Back to the Blog

Senselessness in the Sunshine State

Naveen Sultan about over 1 year ago

Senselessness in the Sunshine State

By Amy Beeman

Men shoot each other for all kinds of reasons. In Florida though, it is dauntingly common for shootings to make national headlines because here, in the oft-dubbed Gunshine State, shooters repeatedly have the audacity to hide behind the Stand Your Ground Law after killing someone they initiated a confrontation with.

Two years after Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman, the trial of another unjustified shooting is wrapping up in Jacksonville. Michael Dunn, 47, shot 9 bullets into a vehicle full of teenage boys in November 2012 after a verbal altercation over loud music.

One of those bullets killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

Dunn said in a police interview, "I never been so scared in my life." He says Davis threatened to kill him and he thought he saw the barrel of a gun or a bat. That's his defense, and that's enough to evoke the legal Stand Your Ground defense, though a death threat over being asked to turn down loud music seems like a stretch.

The boys were black and young and listening to loud rap music. For Dunn, who is 6'5 and 265 pounds that was clearly bothersome. Witnesses agree that it was hard to hear what was being said, but everyone watched as Dunn initiated a gunfight.

Only, the kids didn't have any guns, or weapons of any kind. In fact, they were just normal high school students having a fun night out when they parked next to a man at a gas station with a loaded gun in his glove compartment and a severe dislike for "rap crap", as he sometimes called rap music.

Then, this past January, another needless shooting occurred when 71-year-old retired police captain, Curtis Reeves, shot and killed Chad Oulson, 43, inside a Wesley Chapel movie theatre after an ongoing disagreement about Oulson's texting. During the previews, Oulson was checking a message from the babysitter who was watching his 2- year-old daughter. Things escalated. Oulson did not do what Reeves wanted him to, and instead threw popcorn at him.

Reeves retaliated with a bullet. He says he was afraid of being attacked.

It is still too soon to know whether Reeves will use Stand Your Ground as a defense, but it's possible.

Clearly there was no justification for either shooting. One can only surmise that these men did not like feeling they were being disrespected. The younger men did not obey them, and were even bold enough to figuratively push back. The initiators panicked, or snapped. Then they shot.

Obviously if they didn't have guns this would not have happened. But what about if all parties concerned didn't exacerbate the situation. Not to blame the victim by any means, it just seems that in both cases no one was willing to turn the other cheek. On the other hand people should be able to have disagreements with out getting shot.

In both cases there seems to have been a disconnect between the people involved. No one saw fathers and sons, friends, brothers, grandfathers, or students. They only saw strangers whose behavior they did not like. That, combined with the usual distrust of strangers, led to their interactions quickly turning deadly. This distrust of strangers, not knowing what someone will do, or is capable of, is a common feeling many of us have experienced, heightened by our crime saturated TV shows and news reports.

More and more, we are scared of each other.

The irony is that in these two cases this fear manifested a terrible reality and the one who says he felt threatened was the one who was the actual danger.

Both Dunn and Reeves reportedly carried guns everywhere they went, so they probably figured many others did too. People like them are the reason people like them carry guns. If only it could've been Dunn and Reeves that had the altercation, two innocent people would likely still be enjoying their lives today, and maybe the Stand Your Ground Law would actually be a legitimate defense, if either of them was left standing, because both parties would've been armed.

Whether men are naturally combative or it's a societal expectation, it is detrimental to all of our well-being. A new documentary called, "The Mask You Live In: Engaging the Masks Men Wear to Prove Themselves," due to be released this year, examines the way we raise our boys to always "Be a Man" in the face of perceived threats, and how that expectation causes many young boys and men emotional and mental turmoil, which manifests in them acting out. The very idea of standing your ground is of that vain. Stay and kill or be killed. Don't run. Man up.

While racism is likely the reason that Dunn disliked the boys he shot at, one can't help but think it probably wouldn't have happened if that same SUV was full of black girls. Likely things would've turned out different if Reeves' foe at the movie was female. Women do not pose the perceived threat that men do. That's speculation, but still, there was something distinctly prideful about the exchange between all parties. A lot of F-you attitude.

This bullish pride that drives so much violence needs to be addressed as much as the mental instability we see in mass shooters.

The combination of human nature, societal expectations, and gun ownership are the perfect storm for these pointless tragedies. None of them seem likely to change soon, so it's doubtful this is the last we'll see of these types of stories. Even repealing Stand Your Ground won't necessarily keep people from being killed, though it would punish the shooter more justly.

After all, look what a gem George Zimmerman turned out to be after he was acquitted. That's egg on our face, Florida. It proved that The Stand Your Ground Law lets people get away with murder because they say they were scared of someone they picked a fight with in the first place, so they killed them. It's madness.

The law needs to change.

comments powered by Disqus


Nice article. A week doesn't go by that there is not news of some stupid shooting in this country, and yes, Stand Your Ground is an assinine law. It actually seems to provoke more violence in this already paranoid and gun - crazy nation. I like the statistic from Der Spiegel which reveals that a total of 85 shots were fired in Germany by police in 2011. 85! In the entire German nation! More shots than that are fired by middle aged, middle-class Americans with gun permits in Florida at un-armed minority kids on any given month. (The last statement is not totally fact checked.) We do indeed have a problem with paranoia and gun violence in the good old USA.

The jury didn't pass judgment on Zimmerman's personality or his relational skills. They listened to evidence presented in a court and were given specific instructions for deliberation in determining guilt. The fact that he turned out to be a creep is irrelevant. He shouldn't have been convicted because of it.