As jury selection commences in the murder trial of Michael Dunn, the 46-year-old man accused of murdering 17-year-old Jordan Davis, I find myself thinking about yet another Florida courtroom with my heart stuck in my throat.
Though I yearn for justice, for this Florida jury to send America the unambiguous message that you can’t open fire on Black boys just because you think their music is too loud, I can’t help feeling a disturbing unease. The unease comes from living nearly a half century in a land where the legal needs of people who look like me go ignored.
When it comes to Black justice, we are like Charlie Brown in the Peanuts cartoon, being invited to kick the football by the wicked Lucy—only to have her snatch it away at the last minute. Justice for us is as elusive as that damn football.
Of course the travesty of the George Zimmerman acquittal still eats away at my soul, still bringing a flush of heat to the back of my neck every time I turn on the news or my computer and see his stupid face again, involved in yet another conflict.
But it’s not just Ridiculous George. For the last six months I have been immersed in a book project on African-American males and the criminal justice system. Though the book is focused on helping African Americans avoid becoming ensnared in the jaws of the $70 billion-dollar prison industrial complex that devours Black boys for profit, in the course of my research I found myself digging into our historic mistreatment by American jurisprudence. One of the most memorable lessons I took away was that our needs have never been considered in the creation and evolution of America’s laws. From the founding of the republic, we were accorded as many rights as a plot of land, a horse, or anything else that white men could own. After our Emancipation, one of the primary preoccupations of the justice system was how to control us and keep white people safe from our anticipated explosions of anger and retribution.
Keeping black males and females safe from white violence was never part of the deal. In fact, law enforcement was more likely to be one of the perpetrators of violence against us.
So when I think about that sweet young boy who was gunned down in Florida, I can’t help but to cast my mind back to all the other black males whose annihilation was disregarded by the system—from Emmitt Till to Trayvon Martin.
I pray that the jury brings common sense and humanity to their deliberations, that they see Jordan as a mother’s child rather than the violent threat that Dunn claims he was. But I am not hopeful. After all, this is an America courtroom, a place that has been as hospitable to brown bodies as the back of a police car. A place that automatically conjures criminal when it sees the visage of a young black male.
Nevertheless: Justice for Jordan.
Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author of 12 books, including the upcoming "The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path To American Leadership," which he co-authored with Al Sharpton.