In a Civilized State Without Stand Your Ground, Jordan Davis Would Still Be Alive
FlaglerLive | January 11, 2016
By Julie Delegal
When President Barack Obama announced his executive actions on guns last week, parents of children slain by bullets stood behind him. Jordan Davis’ mother, Lucia McBath, was one of them.
McBath and Ron Davis were thrust into every parent’s nightmare in late 2012 when their 17-year-old son, Jordan, was shot and killed outside a Gate gas station in suburban Jacksonville.
Dubbed the “loud music murder trial” by the press, the court proceedings tested a community that has historically failed too many attempts to deliver racial justice.
It took two tries and two different sets of jurors, sitting just blocks away from the hallowed ground of Ax Handle Saturday, to ultimately convict Michael David Dunn on all counts, including the first-degree murder of Jordan Davis.
The murder that might have destroyed many parents was a call to action for McBath and Davis. They’ve been working to reduce gun violence ever since Jordan’s murder, opening their lives to documentary filmmakers, speaking to the media, and testifying before legislative committees in Washington and Tallahassee.
Last October, McBath spoke out against Florida lawmakers’ attempts to make it harder to convict people who raise the stand-your-ground defense. Despite her efforts, SB 344 cleared the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, though its companion bill, HB 169, has not yet been heard in the House.
While Dunn did not ask for a “Stand Your Ground” hearing, per se, the law that authorized the hearing provision also forever changed the law of self-defense in Florida by removing the centuries-old “duty to retreat.”
The duty to retreat in self-defense law has never applied to a person’s home, per the “Castle Doctrine.” Rather, the stand-your-ground laws essentially makes any place in Florida a gun-owner’s castle.
The covenant of civilized living demands that we work to defuse conflicts, not escalate them. It demands the opposite of Stand Your Ground.
Ron Davis, in speaking to Reuters reporter Susan Eastman, said it best:
“In your home, you have every right to protect your castle[.] In public, we can’t all walk around acting like we are in our home, telling people what to do in a public place. We have to share the public space.”
McBath testified that Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws legitimize a culture of “shoot first, ask questions later.” And the numbers back her up.
According to a PolitiFact analysis, the five states with the most gun-related deaths per capita all have stand-your-ground laws.
And despite the “gun-laws-won’t-stop-criminals” argument, the evidence shows that states with stricter gun laws have fewer gun deaths.
It’s unsettling to watch my hometown play a leading role in an international story about murder and justice. The HBO documentary, “3 ½ minutes, Ten Bullets” finds its power less in our beautiful, redeemable city, though, than in the peaceful determination of Jordan’s parents.
Interspersed throughout the film are the voices of Jacksonville, shepherded by talk radio hosts Andy Johnson and Melissa Ross. These were the quiet voices of citizens who needed to talk about guns, stand-your-ground laws and race.
In the documentary, Jordan Davis’s mother smiled when she remembered her son’s joke about being named after basketball star Michael Jordan. In truth, she said, her son was named for the River Jordan. Conceived and born after several miscarriages, Jordan was named for the idea of crossing over and starting anew.
Ron Davis couldn’t have known, as he gleefully bounced baby Jordan on his knee in an early family video, that his son would lead him and Lucia not only to cross a metaphorical river, but also to alter its flow forever.
It didn’t come easy, but Jordan’s parents never lost faith that the truth would prevail.
Dunn maintained throughout his two trials that he acted in self-defense, testifying that he saw Jordan Davis wielding a shotgun barrel, or a stick, or a lead pipe from the back seat of his friend’s red Dodge Durango. Dunn’s fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, testified however, that when they fled the Gate station, Dunn never mentioned anything about a gun or other weapon.
On the two-hour drive to take her home, after the two learned Davis had died, she said Dunn never mentioned the threat of a gun.
During any trial, the question of whether to believe those who testify always belongs to the jurors.
And while we don’t know what went on in the minds of those who deliberated, we can guess they rejected the defendant’s version of the facts.
Therein is the symbolic parting of the river, with Jordan Davis’s parents leading the way, hoisting the banner of civilization.
The covenant of civilized living demands that we work to defuse conflicts, not escalate them. It demands that we look at each other face to face, and not through the divisive lens of stereotype.
The cause of peace calls us to back away, if necessary, before acting in anger. It asks us to behave like the adults that we are, instead of flying off in a gun-slinging rage whenever kids act like kids.
Civilization demands the exact opposite of Stand Your Ground. In the words of the immortal David Bowie, why can’t we give love one more chance? Love’s an old fashioned word, yes, but it still dares us to change.
I believe that the quiet faith of Jordan’s parents, and legions of other grieving parents, will ultimately lead us across this deathly divide.
Julie Delegal, a University of Florida alumna, is a contributor for Folio Weekly, Jacksonville’s alternative weekly, and writes for the family business, Delegal Law Offices. She lives in Jacksonville.