USA TODAY, February 25, 2014
By Yamiche Alcindor
The parents of Jordan Davis hope to protect the late teen’s legacy, change stand-your-ground laws across the country and bring out more of their son’s character in his killer’s retrial, the pair told USA TODAY.
Lucia McBath, 53, of Atlanta, and Ron Davis, 60, of Jacksonville, have been on a mission motivated by grief since losing their 17-year-old son. A hung jury and unauthorized use of Jordan Davis’ name and photo has now added fuel to their efforts to impact gun laws and racial discrimination.
However, some, including Mark O’Mara, the former attorney for George Zimmerman, say changing stand-your-ground laws will do little to impact systemic and societal prejudices.
“We want America and the world to acknowledge that this act was unconscionable,” Ron Davis told USA TODAY of his son’s murder. ” You (Michael Dunn) should not have shot our 17-year-old baby. He was defenseless. He had no gun or anything. You took it upon yourself to end his life and we want you to pay for that.”
On Nov. 23, 2012, Dunn, 47, a software engineer, fired 10 bullets into a Dodge Durango with Jordan Davis and three other teens inside during an argument over loud music in a Jacksonville parking lot, police say. Dunn testified that he thought he saw a gun and that Davis got out of the car and threatened him.
Two weeks ago, a jury deadlocked on whether to convict Dunn of first degree murder for killing Davis. Dunn was convicted of three counts of second-degree attempted murder and shooting or throwing a deadly missile. He faces at least 60 years in prison. Prosecutors say they plan to retry him for first degree murder.
Ron Davis believes the verdict was half-right, explaining that Dunn should be convicted of a separate murder charge for shooting his son to death. Davis is also grateful that his son was not alone when he was killed.
“If there were no witnesses to what happened, my son’s killer could just walk free,” Davis said. “The scales of justice are not in our favor.”
For McBath, the verdict illustrates that some might be unable to view her son as a unarmed, defenseless teenager.
“We know that the image of young black men having guns and being thugs is pervasive across the country,” she said. “It’s an established mindset that young black males in this country are dangerous. That young black males in this country are something to be reckoned with. That young black males in this country are people to be feared. That’s very disheartening for us.”
Keisha Bentley-Edwards, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who studies the racialized experience of young people, understands the mother’s concerns.
“There are some people who were distracted that you had a young black man talking back to an adult,” said Bentley-Edwards, referring to Jordan Davis’ argument with Dunn. “I think for some jurors, they connected with the concept of being afraid in the presence of a young black man. And, that was stronger for them than any evidence you can bring up.”
McBath hopes jurors will learn more about her son’s character including that he hoped to join the military, played basketball with friends, and spent time rollerblading with his mom and going to the beach with his dad. She also hopes the jury will hear from one of Dunn’s neighbors who in various news reports has claimed Dunn was aggressive and once asked him to carry out a hit and kill someone.
However, McBath’s hopes are unlikely to materialize, said Randy Reep, a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney.
Put simply, whether Dunn or Davis had a history of being good, bad or aggressive doesn’t prove whether Dunn is guilty of murdering Davis that night, Reep said.
“I understand the law person’s frustrations with what evidence is admitted and what isn’t,” Reep said. “But, that’s how the rules are kept fair.”
O’Mara agrees and said the jury at Zimmerman’s trial didn’t hear about Trayvon Martin’s character because the defense team never attacked the teen.
“Had I decided to attack Trayvon’s reputation, then they could have brought in evidence to bolster his reputation in the community,” he said.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, was acquitted of second-degree murder last year after shooting Martin in a gated Sanford, Fla., community. Zimmerman said he killed Martin after the teen attacked him.
O’Mara wasn’t surprised that the jury couldn’t agree on Dunn’s murder charge. Like with Zimmerman, he believes Assistant State Attorney Angela Corey overcharged.
“The state hung their own jury,” O’Mara said arguing that Dunn should have been charged with second degree murder instead of first.
He also maintains that Zimmerman’s case was far different from Dunn’s.
Despite that, Davis’ parents keep in close touch with Martin’s parent. The two families plan to attend a Tallahassee demonstration against stand-your-ground laws in March together. In most states, stand-your-ground laws say a person doesn’t have a duty to retreat when facing some danger or conflict.
Ron Davis and McBath, a national spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, also plan to push for in the controversial laws by lobbying in Washington and by speaking out publicly against them.
O’Mara questions the approach.
“Focusing on stand your ground might be self defeating,” O’Mara said “Two and a half years ago, nobody considered stand-your-ground to be a racially motivated statute. The problem is Zimmerman hits and 100 millions Americans believe it’s a cowboy statute.”
Joseph Haynes Davis, a black criminal defense attorney in Orlando, is a staunch supporter of stand-your-ground laws and says blacks should cherish the right to bear arms and defend themselves.
“I’m just as angry about the deaths of these young boys as anyone else but I’m not going to acquiescence on any rights,” he said. “I’m not going to leave unused any civil right afford to me as a black American.”
The two also are speaking out against people using Jordan Davis’ name and photos of the teen without their permission.
“When you go out and you do these kinds of things for self promotion, you are making money on the death of my son,” Ron Davis said. “It’s not right.”
In the end, McBath, a part time flight attendant, and Davis, a retired Delta Airlines salesperson, are still struggling with the loss of their son and the conversation they had with Davis about Martin, who died two years ago Wednesday.
“Jordan felt really bad about what happened to Trayvon,” McBath said. “He said, ‘This could have been me. Trayvon was just like me.'”