The other Trayvon, and another murder trial set to reignite US gun debate


Click to follow
The Independent US

At scores of marches across the United States this weekend, protesters brandished placards emblazoned  with the name of an African-American teenager gunned down by a white man in Florida, even though he himself was unarmed.

That name was Jordan Davis.

The rallies were mostly a response to the acquittal one week before of George Zimmerman, the neighbourhood watch captain in Sanford who shot dead 17-year-old Trayvon Martin early last year. But the marchers were looking forward, too.

Due to open in September is the trial of Michael Dunn, 46, who stands accused of murdering Mr Davis.

While Martin’s story has gripped the country and the headlines for the past few months, Mr Davis’s case has received notably less attention, despite the strikingly similar circumstances.

Both shootings happened in the sunshine state and both involve white men – Mr Zimmerman was half- Hispanic – who have said they acted while in fear for their lives. Both also speak to some of the touchiest areas of America’s handling of race.

Were the dead men victims of social profiling? If they too had been white would bullets ever have been fired? And had they been white would the justice system treat the shooters differently?

Mr Dunn’s trial is likely to reignite the debate over these questions. Interest in the trial will be acute for another reason: it is likely to feature arguments over Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws which many have blamed for Trayvon Martin’s death.

The setting this time is a petrol station. Mr Dunn was filling his tank last November when an vehicle with four young men inside drew up and started playing music very loud. Mr Dunn objected, whereupon, he told police, they turned it up and allegedly began to threaten him.

When he saw what he thought was a rifle barrel being pointed at him, he grabbed a gun from his glove compartment and opened fire, killing Mr Davis.

“I asked them nicely, I didn’t demand. I said: ‘Hey, would you guys mind turning that down?’ They shut it off and I was like: ‘Thank you’,” Mr Dunn said following his arrest. “I saw a barrel come up on the window, like a single shot shotgun.”

Police later determined there were no firearms in the youths’ vehicle. For their part, lawyers for Mr Dunn insist there is no parallel between their client and Mr Zimmerman. “That’s ridiculous. Michael is not a vigilante,” Robin Lemonidis told CNN last year. “He is a brilliant software developer.”

The lawyer for the Davis family, John Phillips, has conceded that his clients were “freaking about justice” in the wake of the Zimmerman acquittal. However, he has also acknowledged that the two cases are not identical, saying that “the justice process is different for both. You gotta keep them separate”.

Mr Davis’s mother, Lucia McBath, has voiced hope that the trial for her son will focus less on race and more on the Stand Your Ground law, which says you don’t have to retreat if you feel you are mortally threatened.

“It is apparent that Michael Dunn is white, it’s apparent that Jordan is black,” Ms McBath said.

“But the issue is the Stand Your Ground laws. We a re not going to focus [on race], because that doesn’t do any good for the country.”