Film: A racist killer on trial

By GAETANA CALDWELL-SMITH

 British filmmaker Marc Silver’s documentary, “3 ½ Minutes 10 Bullets,” mainly consists of the trial of Michael Dunn, the killer of Jordan Davis, a Black teen. It plays out like television’s “20/20” or “Dateline” production, with no commercials. Despite the current inflamed debate on racial injustice, director Silver offers us a cool-headed portrayal of an egregious white on Black murder.

Question: When does a person unload a clip from an automatic handgun on a four teenagers sitting in a car in a gas station, killing one of them?

Answer: When a middle-aged white man objects to the loud music the teens are playing in their car, even after they agree to turn it down but then increase the volume.

Circumstances: The killer is a known racist and arrogant misogynist; the teens are Black, and the location is Jacksonville, Fla., where Stand Your Ground is law.

In the early evening of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in 2012, Michael Dunn and his fiancée were returning home to a neighboring state after his son’s wedding reception. Dunn admitted during his trial that they’d had a lot to drink. Still, Dunn sent his fiancée into the store at the gas station to “buy more wine.”

Meanwhile, the teens were on their way to a mall to meet friends after shooting hoops. When they also stopped at the gas station to buy gum and snacks, Michael Dunn pumped 10 bullets into their SUV, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

In his film, Silver used footage from security cameras in the gas station and convenience store to show the actions as they happened. He included both Davis’s and Dunn’s family videos; courtroom videos and graphics—which both prosecutor and defense attorney had prepared for the jury—as well as maps, and audio of recorded phone calls from Dunn to his fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, when he was in prison.

In one audio recording, Dunn complains that he’s like a rape victim, blamed for wearing skimpy clothes. He also says that if he hadn’t shot him, Davis could have killed someone. At one point, Rouer tells him that he shouldn’t be in prison: “You are man of the waters. A man of peace.” I couldn’t help thinking, “Wrong! The guy’s a murderer!”

Jordan’s mother Lucia McBath and father Ron Davis had tried unsuccessfully for years to have a baby. After several miscarriages, Lucia carried Jordan to full term; he was born by Caesarean section. Family videos show the parents’ joy at this event. They named him “Jordan” after the river, Lucia said during an interview. A symbol of change, renewal, and new beginnings: not after Michael Jordan, as most thought.

According to one of his friends during an interview, Jordon Davis was a klutz at basketball, though he dressed the part. In fact, his friends said that Dunn had the wrong impression of them, especially during the trial when Dunn insisted that they’d had a gun. No gun was ever found.

Despite Dunn’s labeling them “thugs” who were listening to loud “thug rap crap music”—as if that would have legitimized his right to shoot them—it was evident that the kids were just out to have fun with friends. (“Thug,” Jordan’s friend explained, has become a euphemism for the “n” word.)

Dunn maintained his innocence throughout his trial. In fact, he played himself as victim even when he took the stand. The turning point came when his shaking, obviously terrified, fiancée testified against him. In an interview with the McKenzies, Dunn’s next door neighbors, which appears on YouTube but not in the film, they stated that Dunn was an arrogant bully who voiced his hatred for anyone who did not obey his orders. They added that they had evidence of his cocaine and alcohol consumption, wife-beatings, and pornography.

The jury came back with an “undecided” on the first count of first-degree murder of Jordan Davis; and “guilty” on three counts of second-degree attempted murder (of Jordan’s friends)—a victory of sorts for Jordan’s parents. There is a hauntingly beautiful scene of families of all races marching in support of justice for Jordan, carrying umbrellas in a heavy rain.

Dunn was sentenced to 60 years in prison with no option for parole. But Jordan’s parents, relatives, friends, and supporters were not satisfied. Lucia, whose father had worked with LBJ on the Civil Rights Bill, took the case to the U.S. Senate, where she succeeded in having the Stand Your Ground defense thrown out, paving the way for a new trial for first-degree murder against Dunn. It was a risk, but it paid off. In the judge’s words: “Mr. Dunn, your life is effectively over!”

Looking back, we see a string of past injustices: i.e., Fruitvale victim Oscar Grant, shot by a BART cop one New Year’s Day; Trayvon Martin, killed by a self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman; Jordan Davis, murdered by a civilian (the latter two used Florida’s Stand Your Ground law as their defense); and Michael Brown, shot one year ago by a white officer in Ferguson, Mo. All were young Black males.

We live in a time when Black adults—both male and female—are routinely beaten, “tazed,” cuffed, physically restrained, and thrown in jail by cops, often for minor traffic violations. Some, like Sandra Bland last month in Texas, have died under mysterious circumstances while in custody.

Although the Jordan family was finally able to obtain justice in a small measure, we cannot rely on the courts, let alone the U.S. Senate, to stem racist violence. Only with the increasing growth of a mass protest movement, like Black Lives Matter, can these atrocities be halted.

Photo: Jordan Davis’s mother speaks at a protest rally while holding a copy of Jet magazine with her son’s portrait on the cover.