Another Trayvon?

So this happened this weekend:

After four days of deliberation, the jury in the racially tinged trial of Michael Dunn, a Florida man who set off another firestorm over the state’s self-defense laws when he shot a teenager to death in a parking lot during a dispute over loud music, said it could not agree on whether Mr. Dunn had acted to protect himself or was guilty of murder. The jurors did find Mr. Dunn guilty of three counts of second-degree attempted murder for getting out of his car and firing several times at the Dodge Durango sport utility vehicle in which Jordan Davis, 17, was killed. Three other teenagers, the subjects of the attempted murder charges, were in the car but were not struck. Mr. Dunn continued to fire at the vehicle even as it pulled away. On the attempted murder convictions, he could be sentenced to 60 years in prison.

In other words, a white man was found guilty of firing shots at a car filled with unarmed black teenagers, yet somehow he is not responsible for the young man who died inside. TNC is livid:

I wish I had something more to say about the fact that Michael Dunn was not convicted for killing a black boy. Except I said it after George Zimmerman was not convicted of killing a black boy. Except the parents of black boys already know this. Except the parents of black boys have long said this, and they have been answered with mockery. …[T]he inability of black parents to protect their children is an ancient tradition.

He adds in a followup:

What is bracing about these regular deaths is how easily I can slot myself into the same circumstance. Follow me in a Jeep, then follow me on foot and we might come to blows. Demand that I turn down my music, at 17, and you might well not like my response. And I do not think this is a fact of black magic, of pathologies, of my culture. I think it is product of 17. I ride the trains in New York and I see boys of all colors who are very loud, because they finally can be, and no one can stop them. I see them and smile, and remember my own days back in Baltimore, my first freedoms, talking shit and being out in the world.

Bouie describes the cases of Zimmerman and Dunn as “our Dirty Harry epidemic”:

[Both] stories rely on particular tropes. Martin and Davis aren’t just rude or rowdy teenagers, they are dangerous intruders — aggressive thugs who can turn violent at any moment. And it’s up to the keepers of the peace – Zimmerman and Dunn – to play Dirty Harry and put them in their place. To wit, in one of his letters from prison, Dunn said as much: “This may sound a bit radical, but if more people would arm themselves and kill these (expletive) idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.” 

Put simply, the narratives of Dunn and Zimmerman reflect a cultural near-consensus on the idea of the threatening black criminal. And, when trying to explain the verdicts in both cases – Zimmerman’s acquittal and Dunn’s hung jury on the count of first degree murder – it’s worth considering the extent to which they found receptive audiences; jury members who believed their stories, or at least, could empathize with their fear of “thugs.”

Meanwhile, David Kopel argues that Stand Your Ground laws had nothing to do with the verdict:

Because the jury convicted Dunn of three counts of attempted murder, it is certain that the jury determined that Dunn was not acting in lawful self-defense. Stand Your Ground is a rule about one detail of when self-defense is lawful. Accordingly, the assertion that Stand Your Ground may have been a reason why the jury hung on the first degree murder charge is totally implausible. The three convictions for second-degree murder show that the jury had determined there was no self-defense; ergo, jury confusion about self-defense was not the reason why the jury deadlocked on first-degree murder.

Sullum isn’t so sure:

The right to “stand your ground” when attacked in a public place did not figure prominently in the trial, but Dunn’s lawyer, Cory Strolla, did mention it during his closing argument, saying, “His honor will further tell you that if Michael Dunn was in a public place where he had a legal right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.” As in the Zimmerman case, the jury instruction concerning justifiable homicide mentioned that right, and it is more plausible in this case that it made a difference, since Dunn arguably could have driven away even if, as he claimed, Davis menaced him with a shotgun.

But he’s still skeptical of a connection:

If Davis had a shotgun and threatened to kill Dunn, as Dunn claims, the shooting was justified. If Davis had no weapon and made no threats, the shooting was not justified. If Davis threatened Dunn (or merely shouted curses at him) and was holding something that Dunn mistook for a shotgun, the question is fuzzier: In the circumstances, was it reasonable for Dunn to believe Davis had a gun and intended to use it? But the question of what Dunn reasonably believed has nothing to do with the presence or absence of a duty to retreat. … Jurors across the country face this same challenge of deciding whether a homicide was justified based on the reasonable-belief standard, regardless of whether their state imposes a duty to retreat.

And Corrine McConnaughy considers the research on racial bias in the courtroom:

A courtroom environment where race is present but not consciously checked is precisely the kind that research has shown is conducive to a number of cognitive biases entering the legal process. Studies have shown that jurors in these circumstances are more likely to selectively remember and misremember the facts of the case in ways that are more consistent with racial stereotypes – being more likely to recall, for example, facts related to aggression by African Americans. They also demonstrate that white jurors are more likely (pdf) to find black defendants guilty in the absence of conscious processing of the racial meaning of the case. While this case did not involve a black defendant, it did involve a need for jurors to judge the culpability of Jordan Davis for his own death in order to decide upon Dunn’s self-defense claims. Whether and how the absence of individuating details about Davis in the trial mattered in the jury’s decisions thus stands an open but legitimate question.