Prejudice isn’t just wrong, it kills

02/17/2014 6:41 PM

02/17/2014 6:41 PM

A car full of teenagers heads down my street, windows down, music blasting.

Their anthem is French Montana’s strip club hit “Pop That”: “Don’t stop, pop that, pop that. Drop that. What you twerking with?”

I’m outside, bent over, picking up dog poo of all things. The kids yell, “I’d like to hit that,” and other catcalls as the car zooms past.

I bet you imagine black kids. No. They’re white.

I don’t call the police or clutch my imaginary pearls. Am I disgusted? Yes. Is it sexist? For sure. Criminal? Not really. These are teens we’re talking about. Their parents should teach them better, but hormonal boys daring one another to scream vulgarities and speed by are more annoying than dangerous. While I don’t condone their behavior, I hardly fear for my safety.

Seventeen-year-old Jordan Davis and his friends didn’t get that kind of pass as music blared from their car at a Florida gas station. Michael Dunn walked up, started an argument over the volume and pumped the Dodge Durango full of 10 bullets, killing Jordan. He drove off and didn’t think twice about the black boy who lay in his friend’s lap bleeding to death. He didn’t call the cops. He walked his dog. He ate some pizza. He went on about his life while a young man lost his too soon.

When the police caught up to Dunn, he claimed self-defense, saying the teen had a shotgun. His fiancee later testified that Dunn had never mentioned any weapon to her. Police never found any evidence of it. But there was plenty of testimony proving that Dunn had been drinking that night two years ago. He had a 9 mm pistol, started an argument with the teens and had a thing against what he called “rap crap” and “thug music.” It was George Zimmerman all over again.

Well, not entirely: Dunn is going to jail. But on Saturday, despite the overwhelming proof, the jury deadlocked over whether Dunn committed first-degree murder. Someone believed that a black teen listening to loud music was frightening enough to warrant a grown man spraying bullets into a car full of kids. Unbelievable.

I remember my high school days. Hanging at malls and driving up and down the streets of Virginia Beach, playing Jay Z as loud as possible and yelling random things at strangers. Teenagers aren’t always polite. Still, I wouldn’t call it life-threatening.

But black teen boys don’t have the luxury of being teenagers. If a car full of black teens yelled “I’d like to hit that” to a white woman in her dainty suburban neighborhood, she’d probably call the police. I’m not saying every black teen is an angel or every white person is a racist. Look at what happened on the Country Club Plaza over the weekend. Were there a few fights? Yes. It’s wrong, and I am happy police officers could break it up.

But even when they’re just standing and talking, or just sitting in a car, that’s the perception: Young black teens and men are scary and dangerous.

People say the Jordan Davis case was a victory. Dunn was found guilty on four charges, including three counts of attempted second-degree murder. He’s facing some 75 years behind bars. But this isn’t about prison time. It was about making it clear that you cannot kill black people based on racial stereotypes. There was a mistrial on the first-degree murder verdict.

The one kid who was killed, who lay in a grave on what would have been his 19th birthday on Sunday, did not get justice.

He joins Trayvon Martin, Jonathan Ferrell, Renisha McBride, Oscar Grant and so many others whose lives were taken from them based on white fear. Our future is at risk. The Florida state attorney plans to retry Dunn on the first-degree murder charge. It’s important that he be convicted. Otherwise, the justice system continues to affirm — through light sentencing or innocent verdicts —that white men can gun down unarmed black youth, that they can initiate a confrontation based on their own fears and racial stereotypes, and claim self-defense.

Imagine this. A 6-foot-4, 250-pound black man, tipsy and angry, approaches a car full of white teens demanding they turn down their Mac Miller. Words are exchanged. He empties 10 bullets into their car and drives off as if nothing happened. Because, you know, self-defense.

Would you think he was innocent? Think about it. Could a black man say he stood his ground?

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