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Is blackness a credible threat?

When I was 17 years old, I received my G2 “graduated learner’s” license. The way Ontario’s system worked (or maybe still does), you could get a permit at age 16, but if you were driving, you had to be in the company of someone with at least 5 years’ experience at a full ‘G’ license. For many people, myself included, that meant I had to be in the company of my parents to drive. Not exactly the freedom of the open road that I had fantasized about. And so when I got my ‘G2′, allowing me to drive unaccompanied, I was well chuffed. Gone were the days of riding shotgun and being forced to listen to whatever talk or jazz station my dad preferred – control of the radio would finally be mine!

My neighbourhood at the time was populated with a large number of young men who would spend their allowance (I imagine) buying really expensive stereo equipment to put in their shitty cars. It was a rare night in Brampton when I didn’t pull up next to someone pumping some obnoxious dance ‘tune’ at a stoplight. In my childish glee, I used to switch over to the classical station, crank my own volume, and blast away some Brahms symphony or a Bach partita or whatever was playing at the time. It never failed to get a reaction – mostly puzzlement, sometimes amusement, occasionally irritation as they realized they were the targets of mockery.

It is, I suppose, lucky for me that I was not 17 years old in Florida:

Davis was shot to death in Jacksonville, Fla., on Nov. 23 after Michael Dunn, 45, said he felt threatened by the two black teenagers and one young black man sitting with Davis in an SUV. Dunn told police he argued with the group over the volume of their music, saw a shotgun emerge from one of the SUV’s windows then, fired his handgun eight or nine times before fleeing. Three of Dunn’s bullets struck and killed Davis, a lawyer for the boy’s family said Tuesday. Police said those in the SUV were unarmed.

Of course, it should be noted that while the presence of Mr. Dunn’s weapon at the scene is indisputable, police have found no evidence whatsoever of a weapon in Jordan Davis’ care. It should also be noted that Mr. Dunn, who claims to have had a weapon pointed at him, did not bother to call the police to tell them about an SUV full of armed gangsters, one of whom he had just bravely shot three times. It should also be noted that Jordan Davis had never owned a weapon, was not involved in any illegal activity, and had not been doing anything criminal when Mr. Dunn decided to execute him. It should also be noted that Mr. Dunn chose to involve himself in the altercation, out of what I can only assume is a grotesque sense of entitlement to tell black teenagers what appropriate behaviour is.

So the question becomes this: how is it possible for someone to murder a 17 year-old kid for doing nothing more threatening than listening to music that was “too loud” for the sensitive ears of Mr. Dunn? Here’s how – Florida’s Stand Your Ground gun law. Mr. Dunn, seeing the existence of Jordan Davis as enough of a threat to justify killing him but not enough of a threat to not approach him and demand capitulation, was apparently within his legal rights to open fire on a vehicle full of teenagers and then speed away from the scene without the need to notify the police. It’s amazing how often the claim of a threat is credible, at least when it’s a white person being “threatened” by a black one.

And so the question must be asked: what was it that so spooked Mr. Dunn that he was trigger-ready? Are we to believe that Mr. Dunn saw a shotgun being pointed at him, and then went into his glove compartment/holster, took the safety off, fired 8 times, and then took off before a single shot could be fired from the shotgun? Is Mr. Dunn a distant relative of Quicksilver? No, it is far more likely that Mr. Dunn had the gun in his hand when he pulled up to the car. He was expecting a threat that would require the use of lethal force. This is not the case of an innocent, law-abiding, responsible gun owner being in the wrong place at the wrong time and defending himself according to his 2nd-amendment right (the right-wing fantasy); this was a guy sauntering up to a car full of kids and telling them what to do, his confidence engorged with the help of a gunmetal cock-surrogate. The only thing missing from the story is the word “boy” and a lynch mob.

So what was it that convinced Michael Dunn that he was headed for danger? Does he approach all cars with music that is playing “too loud” with the expectation that firearms will be needed? A terrifying (albeit possible) thought. But again – if the prospect of talking to a car full of people is so threatening to Mr. Dunn, why would he insert himself into that situation? And at what point do we recognize the racist ideology underpinning the swaggering entitlement with which an armed middle-aged white man approaches a car full of black teenagers and demands that they turn down their music? Are we that committed to the idea that race couldn’t possibly factor into whatever poison was running through Michael Dunn’s mind? Through George Zimmerman’s? Through Louis Campbell’s?

There doesn’t seem to be any way around it. Blackness, on its own, is perceived as threatening. The “shotgun” that Mr. Dunn saw that night was a conjuration of his own unchallenged and unexplored racist biases. It was the collision between Dunn’s fear of blackness and the ego-inflation of his own whiteness (although most likely this part was not cognitively available to Dunn’s conscious mind) that caused him to pull up, pull out, spray, and then walk away. The difference, however, between the imagined shotgun and the one that killed Jordan Davis is that the bullets that blackness fires only ever seem to hit black bodies like his.

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P.S. It is stories like this one that remind me of how little patience I have for white men who compare anti-black racism to their bogey-man version of “Shroedinger’s Rapist”. When white men are subject to disproportionate gun violence at the hands of women (women who randomly insert themselves into the lives of those men), then you will have the beginnings of a point. Just the beginnings, mind you. Until then, I think my people have been exploited enough without the need for you to pile on with your whingeing butthurt bullshit, thank you.