Civil rights activist Kevin Alexander Gray says Stand Your Ground Laws are lethal to the African-American community, who must organize rigorously against them
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
A jury found Michael Dunn, a white 47-year-old Florida man, guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of a black 17-year-old boy, Jordan Davis. Dunn was found guilty of killing the teenager after arguing over the volume of music Davis was playing in his car. It took two years and two trials to convict Dunn. The first trial ended in a hung jury, and the prosecutors decided to retry him.
Joining us to discuss the trial and the conviction is Kevin Alexander Gray. Mr. Gray is a civil rights organizer in South Carolina and the author of Waiting for Lightning to Strike: The Fundamentals of Black Politics and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He is coeditor of the forthcoming Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence from CounterPunch Books.
Thank you so much for joining us, Kevin.
KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY, AUTHOR AND ACTIVIST: Thank you. And, actually, Killing Trayvons is out at Amazon and CounterPunch Books right now.
PERIES: That’s great. Thank you.
So Kevin Dunn faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison for the murder of Jordan Davis. How do you explain this conviction, given the experience we’ve been having lately in terms of prosecutions, especially in Florida?
GRAY: Well, I think because of all of the statements that Mr. Dunn made in showing no remorse for what he had done killing this young man, the fact that there were witnesses–what a lot of the people who stand on stand your ground have learned is not to leave witnesses, like George Zimmerman didn’t do. So the jury and the courts had a lot to go on. Mr. Dunn said if he had have had 50 more bullets, he would have fired all 50 bullets into that car. And so it was a victory for the family. It was a victory for the criminal justice system. It certainly was a victory for Angela Corey in light of the Zimmerman verdict. But long-term, the victory has to be in repealing stand your ground.
PERIES: What explains the difference between this case and the first trial, which ended in a hung jury?
GRAY: Well, the first trial, there were no witnesses. The only witness was George Zimmerman, and Trayvon Martin was dead. In this case, there were three young men in the car. And in the first trial, of course, Mr. Dunn was charged with attempted murder. And then all his time in jail, he made a lot of racist statements about these young black men. And so I think a lot of that affected how this case came out.
PERIES: Yeah. In the first trial, it was a hung jury. And then he was tried again. They decided to retry him.
GRAY: It was a hung jury, but they did charge him with the attempted murder of the three other occupants of the car, if I’m not mistaken. And the difference between that case, this case that we’re talking about now, and the Zimmerman case is that there were witnesses. And, plus, if you have a hung jury on the murder charge of Jordan Davis, then it’s the prosecution’s decision whether or not to have a retrial, and in this case, the prosecution decided to have a retrial, and they prevailed. But the big difference between the two trials is obviously there were people allowed to testify, and Mr. Dunn was so boisterous about what he did and so unrepentant about how he felt about these young black males, and black males in particular, that I think that gave him the prosecution, the edge, whereupon in the Zimmerman trial, they tried to paint Zimmerman as a schoolboy.
PERIES: The common ground in all of this is, of course, the stand your ground law. Where is that at? And how is the community feeling about organizing as a result of this particular [crosstalk]
GRAY: The community is really not doing the organizing it needs to do to try to repeal stand your ground. We had some prosecutors in South Carolina this year try to push back against it. But you have a lot of Democratic legislators like legislators that have supported stand your ground, and we have not had any education in the community or any pressure on these legislators to really put the squeeze on them to repeal this law. And, in fact, the gun rights advocates are moving toward expanding the conceal, carry, stand your ground rights that they have to open carry. I think they have open carry in 13 states. So there’s no real effort against the NRA or the Gun Owners of America or any of the other groups that have–or ALEC that have supported stand your ground. That’s where we fail. We had a lot of people go down to Florida and marched for demanding a trial for George Zimmerman after he killed Trayvon Martin. A lot of people have said a lot about stand your ground. But there has been no concerted effort, at least not in the South, to fight to repeal stand your ground in the state legislatures or to fight to oust a lot of these legislators that support it.
PERIES: Let’s continue to talk about the language that remained at the center of these cases, where–in this case, Michael Dunn saying that Jordan Davis was playing “thug” music.
GRAY: Well, you know what? Listen, the idea of being a young black thug or being young Mandingo or being shady or sketchy or anything, I mean, the terms which white supremacists have used to disparage black people, to make people feel that black males in particular are the most violent animal–’cause that’s how they view many of us–that are walking the streets in this country, that goes back all the way through slavery. This is nothing new. The language may change, but the attitude remains the same. And so to hear someone talk about thug–or they might throw out drug-related, they were smoking pot, whatever, gang-related–any time–or if the police say, well, they had a gun, or they had a record, all those terms are used to make a victim an imperfect victim and someone that’s not worthy of rights and respect as human beings and as citizens. It’s a ploy that racists have used throughout history.
So to hear him say this, he’s just stirring up the people that would support his kind of thinking, the racist people that believe that black people have no rights, that they’re animals. And, of course, a lot of rappers use this idea of thug life and try to play off of it as a means to just get through a day, sometime, and just to–. We’re in America. Black males are–I won’t say they’re an endangered species, because, you know, blacks /ɜrn/ more than the United States, but the idea that when you look at prisons and who’s in jail or you look at who gets rounded up in the drug war, when you look at these cases where police use deadly force or people see a threat, the threat they see walking the streets is a black man. And now if you turn on your TV and you look at the scandal in the NFL with domestic violence, with child abuse, everybody seems to want to make black males to face of everything that’s violent–this idea of black-non-black crime or that there’s something more inherently violent in blacks committing crimes than everybody else commit crime. So when you’re a black person in America, you learn to understand it and live with it and get by with it as best you can. But ultimately you know you live in a racist country.
PERIES: Kevin, as you said, electing a black president and, further, having Eric Holder as your attorney general, you would have expected him to deal with some of the systemic racism issues in the criminal justice system and deal with some of the states that have stand your ground laws and so on. And you’re saying–and it’s interesting that you have a book coming out called Hopeless. I’m reminded of Cornell West’s book Hope on a Tightrope. Is the black community disillusioned?
GRAY: I would think at this point in time young people need to be talking about and setting up new organizations. A lot of our older black civil rights organizations are patriarchal. They’re paternalistic. They’re sexist. They’re not egalitarian. They’re not democratic. And that goes for some of the organizations that I’ve participated in, like the Rainbow Coalition. You’ve got Al Sharpton’s NAN, the Urban League. These organizations are not necessarily in step with just basic fairness and how you have a democratic organization, and a lot of times they buy into the powers that be, in that Barack Obama is president, and although Barack Obama has said he’s not the president of black America, they haven’t been shaking any trees or rocking any boats since he’s been president.
But there’s this generational thing where young people–I mean, I started doing organizing what I was in my 20s. [incompr.] desegregated our local elementary schools when we were just kids. So it’s young people that drive movements. But they have to get out in the streets. They have to organize organizations that are fair and just and not sexist and not homophobic and not anti-Semitic and not paternalistic. They’ve got to give people a voice. They’ve got to be consistent. And they have to be coherent. For the most part, the civil rights movement has been about fighting over due process, equal protection, equal treatment, and economic justice. And that’s the basis for what we ought to be doing in our organizations. So I’m hopeful that in the future, young folk will start moving forward and setting up these kind of organizations. But they can’t wait for the older generation to do it. We’re dying out. We can give advice, we can tell people about their history and their past, but it’s up to young people to keep that fire burning in keeping the movement moving forward.
PERIES: Kevin Alexander Gray, thank you so much for joining us today.
GRAY: Thank you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.