My young man, who is used to my tendency to lecture, asked his questions and patiently listened as I told him this was why I am often concerned about him when he is out and about. Not that I distrust him and his judgment, but that I distrust the world around him.
If you watched the parents of Jordan Davis last night after the mistrial of the man charged with murdering their son in Jacksonville, FL a year and a half ago, you might have had the same sickening feeling of déjà vu I did. You would have seen two heartbroken people holding it together in the face of an unimaginable swirl of emotions. Davis’ mother, Lucia McBath, was the epitome of grace and dignity, even asking for prayers for the accused murderer who'd blamed his actions on a fear for his safety, while making sure we remembered her teen son in all of this. His father, Ron Davis, acknowledged his own propensity for lashing out but very deliberately put that in check in order to give their son “the best representation he could have gotten.” With that quiet strength and call for calm and peace, they echoed last year’s scenes of Trayvon Martin’s parents coming to terms with the lack of justice for their child. And yet again, this tableau filled parents everywhere with despair, especially parents of young black men.
I cried on and off all evening after the verdict came in as I realized that yet again it seemed like society had put a negative value on the life of a young black man. That struck deep. Earlier in the day, as I’d watched coverage of the trial while the jury asked questions of the judge, I discussed the case with my own 15-year-old son. We talked about the logistics of the counts and the process. How it was possible the defendant Michael Dunn could be convicted of some charges but not others, as that possibility started to seemed likely. It was one of many teachable moments I try to seize on, this time about the ins and outs of our judicial system.
My young man, who is used to my tendency to lecture, asked his questions and patiently listened as I told him this was why I am often concerned about him when he is out and about. Not that I distrust him and his judgment, but that I distrust the world around him. That I fear they will not see the amazing young man he is, with the quick wit and winning smile that lights up my life, but will simply see a possible threat.
I’ve already had multiple conversations with my son about the various scenarios in which he might have to make himself seem especially non-threatening—when he is already not doing anything wrong—in order to put others at ease and stay out of harm’s way. That this is the way I have to prepare him for the world is maddening but it’s what’s happening in households around the country.
What this all shows us is that the conversation ESSENCE started with last year’s #HeIsNotaSuspect campaign is far from over. Our young men are not inherently dangerous and we need to change that script so it’s not a license to kill them.
My son tried to console me with the fact that Michael Dunn is facing up to 75 years in prison for the crimes for which he was convicted—attempted murder of the three other teens in the car and a gun charge. “He is not walking free,” my kid said, hoping to lighten my somber mood. “So there was some justice, right?” And I tried to explain that while that was something, a lack of a conviction on the murder of Jordan Davis felt tantamount to not acknowledging his life or the severity of cutting that life short. That as parents, as a society, we need to connect the punishment to the actual crime, less out of a sense of revenge than out of a sense of fairness. That we spend our lives cherishing and raising our children, and we want the world to acknowledge their loss and for the perpetrator to pay for that specific crime. Jordan’s father said, “That's what I wanted the law to do, is protect Jordan as we protected Jordan.” We want our children to be valued.
There is a strong possibility of a retrial in the Jordan Davis murder case. A strong possibility that there will be justice for the young man who would have turned 19 today. And it is our sincere hope that there will be closure for his parents in the future and some measure of comfort. We as a country need to continue to move forward.
Abby West is the executive editor of Essence.com and mother of two teens. Follow her on Twitter @AbbyWestNYC