Another Trayvon?

Down in our most favorite state of Florida, the Stand Your Ground laws are being put to the test once again, once again in an utterly ridiculous case of a white man feeling threatened by the mere existence of black people. In this case, Michael Dunn stopped at a gas station and was pissed off that four black teenagers had their bass up too high. He told them to turn it down, thought he saw a gun and then fired into their SUV four times, at which point he drove away. What he apparently didn’t notice is that he had killed one of the people in the SUV. 17 year old Jordan Davis.

Of course his defense is that he was threatened. He thought he heard someone say “kill that bitch”, he thought he saw a gun (no gun found in the SUV upon later investigation). Oddly enough despite how threatened he felt, he simply got in his car and left without calling the police or really doing anything one would think you should do after “defending” yourself from potential gunfire.

None of us know how this trial is going to turn out. There are some significant differences with the George Zimmerman trial, most obviously that this was a purely verbal altercation, that Dunn neglected to call the cops, and that he fled the scene. However there are notable similarities as well: Dunn is white and his victim is black. The same attorney is defending both men. And both men are relying on the Stand Your Ground law as a defense.

Most of the people reading this blog probably won’t debate that the Stand Your Ground laws have been used in racially charged ways in the past, and that this trial will be another test of just how important a white person’s feelings of safety are in comparison to a black person’s right to exist. What seems to stand out to me in this case is little media attention this appears to have gotten and bold people are getting when it comes to murdering black youth. The provocation in this case was literally some loud music (kids these days!) and a completely nonexistent gun. The man in question, supposedly terrified out of his mind, drove back to a bed and breakfast with his girlfriend and ordered a pizza. The nonchalance of these actions is mind-blowing and more than a little bit disturbing.

I have to wonder a bit about what was actually happening in this situation. It seems clear that Dunn was upset about the very public presence of these young people. Their music was too loud: they were intruding on his space. I wonder if the music was rap or hip hop and if Dunn would have reacted the same way had they been playing pop or rock. His description of their language is clearly coded as black (kill that bitch). They were infringing on his space and his rights with their voices. Would he have felt the same if their dialect had been coded white? Were these kids wearing “black” clothes? Would he have felt threatened if they were dressed in suits or in slacks and button down shirts? Would he have bothered to get out of his car and see if he injured anyone after firing?

I can’t ever know the answers to these questions. No one can. No one will know whether Dunn would have acted the same had the youth in question been white or Asian or anything but black. What we do know is that there are too many incidents of blackness being coded as danger in our society, too many people who act as though another black body is just another day, and too few people caring.

The priority of fear over the right to live makes no sense in a civilized society in which we have an entire occupation dedicated to keeping us safe (particularly when you’re white and you know that the police are on your side). We know that our fear is not always rational, that quick reactions based on emotions are often harmful, that our perceptions of situations are often distorted. We know that citizens have the right to safety. So why have we said that fear is more important?

Oh right, because blackness is inherently scary and because the most important thing is to make sure white people are safe and secure.

Cross posted from We Got So Far To Go


Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at

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  1. George Zimmerman did not rely on Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute for his defense. He claimed he was attacked and knocked to the ground, and therefore had no opportunity to retreat. In short, Zimmerman made the same sort of self-defense claim he could have made in any of the 50 states.

    1. The Stand Your Ground law was incorporated into the jury instructions addressing self-defense (which is all that the Stand Your Ground law is — a statutory recitation AND EXPANSION of the common law right of self-defense):

      “If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in anyplace where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand hisground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it wasnecessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to preventthe commission of a forcible felony.In considering the issue of self-defense, you may take into account the relative physicalabilities and capacities of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.”

      It’s on page 12. I don’t know if the jury’s verdict indicated what part of the instructions they relied upon to find him not guilty, but it certainly could have been the Stand Your Ground portion (and based upon the facts that are undisputed, I think that would have been his best bet).

      1. The use of stand your ground as a defense strategy occurs before the trial. Zimmerman’s defense team did not pursue such a defense strategy, nor did it raise the issue during trial, therefore it is inaccurate to say Zimmerman “relied” on the stand your ground law as part of his defense. It would be more accurate to say he benefited from the law because the judge was required to inform the jury about it.

        The reason I bring this up is because it is often claimed that Florida’s stand your ground law emboldened Zimmerman to chase down and confront Martin. This amounts to suggesting he planned a murder defense in advance–apparently based entirely on the hope his trial judge would correctly instruct a jury. Personally, I wouldn’t give him that much credit for intelligence.

        1. zimmerman may not have “relied” on the law, but that it is that law the existence of that law that led to his not being arrested or his claims investigated when the police showed up. in most places, even in a self defense situation, the murderer would be taken in and questioned. while it’s not guaranteed that an immediate investigation would have turned up evidence that may have resulted in a guilty verdict, it is also not guaranteed that it wouldn’t have.

      2. BTW, the “stand your ground” comment in the judge’s instructions to the jury is not based on Florida’s stand your ground law. The law itself provides citizens a means to avoid trial in the first place. Zimmerman’s defense specifically waived his right to claim immunity from prosecution under Florida’s stand your ground statute.

        Somehow people have gotten the idea that one has a duty to retreat rather than engage in self defense. This is not the case. You can read more about it here:

        1. I think that Mr Hurtley is splitting hairs. “Stand Your Ground” laws, in the public discourse, refer not just to the pre-trial hearing to throw out self-defense cases, but also to the inclusion of stand-your-ground language in self-defense statutes, which contrary to Mr Hurtley’s assertion were part of the same NRA-backed legislative push. In the particular case of Florida, both the pre-trial hearing and the language of jury instructions in all self-defense cases were affected the same NRA-backed law. Jurers who were interviewed after-the-fact explicitly cited Stand Your Ground as a factor in finding Zimmerman innocent.

          1. But we’re not discussing the stand your ground law in the context of public discourse, but rather how it was applied in court. The author of this post explicitly claims Zimmerman relied on Florida’s stand your ground law for his defense; that is not accurate. One might certainly make the argument Zimmerman benefited from the law, but that is different from saying he relied on it.

            Further, there is another side to this you may not be considering. I understand the concern that some pinhead might feel emboldened by this law to escalate a confrontation. Clearly, that is what many believe happened here between Zimmerman and Martin. The flip side of the argument is that a criminal might be emboldened to escalate a confrontation if they believe the law requires their victims to run away.

            The point of the stand your ground law is to raise awareness of the fact those engaged in self defense have no duty to retreat. Someone who is defending themselves from a violent attack shouldn’t worry whether after the act they can be prosecuted for not running away and, perhaps as importantly, criminals should expect them to.

          2. What is the difference between saying that he benefited from it and that he relied on it?

          3. I mean the practical difference between those phrases. In other words, I believe that the outcome in the Zimmerman case would have been different, absent the SYG law. That being the case, what is the difference between benefiting from an unjust law and relying on an unjust law for your defense?

          4. Or if you’d like, ignore the “unjust” in my sentence. What is the practical difference between relying on a law and benefiting from a law?

  2. BTW, thanks for the article. I had not heard about this case. I wonder if there is any way to measure the possible effect of the Stand Your Ground law prospectively, by which I mean obviously any decent defense lawyer is going to use it in any situation where it might even remotely apply (and beyond). But how many people are going into confrontations bolstered by the law? Would this guy have shot before the law, or before the Martin/Zimmerman case? Seems pretty obvious he would be going to jail without the law, and there’s still a pretty good chance he will go to jail even with the law (I hope), but I wonder if there is a way to determine if people are losing their temper/control earlier than before as a result of knowledge about this law.

    1. Sensible law, prior to some of these “Stand your Ground” nonsense laws have always held that there is a line to be crossed, between when you are in danger, and the danger has in fact passed, and any further actions you might take are, from that point on, premeditated murder. A bloody lot of so called “self defense” classes, and one has a hard time imagining otherwise for gun-self defense advocated, this basic premise has always been violated, even to the extent of telling the students that, even if disarmed, disabled, or running away, or even unconscious, there is some sort of “right” on their part to make sure the person can’t re-threaten them, and that crossing that line, and killing them, is an acceptable action, not a violation of basic human ethics, never mind pre-stand your ground self defense laws.

      And, hell yes, there has been a case where some asshole, under these new laws, successfully argued that they had the right to recover a stolen item, and kill the thief, despite of the complete lack of any actual continued threat, from said thief, who was running away, and had to be **intentionally** hunted down, and shot to death, for the supposed victim to have so much as wounded them, never mind killed them.

      Some countries have almost no violent crime, and “minor” crimes, including theft, are treated as a public show case, with limited restrictions on the perpetrators, in which everyone, including the public, which they interact with each day, and the perp themselves, are completely aware that they fucked up, and deserve what they are being put through, but there is also an understanding that they can redeem themselves. Here, in the good old US of A, we get to shut F-ing shoot people that fuck with us, and if you do get arrested, for almost anything at all, no matter how minor, some asshole has probably “increased the penalty” for it, some place, and by the time you get out of the sealed of from the public, abusive, F-ed up system, your whole life is screwed, beyond most people’s ability to recover. But, heh, it could be worse, your victim might have fucking shot you dead, in the back, while you ran away with their wallet.

      How the hell do people not see a problem with this?

  3. This seems premature. Frankly, we have no way of knowing at this point if Dunn was truly threatened, if the teenagers actually pulled a gun on him or what they said while doing so. That it didn’t show up in the vehicle at some later time hardly means anything more than it was hidden. If a woman who was raped went home and ordered pizza afterwards, rather than called the police, we would call that trauma – not guilt. Dunn may very well have been suffering from shock after having a gun pulled on him and shooting the assailant.

    That’s not to say that I believe this to be the case – but with the information we have it’s perfectly plausible. We need more information before we start calling this ‘another Trayvon’.

    1. Of course this isn’t “another Trayvon”. The narrative about Zimmerman and Trayvon is what the story was changed into by the mainstream media but that narrative is as much an atrocity as the verdict, maybe even the killing. Let’s not forget that the police found a man standing over the dead body of a black kid and when his story didn’t match the facts as they knew it they still let him go without even a real investigation. When witnesses told them that man assaulted the kid, the police corrected them. This happened and when the story started gaining traction on social media it got effectively erased. How many people out there are getting railroaded or straight up murdered because the police don’t have to answer to the public?

      That said, the similarites the author was referring to are present here. First, you have a confirmed racist initiating a confrontation that is itself kind of racist. Secondly, his story is kind of absurd and wouldn’t be consided plausible without the race issue. Thirdly, people bending over backwards to play devil’s advocate despite how absurdly implausible it is. You think they had a gun? Why? He certainly didn’t or he wouldn’t have gone into his glove box to get his while they supposedly had a shotgun trained on him.

      In terms of illustrating the phenomenon of people using Stand Your Ground to justify initiating disputes with black people and killing them this is actually a better case because he actually spells it out for us in one of his letters from jail: “This jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs,” he notes. He goes on to say “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,”

      1. Thanks for giving me such a thorough response. It was not my intent to play devil’s advocate. My problem with Olivia’s argument was that she was using two pieces of evidence to justify Dunn’s guilt:
        1) That the police found no gun. This is unsurprising. If there was a gun it would have been disposed of; hardly evidence one never existed.
        2) That Dunn didn’t behave appropriately in the aftermath. This isn’t just silly, it’s dangerous. People who suffer traumatic experiences don’t always behave consistently, predictably, or in ways we tend to think people who suffer trauma “should”. I think it should be pretty evident to anyone reading here why this is a problem, particularly as it’s been applied to rape cases.

        Dunn’s story only becomes absurdly implausible (and I agree with you that it is) when you point out that he returned to his car to get a gun from the glove box. This is a much better argument that no gun existed than the police not finding one in the car at some later time.

        1. What’s implausible is your claim that you don’t mean to play devil’s advocate. Your claim that the absence of a gun is ‘hardly evidence one never existed’ is nonsensical unless we start from the assumption that there was a gun. The absence of a gun is, in fact, rather strong evidence that one never existed. The fact that you start from the assumption that there was a gun is plain with your statement that a gun ‘would have’ been disposed of. Certainly, there are other possible explanations for the absence of a gun, including “the kids disposed of it” and “the police overlooked it”. Yet you rate “there was never a gun in the first place” as the absolutely least probable explanation, and ‘the boy’s friends ditched the gun somewhere the police could not find it’ as obvious truth.

      1. But can’t you see, this man is a VICTIM here. He HAD to shoot those black guys. No white guy would commit a senseless act of unprovoked violence, so they MUST have MADE him do it. It’s only logical …………………………………….

        1. “No True white guy would commit a senseless act of unprovoked violence…” There, fixed it for you.

          In other good news for Florida white people, at lunch today, my friend was reading to us about Curtis Reeves, who might not be released on bail after shooting a white guy who texted during the movie previews (and committed assault with a loaded pop-corn container.) According to the local sheriff’s office and CNN, Reeves can’t use the Stand Your Ground defense for shooting a fellow white person.

          P.S. Heina, please explain to me again how not to come across as angry?

      2. The point was that people who suffer traumatic experiences don’t always behave consistently, predictably, or in ways we tend to think people who suffer trauma “should”. We’ve been fighting to have this recognized for years in the cases of rape victims; it shouldn’t be controversial that it applies to other traumatic experiences as well.

        See my reply to Victoria.

        1. What did Dunn experience that was supposedly “traumatic”? You seem to be under the impression that he was the victim here, that he was the one who was traumatized. How was he traumatized? If you say “he thought he was going to die” then you’ll probably get laughed out of these comments…
          He was the one who shot another human being. Mostly what I was trying to point out was that it’s incredibly cavalier to unload a firearm into a vehicle filled with people and then choose to drive away without bothering to see if you’ve injured someone. There is a major difference between being the victim of assault and shooting someone then driving away.

          1. Again, I’m not saying he was the victim. I agree with Victoria’s evidence that this was extremely unlikely.

            But you’re using circular logic here. You’re saying that his “inappropriate” behavior after the incident is evidence that he is guilty. But that his inappropriate behavior couldn’t have been caused by trauma because, since he is guilty, he wasn’t the victim and suffered no trauma.

            Regardless of his guilt, shooting another person is extremely traumatic. It’s why cops and soldiers have frequent cases of PTSD.

          2. In other words, the best piece of evidence you gave for his guilt relied on him being guilty for it to be evidence.

          3. d506 now you are putting words into people’s mouths. No one is saying that Dunn driving away is the “best piece of evidence for his guilt.” I would say the best piece of evidence for his guilt is that he admitted that he shot and killed a teen who in his own testimony may or may not have been armed.

          4. @muddgirl
            “d506 now you are putting words into people’s mouths. No one is saying that Dunn driving away is the “best piece of evidence for his guilt.”

            “The provocation in this case was literally some loud music (kids these days!) and a completely nonexistent gun. The man in question, supposedly terrified out of his mind, drove back to a bed and breakfast with his girlfriend and ordered a pizza. The nonchalance of these actions is mind-blowing and more than a little bit disturbing.”

            No one is arguing the man shot and killed a teenager. His defense is that it was self defense. In her article, Olivia makes pretty clear she doesn’t believe this to be the case. She cites the fact that no gun was found and Dunn’s behavior after the fact as the only evidence that his story isn’t true. Given that not finding a gun is hardly evidence that a gun was ‘completely nonexistent’, it seems to me her primary evidence is his behavior after the incident.

            Again, I agree he is likely to be guilty. Returning to your car to get a gun suggests very strongly he was not seriously threatened. Olivia’s own words (“He told them to turn it down, thought he saw a gun and then fired into their SUV four times, at which point he drove away.”) suggested it was a spur of the moment event rather than the apparently methodical one that it was.

          5. @d506 – Granted that leaving the scene without notifying anyone that you killed a person could be because of a disordered mind due to the trauma of murdering someone – that will likely be what the defense claims. It could also be that Dunn didn’t want anyone to know that he killed a person, because killing a person is murder and would lead to his arrest. It seems to me like you are splitting hairs for no particular reason and highlighting an incredibly minor point of Olivia’s even though you agree with her.

            Dunn’s actions may indeed be considered self-defense under the laws of the state of Florida – that’s a huge part of the problem that Olivia was trying to highlight! It’s ridiculous that someone can get away with murder because they merely “felt afraid.” Even accepting the defense’s claims to be true – the kids had a shotgun or a night stick and they made threatening comments – I don’t think someone should die because they say, “I’m going to kill you” during an altercation. That’s not an offense that should be punishable by death.

          6. @muddgirl
            I don’t feel like this is splitting hairs. As I said above, I think judging people based on their actions after a trauma is extremely problematic for the reasons I went into above. There is also a world of difference between Olivia’s account (“he saw a gun and then fired into their SUV four times”) and Victoria’s (he went back to his car for a gun) – sufficient to move me from saying ‘I do not know’ to ‘almost certainly guilty’. And the rest of her article was really only relevant if you believe Dunn to be guilty.

            As for the rest, I do not know what to say other than “I disagree”. I think self defense laws are problematic because they are too easily and too often misused. I think the Trayvon case was a travesty. But I don’t inherently think a person’s right to life entitles them to point a gun at you and threaten your life without also risk to their own.

          7. @d506 Would you support making the legal punishment for “assault with a deadly weapon” the death penalty? The not-so-hidden problem with this kind of Stand Your Ground self-defense law is that it encourages all parties in an altercation to escalate and escalate in a lethal game of chicken. We have seen this happen many, many, many times in states like Florida and Texas. I was raised to believe that all parties in a fight have the responsibility to de-escalate. IMO, self-defense should really only apply when we can define a clear aggressor. That’s impossible when all parties can claim that they were defending their ground. I haven’t even touched the racial implications, yet.

          8. Of course not, because the situation is already under control. By your logic, we should remove guns from all police officers and hope that talking nicely resolves all issues. While I think police are far too trigger happy, the fact is force is sometimes necessary.

            Would you support imprisonment of a woman for tasing a man who was trying to rape her? She assaulted him after all; perhaps he’d only cornered her and threatened her. Should she have to risk her safety by waiting until he’d physically assaulted her first? What if killed him?

            I was not at all defending ‘stand your ground’ laws. As I said, they’re enormously problematic. ‘Vanilla’ self defense laws are largely sufficient. But your idea that a person must risk their own safety to protect the life of someone threatening and pointing a gun at them is unreasonable.

          9. Again, there is a huge difference between a victim who is getting raped and two people in an argument with each other. If two people possess guns and are pointing them at each other, who is the victim and who is the aggressor? Self-defense statutes that attempt to protect either party in this situation are extremely troublesome to a civil society. I believe that self-defense laws in states without SYG statutes already do a good job of protecting actual victims of aggressive assault from prosecution. I have never argued against self-defense laws entirely – merely the concept that you can murder someone simply because you are fighting with them.

            Cops are a completely different issue because society imbues cops with the responsibility of keeping the peace. I hope that we do not imbue every gun owner with that responsibility.

          10. That being said, cops are taught conflict management, conflict resolution, and de-escalation skills for a reason.

        2. So you would agree that it makes sense that Davis’ friends driving away after the shots, then driving back to get help for Davis, was likely a reaction to the traumatic experience of being shot at rather than a calculated attempt to get rid of a shotgun?

  4. The entire above debate was a very good and interesting one.

    In the end, the jury had the same debate, and the man was convicted, although he was not convicted, as I understand it, of First Degree Murder. That makes sense. The jury seems to have found “reasonable doubt” that the accused may not have “premeditated and deliberated” firing the shots.

    Stand Your Ground was really not an issue here, because the jury found that the man did not have a right to use deadly force in self defense. Had they found he had a right to self defense, he would have been acquitted on all counts.

    Stand your ground really only means that IF you have a right of self defense, then you do not have to retreat — you have as much right to stay where you are as the aggressor. This makes a lot of logical sense for two reasons. Innocent people ought not have to modify their behavior to accommodate aggressors (wrongful actors). If I’m minding my own business and taking a walk in my neighborhood, and someone accosts me, why should the onus be on me to walk away or run away and hide? Don’t I have the right to be where I am? Don’t I have the right to peaceful tranquility?

    The second reason is that if someone assaults me, normally I will only have a split second to decide what I can do — should I really liable to prove my innocence by demonstrating affirmatively that I did not have any “reasonable” option to run away? Should a teenager in a hoodie, for example, have any obligation to run away if Stubs Malone, the local Irish Gangster, tries to hit him with brass knuckles? That is what happens from time to time in places where “duty to retreat” rules apply. A person gets assaulted, and reacts to defend themselves, and then the prosecutor charges them with murder because they could have retreated.

    The stand your ground law is kind of an extension of the castle doctrine. While I acknowledge that the stand your ground rule is not perfect and I respect people’s complaints about it, I tend to sympathize more with those folks who are attacked than those who are the attackers. In the Castle Doctrine, if someone enters your home feloniously, then you do not have to retreat – you can shoot the person to protect your home and hearth. That’s a good rule. I don’t want to have to grab my family and run out the back door, leaving my personal things to be rummaged through by home invaders.

    Granted, Dunn looks guilty as hell of firing his weapon without justification or excuse, and even attempted murder – and in my view even Second Degree Murder (intentional killing of another human being with malice aforethought, but without premeditation or deliberation). A boat load of jail time — you don’t fire off weapons against kids in cars playing loud music, even if you’re scared of them. So it looks like the system worked.

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