By
Melissa Harris Perry
updated 12/3/2012 4:21:56 PM ET 2012-12-03T21:21:56

An open letter "to whom it may concern" on the shooting death of Florida teen Jordan Davis.

The police acted the very next day. A man was arrested, charged, and is in custody, being held without bond.  So this–the alleged shooting of Jordan Russell Davis by Michael David Dunn, is not that–the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.

But in so many other aspects of this case, the parallels are undeniable–another 17-year old African-American boy, shot and killed. The alleged assailant, an older white man, said he felt threatened–although the boy he is accused of shooting was reportedly unarmed. Another claim of self-defense to justify the killing, and in a “Stand Your Ground” state. Another pair of grieving parents, losing a child and seeking justice.

And again, that sense–for those of us who know and love them–that this is no country for young black men.

Which is why this week, I am addressing my open letter to whom it may concern.

It’s me, Melissa. And if you are like me, this latest news has got you concerned, indeed. Because here we are again. It has been barely a year since the killing of Trayvon Martin resurrected that old angst–long buried, but always there just below the surface. You know that feeling. It’s the one that makes us hear about Trayvon, and now Jordan Davis, and reach back across decades into our history, for the name of another boy named Emmett Till.

Then, it was a whistle at a white woman. Now, it’s a hooded sweatshirt or music being played loudly from a car.

But always, this one thing has been the same–No presumption of innocence for young black men.  No benefit of the doubt. Guilt–not determined by what they did or said–but presumed to be inherent in their very being. They need not wield a weapon to pose a threat. Because, if you are a young, black man, who you are is threat enough. And in yet another case, it seems, that perceived threat is justification enough for someone who would play judge, jury and executioner.

Jordan Russell Davis will be laid to rest today. His father described his son as a typical teenager, who was looking forward to staring his first job, working at McDonald’s. He was saving up to buy his first car. The day before he died, his mother says, he gave the Thanksgiving dinner prayer, where he gave thanks for his family.

But before Jordan could be eulogized at his funeral, the defense team for the man who is accused of killing him was already telling a different story about who this young man was. According to police, Jordan and his three friends were sitting in an SUV at a Jacksonville gas station, when Dunn pulled up next to them and asked them to turn down their music down. Words were exchanged. This is the story Dunn’s attorney, Robin Lemonidis, about why her client felt threatened:

“He sees that much of a shotgun coming up over the rim of the SUV…and all he sees are heavily tinted front windows that are up and the back windows that are down, and the car has at least four black men in it, and he doesn’t know how old anyone is, and he doesn’t know anything, but he knows a shotgun when he sees one because he got his first gun as a gift from his grandparents when he was in third grade.”

Police have found no evidence that Jordan and his friends had any weapon in their car.

But Michael David Dunn, a registered gun owner, did have one. He used his gun to fire eight rounds into the boys’ vehicle. Two of those bullets struck and killed Jordan Davis, who was sitting in the backseat. Dunn fled the scene.

These are the facts as we know them today. As the investigation continues, details will no doubt continue to emerge. But as we watch the case unfold, let us be sure, while we are watching, that we continue to see in Jordan Davis what Michael Dunn did not–a human being, instead of a threat.

Sincerely,

Melissa

For more, please read the reporting of my guest Trymaine Lee on this site. See below my discussion with him, Nation correspondent Ari Melber, and theGrio’s managing editor, Joy-Ann Reid.

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