Fla. Dunn and his girlfriend were in Jacksonville for his son's wedding when they pulled up in their car next to the teens. 

Police allege that while the girlfriend was in the store, Dunn told Jordan Russell Davis, 17, and his three friends to turn down their music. "It was loud," Jacksonville homicide Lt. Rob Schoonover said of the teens' music. "They admitted that. That's not a reason for someone to open fire." 

After an exchange of words, Dunn began shooting with a handgun, Schoonover said. "Nobody else in that vehicle was struck; it was just our victim [Davis], which was lucky because the vehicle was shot eight or nine times," Schoonover said.

Dunn claims that someone in car pointed a shotgun at him. The police found no firearms in the car. To which Dunn's lawyer responded:

"How hard did they look," Lemonidis said. "Have they done an entire search?"

Perhaps not. Perhaps Davis friends dumped the shotgun, as their friend bled to death and then summoned the police.

Dunn, for his part, drove off telling his girlfriend he'd "fired at these kids." The couple then checked into a hotel. The next morning, Dunn tuned into the news and learned that Davis had been killed. Later that day he was arrested. An alert witness had jotted down his license plate number.

I understand asking a neighbor to turn down their music. I only barely understand being temporarily parked at a convenience store, and asking someone to turn down their music. I don't at all understand shooting in self-defense and then neglecting to call the police. And I really don't understand shooting in self-defense, and neglecting to contact the police even after you've learned that you killed someone.

When we think about Stand Your Ground laws, I think it's worth considering the effects of such a law beyond the immediate. Accepting Dunn's story, that Davis had a shotgun and police simply haven't found it yet, it may seem perfectly logical to say, "If you threaten my life, I have the right to take yours." But the argument rests on an shockingly optimistic view of human nature. Guns are power. But we can't really bring ourselves to think about how power might alter our calculus. 

Dunn's daughter claims that he is a "good person." He may well be. But this is beside the point. It's as if we can't grok the idea that "goodness" is not immunity against evil acts, or even reckless acts. I don't want to put to much pressure on a daughter, who is obviously distraught. But too much is made of "goodness." The powers of human "goodness" are vastly overrated.

As an aside, I don't think Trayvon Martin comparisons are necessarily helpful here. The single aggravating factor in Martin's death was the lack of police action.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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