'In God We Trust—but We Have Put Our Faith in Our Guns'

Florida teenager Jordan Davis was shot by Michael Dunn after an argument over music. His mother, Lucia McBath, talks about losing her son and her fight against Stand Your Ground laws.
Jordan Davis and Lucia McBath. (Courtesy Lucia McBath)

Jury selection begins today in the trial of Michael Dunn, the man who shot and killed teenager Jordan Davis outside a Florida convenience store in November of 2012. Davis was sitting in a parked SUV outside the Jacksonville store with friends when Dunn, who is white, began complaining about their music. An argument ensued, and then ended, when Dunn fired his 9mm handgun into the vehicle. As the SUV raced off, Dunn stepped out of his car and fired again. Then he and his girlfriend drove to a hotel, checked in, and ordered a pizza. He never called the police and was only arrested because a witness jotted down his license plate. Dunn, who is mounting a Stand Your Ground defense, claimed a passenger in the vehicle had threatened him with shotgun—or a stick. The police found no gun. 

In the wake of Jordan Davis's death, his mother Lucia McBath has become active in the fight against Stand Your Ground laws. She is currently the national spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America. I spoke with her recently about the impact of the death of her son.


How aware were you of Stand Your Ground laws before your son was killed?

I have to humble myself and say I didn't think much about them. I knew what was happening in the country. But I spent more time trying to prepare Jordan to be safe, specifically being a young black male. I monitored who he was with and what he did. And I would have those discussions with him. But I didn't know anything about Stand Your Ground until Trayvon, which I discussed with Jordan as well. Every time I saw a case like that I would just pray to the Lord that something like that would never happen to us. Jordan was in a safe environment. We were in a safe environment. Now my eyes are open. It does not matter where you raise your kids. It does not matter what your religious upbringing is. 

Can you tell us about Jordan?

He was always the life of the party. He had a great sense of humor. He would always play jokes on me and his dad as well. He was loved by a lot of people. He had a lot of friends and I always marveled at how quickly he made friends. He was just that kind of gracious personality. He made friends with all kinds of people. He didn't care about ethnicity or religious upbringing. He just liked people. I used to tell him, "Jordan, one day you'll be a social activist or politician because you can bring kids together."

He had a lot of wisdom. I used to pray that God would give him wisdom and understanding. We would have these deep philosophical conversations about life and there'd be times when Jordan would say things and I would say, "How do you know?"

But he would know and he would say, "I just know, Mom." 

How old was Jordan when he died?

Jordan was 17. Between his junior and senior year.

Was he thinking of college?

His father and mother were well-educated and we come from well-educated families. But he was an average student. He had his struggles with math. He had gotten to the point where he'd say, "I want to go to college, but I don't know if I'm cut out for it." He was leaning toward the military. My oldest nephew, Julian, went into the Marines and did extremely well. He took Jordan under his wing. Jordan kind of wanted to be like cousin Julian. He was in Air Force ROTC in high school and that seemed to fit him. He excelled in ROTC. 

Did he enjoy athletics? 

Toward the end of his life he had gained an interest in basketball. As a child, he loved baseball. He took Taekwondo for about four and a half years. I actually took a class with him. He loved roller-skating. He was an excellent swimmer. I put him in the water at three years old and he just took off. He was so fast. When he was younger we would run races together, and I used to be really fast as a young woman and I would beat the boys. But they got faster. Jordan got faster.

How did you find out that Jordan had died?

I was in Chicago with my family on the day after Thanksgiving. I had gone to the bedroom. My phone was on the dresser and it lit up with Jordan's father number. He said, "Where are you?" 

I said, "I'm in the bedroom." 

He said, "Where's Earl?" Earl is my cousin. He is more or less like a brother to me. 

I said, "Why? Where's Jordan?" 

He said, "I need you to get Earl." 

I said, "I'm not going to get him. What's wrong with Jordan?" I think he didn't want me to hear the news by myself. 

What happened after you were told?

Every fear I ever had for my child, especially as he became a teenager—when they're driving, are they going to be hit? Is he going to get in trouble? Is he going to be stopped by the police?—everything I ever feared for Jordan hit me at that one moment. It was excruciating. It was the kind of fear you put out of the mind. You read about it in magazines. You see it on television and you think, "What would I ever do if that happened to my child?"

And then all of that comes down at one time.

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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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