Knowing Your Place: A Commentary on Jordan Davis and My “Black” Life

“Imagine living life in a society where you can be picked off for minding your own business by some a–hole with insecurities and your death can be written off as ‘I was just trying to defend myself’ in some perverse, Jim Crow-era nightmare.”

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The last time I came at you guys was on June 15, 2013. Long damn time ago, I know. I have since taken on a job in Lansing as a full-time Journalist and I have wrongfully neglected this blog site. I just haven’t had the time, nor energy, to keep up with it and for that I greatly apologize. There have been a lot of things worth my attention that I haven’t had the ability to really shoot on like I have in the past, but periodically something will come up that will have my ass tied up in knots and I can no longer hold it in, and that’s why I’m here today. Without further ado, let’s get this started.

—-

♠ Reality is often more sobering than Fiction ♠

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

— Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney General.

LANSING, Mich. (JSC) — I come to you all today not as a professional journalist, a broadcaster, or any type of representative of any company, conglomerate, or organization. I simply come to you today as a 34-year-old Black Man who is tired of seeing his thoughts, his life, his feelings, and his mere existence being treated as if it is trivial. I don’t say this without some type of logic or reasoning, and there is no shortage of evidence and examples to back up what I’m saying. In the amount of time since I last joined you, two very troubling cases of White-on-Black crime have come to their conclusion (largely). The first being the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin. The other, which saw 4/5 of the verdict handed down yesterday, was the case of 17-year-old Jordan Davis being shot dead by Michael Dunn, a 47-year-old software designer, on Nov. 23, 2012 in Jacksonville after Dunn rudely told Davis and his three friends to turn down the “thug music” pumping out of their SUV. An argument ensued and Dunn claimed that Davis — or somebody in the truck — pulled a 12-gauge shotgun on him and he felt his life was in danger and pumped 10 shots into the SUV, striking and killing Davis. Dunn, who was so afraid for his life moments earlier, calmly drove back to a hotel, ate some pizza, and walked his dog. Did not call the police. Did not inform authorities. And, might I add, did not actually see a gun. As the above quote from the Attorney General says, we’re still a “nation of cowards” when it comes to race, and Florida is the state that has a law that allows cowards to do what they do best. Let’s Go.

Trayvon Martin made the fatal mistake of defending himself from a stranger following him in the night...
Trayvon Martin made the fatal mistake of defending himself from a stranger following him in the night…

On the very warm night of July 14, 2013 (and what I wouldn’t give for a warm night right about now), I was at my parents’ house watching a Tigers game and getting ready to head out to meet with a couple of friends when the alert came over my phone that a verdict had been reached in the George Zimmerman trial. Before I go forward, let me quickly step back: In April 1992, I remember incredulously watching the Rodney King beating verdict be read live on NBC. I was 12 years old at the time and didn’t have a complete grasp on how “the system” worked. I saw a video tape of several police officers beating the breaks off of an unarmed man and used logic and common sense — I KNOW!!! — to presume that the cops who did it were going to jail for what they did. So when that jury came back with not guilty verdicts for all of those cops, my jaw hit the floor. I was trying to grasp how the hell they got off. My mom, with a facial expression that I like to call “bitter resignation,” looked at me and said “That’s just how the system works.” Flabbergasted, all I could do is watch in shock as the city of Los Angeles burned in rioting just hours later.

This brings us back to that hot Saturday night in July 21 years later, just after 9:30 p.m., when I was watching MSNBC and saw the verdict read live. Zimmerman — a man (and I use that term loosely) who followed an unarmed teenager in his car, then stopped it, got out, and continued to pursue him before starting a fight that eventually led to Martin’s death — was acquitted on all charges. Just like 1992, two people watched that verdict, but this time, nary a jaw hit the floor. The look of bitter resignation was planted firmly on my face. I had again tried to apply logic and common sense to the situation — I KNOW!!!!!! — but the difference between 1992 and 2013 is that I had joined the millions of Black Americans in this country, as well as millions more around the globe, in expecting the absolute worst. In that aspect, I was not disappointed. But the rest of that night, and ever since that night truthfully, I’ve been pissed off. This was bigger than just another illogical verdict precipitated by an even more asinine and illogical law, it served as another stiff European uppercut to the chin that my life really doesn’t mean a damn thing in the eyes of certain parts of this country’s fatally flawed justice system. That holds especially true in the state of Florida, which has become — thanks to Stand Your Ground — the new millennium’s bastion of cowards.

Ever since I was old enough to go out with friends and drive myself places, my mother has told me to “be careful” and my dad often warns me, even today, to watch myself in certain places. I used to think that was because of the inherent fears that accompany being the parent of a black child, especially a black boy in southeast Michigan. There’s the inherent danger, at least in Detroit, that I could be victimized by one of my own or if I ventured into the suburbs, I could be victimized by a police officer for not “knowing my place.” I admit that I’ve had these fears and have previously written about a couple of lovely incidents in the past 15 years of police in East Lansing trailing me back to my dorm at MSU from a Burger King, including following me into the parking lot, as well as a Michigan State Trooper stopping me for doing 35 mph in a construction zone. The speed limit in set construction zone was 40.

Michael Dunn shot into an SUV full of  unarmed teenagers because they were a "threat." A jury couldn't figure out if this was true or not.
Michael Dunn shot into an SUV full of unarmed teenagers because they were a “threat.” A jury couldn’t figure out if this was true or not.

While my parents’ inherent fears came from their own experiences — my mom was born in rural Jim Crow-era Alabama and went to college at Tennessee State in the early 1960s while my dad came up in southwest Detroit in the 1950s and 60s — I had to learn for myself and learning was clearly half the damn battle. But for all my fear of stick-up kids and carjackers in Detroit and the police outside of it, I never thought I would see another day and age where you could essentially be killed for existing. Imagine living life in a society where you can be picked off for minding your own business by some a–hole with insecurities and your death can be written off as “I was just trying to defend myself” in some perverse, Jim Crow-era nightmare.

That brings us to what happened in Jacksonville. Michael Dunn murdered Jordan Davis because Davis and his friends didn’t know their damn place. Let’s just call a ♠ a ♠ here. Dunn is quoted as saying “They’re not going to talk to me like that” before whipping out his gun and busting off shots. Am I going to say that Jordan Davis didn’t curse at Dunn or make some smart-ass remarks toward him from the car? Of course not. I’m not naive. Teenagers are rude, reckless a–holes. But just like it’s asinine when a 22-year-old black man whips out his pistol when someone “disrespects” him, it borders on the absurd when a nearly 50-year-old white man does the same thing…unless you live in Florida.

You could easily say that Dunn and his defense team felt empowered by the Zimmerman verdict. Zimmerman was able to get a jury to believe that he was defending himself against an unarmed kid who weighed 40 lbs less than him strictly because the kid “looked” suspicious. He took advantage of the fact that the victim — who bears the burden of proof thanks to that bullspit Stand Your Ground Law — was unable to tell his side of the story because he was, well, dead. Dunn, who tried to play up the same narrative as Zimmerman, tried to claim that he “feared for his life” when these kids mouthed off to him (and they had every right to do so) and one of them reached for, and pointed, a shotgun at him. The problem is, of course, there was no gun. There was no threat to his life. This guy didn’t even bother to pull a Zimmerman and follow them around a neighborhood and provoke them first.

Jordan Davis would've celebrated his 19th birthday today.
Jordan Davis would’ve celebrated his 19th birthday today.

Dunn was convicted yesterday on four counts of attempted murder in the second degree but, strangely, the count of first degree murder ended in a deadlock. Apparently, the issue with the jury was whether or not the first few shots into the car were…wait for it…in SELF DEFENSE!!!!! Again, none of those boys did anything more than curse at Dunn. No punches, or bottles, or text messages, or popcorn was thrown at him. Dunn was the one who initiated the confrontation. What the hell was he defending his life against? Dirty looks? Curse words? Terrible rap music?

On the attempted murder convictions, Dunn could do up to 60 years in prison, so it’s not like he completely got off like Zimmerman did. But is that what this has come to in this society? That we should be happy that this clown was at least convicted of something? That the best we can hope for is that if a young man dies over a grown man’s hurt feelings, that the killer will be convicted of murder manslaughter something? That the jury was really trying to figure out a way to essentially justify, and I’ll just be real here, a WHITE man spraying bullets into an SUV full of unarmed BLACK teens in order to validate that ridiculous “self-defense” yarn shows you just how completely FUBAR the entire damn system is, especially in Florida. And before any of you simpletons say that I shouldn’t speak in racial terms, answer this for me:

  • Would there have been even one person believing Dunn’s story if he were black and the SUV was full of four white boys who looked like Justin Bieber?
  • Would anyone have considered self-defense an option had George Zimmerman gotten out of his car and followed a white kid, or a small child, or a woman? What if Zimmerman were a black man following anyone?

If you try to tell me it would be treated the same, you’re either naive, or ignorant to history.

In closing, I’m under no allusions that what I’m saying will resonate with everyone. There are many people, including an unnerving number of minorities, who seem to have this misguided notion that race isn’t as big of a deal in 2014. The fact that there are laws in this country in 2014 that allow someone to essentially pick a fight with someone else, turn around and kill them under the premise that they were “threatening their lives,” and then walk — in some cases without a single charge being pressed — is absurd. It gives refuge to cowards and allows the ignorant to get over on assumptions and stereotypes. It also gives large swaths of American society a safe haven for their preposterous notions that every young (or old) black man is under “suspicion” simply by birthright. I’ve been a professional broadcaster and writer for 10 years. I’ve gotten the off-kilter looks when I walk up to interview people on the street. I have to make sure that my press credentials are showing at all times as not to arouse “suspicion”; as not to give people this idea that I’m not where I’m supposed to be. This is not some type of insecurity or paranoia. This is fact and it’s a life that black men across this country live every day. My thoughts and prayers go out to Jordan Davis’ family as well as Trayvon Martin’s and every other family that had had to feel the pain of losing a son or daughter way too young. This also goes out to Emmitt Till, and Oscar Grant, and Sean Bell, and Amadou Diallo, and Hadiya Pendleton, and Renisha McBride and every other young, black life that was snuffed out before it could reach its prime. How many more young black lives will be ended far too soon at the hands of a white or black man’s gun? How long, if ever, will justice at least attempt to be delivered to all? How long before my life — my mere existence — is not met with suspicion and disdain? I’m not going to hold my breath waiting on that to happen.

Until Next Time, That’s The Way It Is. Sunday, February 16, 2014.

Jordan Davis’ 19th Birthday

Take Care, God Bless, Always Dare to Be Different, and G.O.M.A.B. Σ

Author: Jay Scott Smith

What’s Happening! The name’s Jason…but for the sake of this blog, you can call me Jay or Jay Scott. I am a 36-year-old Journalist, Detroit Native, Man of Sigma, and Charismatic Enigma…That About Covers it for me! lol You wanna get in contact w/me, well, here you go! G.O.M.A.B. to my Blu Family! (ΦΒΣ/ΖΦΒ)

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