Mistrial: Justice Denied

The jury is back in the Michael Dunn case, mistakenly dubbed the “Loud Music Case”.  A mistrial was declared on the main count:  the murder of  Jordan Davis.  Though he was found guilty on the lesser counts, the murder remains unresolved.  Once again, a young black man was killed, and the legal system supported his killer with the murky permissiveness of Stand your Ground.

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George Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara wondered aloud on CNN if “perhaps Stand Your Ground has emboldened Dunn and other people to take the law into their own hands.”  Just six months before, this same attorney defended Zimmerman’s right to hide behind the law as he stalked and killed Trayvon Martin.  O’Mara further stated that he sees racial disparity in the system “all the time.”

How can the man who defend the law say that he knows the system that spawned it is racist? How can the boy listening to his favorite music with his friends be cast as villain by this law before he is even old enough to vote?

How can we say we care about our children in a country where lax gun laws, over-permisive self defense laws and a climate ripe with hate of all stripes results in the death of hundreds of children and thousands of people every year?

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On the eve of Jordan Davis’ birthday, make a personal pledge that you will do what you can to stop the killing of young black men.  Get involved in nonprofits working to change gun laws and end Stand Your Ground.  Tell other people to get involved.  Talk to the people in your life about the impact of implicit and explicit racism on all people.  Hug the children in your life and teach them to fight for their rights.  Whatever you do, you can do something right now, this week, this year.

Thug / Life: When Keeping It Wrong Gets Real

Here’s that word again: thug.  You’ll remember that we talked about Seattle Seahawk’s Richard Sherman’s public skewering just a couple of weeks ago.  After a bragtastic post-game interview the twitter verse and TV were positivly abuzz with the word thug.

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 There was some debate, some finger pointing and–most coherent of all–Richard Sherman’s own thoughtful analysis that the word thug has come to stand in for the n word as acceptable hate speech against black men.

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To his point, a Google search of the word reports a sharp uptick in its use  in the last two decades.  Before you blame all that on hip hop, I’m pretty sure Fox news analysts who called Richard Sherman a thug aren’t bumping TuPac on the ride home.

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This week the word thug is on trial–literally–in the case of Florida v. Michael Dunn.  Dunn is charged with shooting into a car of 4 teens, killing 17 year-old Jordan Davis.  He is defending himself with an affirmative defense, claiming he shot the teen in self-defense under Florida’s  abominable controversial Stand Your Ground law.

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Rhonda Rouer testified in a Florida courtroom on Saturday in the trial of her fiancé.  Rouer testified that when she and Dunn pulled into the convenience store parking lot next to the victims’ Durango, he said to her, “I hate that thug music,” in reference to the music the teens were playing.  Lest you think this was an isolated “thug” and nothing should be made of it, consider this quote from Dunn himself:

The jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs…. This may sound a bit radical, but if more people would arm themselves and kill these fucking idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.

Dunn wrote those words from a jail cell where he sat charged with second-degree murder for killing a young boy whom he referred to as a thug just seconds before shooting him.

Sit with that irony for a second.

Words create the world around us.  Words are the material that we use to build societies.  Words like good, bad, man, woman, us and them set the boundaries of our culture, and help us decide what is worth doing and what isn’t, who deserves our compassion and who doesn’t.  Words matter.

Thug.  Trap.  Hood.  Gangsta.  Brute.  Beast.  Nigger.  These words are a chain tying men of African decent to centuries of oppression.  These words are used not in ignorance but presicely because they come packed with meaning, hate in four letters, a reminder of the persistence of racial prejudice and a time when such words were weapons wielded by lynch mobs.

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Now the words are on the stand.  They come out of Rhonda’s mouth and in four letters point an accusing finger at the only the threat in the parking lot that night:  Dunn’s own racism.  Before Dunn had any interaction with the four young boys in the truck next to him, he had called them thugs– the last word in a coded chain of hate words going back to this country’s worst hours.  In other times, a man might have chosen a rope, or a whip, but Dunn chose a gun, and decided  who would live and who would die.

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He was a grown man with a deadly weapon.  According to Dunn’s own testimony the boys turned down their music when he asked, but when he heard swearing a few moments later he stated “I wasn’t asking for any more favors.”  He decided the punishment for noise was death, then claimed stand your ground justified his actions.

Jordan-DavisIt’s 2014, not 1814, so we free people of all races have to make sure our imperfect union does what it can to realize the dream of all men and women being created equal and where we have the right to life, liberty and loud music if we choose.  Just like those men before him, we must hold Michael Dunn accountable for the racism and violence he visited on his victims.   Let’s pray the jury makes that gun toting thug aware of the weight of words with a simple “guilty.”

Do You Have To Be Right To Not be Treated Wrong?

Richard Sherman is $7875.00 away from putting this week’s scream-obsessed circus behind him.  The Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback has taken the week to turn an outpouring of criticism over a live on-camera interview into an opportunity to school us in stereotypes.  Now he just needs to pay his league fine and go on to play in the league’s biggest event where he will have the chance to respond on the field.  In case you missed it, at the conclusion of the Seahawks Forty-niners playoff game, Erin Andrews stopped Sherman for a little post-game chit chat.

Sherman delivered an earsplitting takedown of his rival on the field.  Within hours the Twitterverse lit up with criticism of Sherman’s “outburst”, and TV followed suit with a days worth of attention devoted to Sherman’s interview that used the word thug 625 times, according to Deadspin.  It didn’t take long for Sherman, not known for being quiet, to shoot back with some commentary of his own.

 Instead of delivering a dose of profanity, Sherman wrangled the criticism and elevated the conversation.  While he brushed off any implication that the criticism may destroy him, he did point out that he was bothered by the use of the word thug as a code word for the infamous n-word.  He correctly reminded us that in American parlance, when they call him a thug, they don’t mean that he is lurking around with brass knuckles, but that he is one in a long line of totally expected black brutes.

Is he right?  Sure.  You don’t need a word that starts with N to ring the bell of racism against black men.  What other choices do you have?  Try thug, brute, street, gangster, threat, hood, ape, pimp, dropout and a host of other names that trace a line decade by decade back through American history.  These words come and go like fashion, but the pattern of racism persists.

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Richard Sherman, Ivy League graduate has proved that he is not these things.  He’s chosen to use this moment to draw our attention to the use of code words in common conversation to link black men who are public figures to long standing racist historical misrepresentations.  Sooo excellent.  This time it turns out that Sherman was the wrong dude to mess with.

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But here’s the thing.  You shouldn’t have to be the right person to not be treated the wrong way.  Whether you are a Stanford graduate or just a guy on the grind, no man deserves to be defined by stereotypes.