Jordan Davis’s name often gets lost in the list of unarmed shootings of black men and boys that seems to grow by the day: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice. But on Nov. 23, 2012, Davis, 17, was fatally shot by Michael David Dunn, 45, in Jacksonville, Florida.
Davis was with three friends at a gas station when he got into an argument with Dunn over the teens’ loud music. Dunn reached into his car and pulled out his pistol, firing 10 bullets into the car with four unarmed black teenagers inside, killing Davis.
Dunn claimed self-defense, using Florida’s "Stand Your Ground" law. But a jury convicted him of first-degree murder and in October 2014, he was sentenced to life without parole plus 90 years for three counts of attempted murder.
Since the verdict, Jordan Davis’s mother, Lucia McBath, has become a gun-control advocate, traveling throughout the country to get gun laws changed. Her family’s journey is documented in the film 3 1/2 Minutes: 10 Bullets by Marc Silver. The documentary provides a look into the tragic details surrounding Davis’s death and the road to Dunn’s conviction. The film goes inside the courtroom, giving us an eyewitness account of the gripping testimony and offering a sobering perspective on the nation’s criminal-justice system.
3 1/2 Minutes premieres on Nov. 23, the anniversary of Davis’ death, at 9 p.m. (EST) on HBO. Next America recently spoke to McBath about her efforts to promote gun control.
Next America: Why are you trying to get Stand Your Ground laws repealed throughout the U.S.?
McBath: The laws are very, very dangerous. There are many, many gun laws that are very dangerous. But the laws that are the most destructive are Stand Your Ground laws. Those laws are based upon the “castle doctrine”—a man has the right to protect his castle. Those kinds of self-defense laws are in every state, but 22 states that have indoctrinated Stand Your Ground on their books. They have taken the common self-defense laws and watered them down. They’ve taken them and turned them into Stand Your Ground laws. … In some states, [the law] doesn’t really define what ‘territory’ means. Does territory mean your car? Your front porch? Your lawn? Your place of business? So the laws are very, very dangerous and makes it very difficult for prosecutors to try those cases and to win because oftentimes the victim is dead. ...
We are one of the very few cases in the country that received justification and a guilty verdict. That is just not happening—when the shooter is white on black victim, that’s not happening in this country.
Next America: In your case, the defense was trying to use the Stand Your Ground law.
McBath: Yes, it was a self-defense case. We never went before the judge in a specific Stand Your Ground trial. … But when the instructions go to the jury, there’s Stand Your Ground verbiage. There, again, you’re planting the seed. There was no alcohol or drugs on the boys. They never got out of the car. They remained in the car. They didn’t threaten to kill him, but under the law in the state of Florida, he knew that he could say, ‘Oh, they were gangbangers. They were threatening me. They had a gun.’ Because they were four black males, he assumed that everybody would believe him.
Next America: You are now an outspoken gun-control advocate. What are we, as average American citizens, missing about this issue?
McBath: We don’t understand, in each of our respective states, the gun laws. We don’t understand Stand Your Ground. We don’t understand that people are buying guns in massive numbers online without background checks. We don’t understand that domestic abusers are able to buy guns without background checks. We don’t understand that people can ‘open carry’ their guns anywhere they want. We don’t understand that we have power and authority to keep our families safe, and that is through our vote.
People don’t understand that they have to be knowledgeable when they go to the polls. Be knowledgeable about the people, legislators in their state that are passing these kinds of laws, and vote them out. Everything that we see happening in the country with the police is because the law allows it. In order to change the law, you have to change the culture. So you begin changing the gun culture, changing one mind-set at a time, addressing what’s happening in this country, opening these discussions in every community, and then that’s how the culture gets changed. And once the culture starts to change, people start changing the laws. But until we stand up and fight the laws and change the laws, our people will continue to die.
One of the saddest things for me is when I spend time in the legislative houses and testifying and talking to legislators. I say to the legislators, '90 percent of Americans agree with me that we have to do something about our gun culture and changing the law.' They always say to me, 'If 90 percent of Americans agree, then where are they? They’re not coming to talk to us. We hear from the [National Rifle Association] gun lobby all the time. But where are your people?' And for me, particularly, when I’m up there, there’s nobody who looks like me. If we’re going to fight the culture, then we have to be involved. We have to make sure we’re doing the very things they did in the civil-rights movement. This is no different. This is the same movement.
Next America: What will it take for gun laws to change?
It’s a matter of mobilizing people. I guess they think if we just pray and have vigils it’ll all go away. But it’s not going to. We have to be just as involved in this fight as we are anything else that we passionately care about. In this regard, this is the preservation of our own lives. And if we’re not involved, we’re part of the problem. Because really at the end of the day, nobody really cares about what’s happening to us other than us. We have to be the ones to drive this. We have to be the ones to speak up. We have to be the ones to not just talk about it, we’ve got to mobilize to get our people to the polls to vote out of office the people who are passing these laws that we are dying by. It’s imperative that we do that. I spend a lot of my time and effort talking to our people and telling them, 'You’ve got to be part of the process. When people say to me, especially millennials, 'Oh, my vote doesn’t count,' I’m like, 'Oh my gosh, you can’t say that. You’ve got to be part of the process. I’m out here fighting for you. I’m not going to always be here. This is your future we’re talking about.'
Next America: What’s missing in the conversation about gun control?
McBath: I see our people missing from this, [but] we’re disproportionately affected by it. It’s absolutely critical that we be a part of these discussions. We need to be sending in petitions. We need to be mobilizing and going to state capitals, asking legislators, 'Why are you passing these kinds of laws? Are you going to be beholden to the NRA or the people who put you in office?' It’s about making them accountable to us. And, yes, every life matters. Black lives matter. That means they need to be accountable to every life.
We are trying to end senseless deaths by gun violence. As minorities, if we don’t care about it, then we’re just as much a part of the problem. The first thing that they expect is that black people will be in the street and they’ll be up in arms and they’ll be praying and they’ll be rallying, but that’s all they’re going to do. We have to go beyond the prayers and the rallies and the vigils. I’m not talking about violence. I’m talking about nonviolence—using your right to vote, using your right to decide who you want in office. As minorities, we have a lot of political power. We have to choose to use it. We put a black man in office.
It’s my heart’s desire to save as many lives as I can. I want to save as many black lives as white lives. It’s all important to me. I’m doing this because I know Jordan would expect me to.
Watch: HBO film '3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets' explores the 2012 Florida shooting over 'loud music.'
This article is part of our Next America: Criminal Justice project, which is supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.