For decades, commenters on all things wrong with black America have pointed with an enmity similar to that of Michael Dunn to the negative influence of hip hop culture. From C. Delores Tucker to Bill Cosby to Bill O'Reilly, many decry that hip hop draws its listeners to moral depravity, lawlessness, early death. The killing, ostensibly over music, of Jordan Davis proved these critics right. Michael Dunn shot right through the music, and hit Davis' liver, lung, and aorta.
Social justice communities must be careful not to replicate the blame game endemic of the culture wars. We should mourn for Jordan Davis, and our anger should be placed on the system that facilitated Michael Dunn.
Writer Brentin Mock said it best on a Facebook post. Mock wrote,
"Let's be clear: There is no conviction or sentence that would amount to true justice when a white man takes a black boy's life in America. There's none. Also, Dunn was not found "not guilty" of murder one, and he has not escaped "justice" on that count, however you define it. He is not off the hook. And he will be going to jail for a really long time regardless. This is not Zimmermann."
Nothing can replace a life. No matter what happens with the retrial, Jordan isn't coming back. The morbid reality is that Davis adds to the uncounted deaths from state sanctioned and unsanctioned murder in America. No one should every die from a hate crime, reckless impunity or "music," but more certainly will die unnecessarily if the country doesn't collectively attend to the root causes of these deaths.
Even if the jury found Dunn guilty on the murder charge, would that marshal justice for all? The hatred that killed Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin, Jonathan Farrel and others is systemic and institutional. Our responses to hate must be more so. A focus on an individual case, celebrity or action, will never usher durable change. We must seek injustice at its roots.
If we never swim upstream, the country never addresses what's sending our babies down the proverbial river. These court cases aren't Shakespearean dramas, and we're not mere audiences. We are citizens, and we demand true protection. Consequently, the focus of our anger should be principally placed on policy and education.
It goes without saying that stand your ground, stop-and-frisk, shop-and-frisk, driving while black, three strikes, school "no tolerance" policies, and every other rule and practice that assumes a black menace must be scrubbed from the books. Under the guise of public safety, these policies make clear who is a member of the community and who needs protection. When crime rates drop, cities, states and businesses all across the country unashamedly defend these policies and claim victory while regularly committing civil offenses against black and brown people. But stripping away civil liberties isn't considered so when the person being robbed isn’t considered a member of the community.
State by state, all who value their own rights and privileges to literally live in this country should do everything possible to strike down these inherently racist laws.
Mandela said, "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." Yet, violence against women, children, blacks, Latinos, poor people and immigrants is ubiquitous and cultural. Therefore, our formal and informal institutions of education must be frisked for traditions and curricula that perpetuate hatred. We have to think critically how schools contribute to how we view one another. Schools aren't innocent bystanders to our state of anomie. They may have reinforced Dunn's belief and values systems.
We can't wait for students to get to civics class before we start teaching civility. When the country believes that knowing more math and science is a matter of national security, we bolster coursework in those areas. If we want greater levels of civility, schools must teach it. Multiculturalism shouldn't be an elective. From early childhood through graduate and professional studies, we all need to understand how race and racism intersect with their cousins of sexism, homophobia, and classism to shape how we see and treat each other.
The Zimmerman and Dunn cases did mirror each other in that both highlighted why race and racism need more attention in law school curricula. In both cases the prosecution failed to argue how and why race matters, primarily because they didn't know how. The defense performances are emblematic of a society that lacks sophistication around these issues.
I, like most in the social justice community, want peace for the Davis family. We must have the space and clarity for positive action. Educator Rashida Govan wrote on her Facebook page, "If [Ron Davis] can lose a son and still have love in his heart, I'm gonna ask that we do the same." If our anger persuade our actions to focus on Michael Dunn, then Jordan's life truly would have been taken in vain.
Andre Perry (@andreperryedu), founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich., is the author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City (2011).
Thinking man image via Shutterstock