Michael Dunn was strapped when he pulled into the gas station that night as Lil Reese’s “Beef” blared from the speakers of the red Dodge Durango already parked there. He let his lady know he wasn’t feeling the “thug music.” She left the car to get wine and Dunn decided he was going to do something about it.
In prison terms, he was “handling the yard.”
In government terms, he was using his white privilege as his bully pulpit.
When the loud-music-playing teenagers responded by cutting the music down, he was satisfied. But when the kids realized that Dunn wasn’t the police or their parents or an authority figure whose instructions they had to follow, they cranked “Beef” back up to eardrum-rattling levels. Dunn was disrespected. In D.C. terms, he was “carried,” in New York City terms, he was “sonned” and any thug from the streets to the jailhouse will tell you that disrespect doesn’t get argued about. It gets dealt with fast.
The “Beef” lyrics would have been more fitting coming from the shooter’s car: “...You don’t want no beef/ In the field we play for keeps.”
Dunn’s attorney is right when he says that this is about a “thug subculture,” as George Zimmerman and Dunn are a part of a vigilante thug mentality that seems to be accepted in Florida. This new breed of thug is as elusive as he is gangster. At the front end he’s angry, armed and looking for a fight. Then he morphs into a teddy bear, as Zimmerman did in court, or he dons goofy science teacher/Mister Rogers sweaters, as Dunn did.
This new breed of thug bears arms and shoots unarmed black children with impunity, and what’s examined afterward isn’t the shooter’s thug mentality but whether the child’s hoodie made him menacing or if the child was armed or if the children were criminals because they enjoyed rap music that had too many curse words. All of this under the guise of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
In Florida, a black boy is a criminal-until-proven-otherwise and can be shot and killed and put on trial later. From the grave, the burden of proof is put on the prosecution to prove that the boy was nice, and kind and decent. Say that he was listening to violent music and that’s almost enough to accuse him of a violent act.
What was on trial in Florida wasn’t Dunn as much as the young men who were are ostracized for their dress and the stereotypical assumptions that come with young black life. What Dunn stood his ground against wasn’t violence initiated or enacted, it was violence imagined.
Instead of the common sense idea that the boys were leaving the gas station where they were being fired upon, the defense turned this into a fleeing of the scene to dispose of a gun that had to be there because Dunn said it so. And his word held more weight than the police who said there was no gun.
Never mind that it was the teens who returned to the scene of the shooting to receive help while the actual thug, Dunn, did what thugs do and rolled out because the block was hot. Back at the hotel, Dunn walked his dog and ordered a pizza. He didn’t call the police or wait until they arrived to explain that he feared for his life. He didn’t even tell his fiancee about the supposed gun he saw until almost a month later. Was that because Dunn followed the thug code?
He kept it gangsta right up until the police contacted him, and even then he expressed no remorse.
This new breed of thug is more violent and heartless because he can shoot a black teen in cold blood one moment and then transform into a caring, frightened citizen all by changing his clothes. And a sympathetic jury and an understanding justice system allow him to get away with murder.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is an associate editor at The Root.
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