On Nov. 23, 2012, a group of four teenage boys made a stop at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida. The driver of the car hopped out to pick up some gum and cigarettes from the station’s convenience store, while the rest of the group remained in the parked car. Music blared from their vehicle, but the driver would soon return. Moments later, another car entered the very same parking lot and pulled up adjacent to the SUV full of teens. The driver of the nearby car asked the boys to turn down their music. An argument ensued. Three and a half minutes later, only three of the four boys would leave the gas station with their lives.
This is the story of Jordan Davis’s death.
And tonight, on the three-year anniversary of that deadly encounter, HBO will air 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets. Directed by Marc Silver, the documentary recounts the bludgeoning details of 17-year-old Davis’s homicide and the trial of his assailant, Michael Dunn—a middle-aged White man with a license to carry concealed arms.
This story follows a repulsively familiar narrative in America: an unarmed Black person being killed by someone White with a weapon.
Jelani Cobb is a professor at the University of Connecticut and a staff writer at The New Yorker. Cobb recently moderated the film’s New York City screening at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. In a subsequent conversation with EBONY.com, he describes the social and political milieu of Jordan Davis’s shooting.
“[Jordan Davis’s homicide is] one of the many flashpoints that occurred around race and the Obama presidency,” says Cobb. The shooting transpired after the murder of Trayvon Martin but before the murder of Michael Brown and the onslaught on unarmed Black men and women to follow. Cobb also says the case explored an extension of the same questions that arose in the Trayvon Martin case, particularly as it pertains to the opaque Stand Your Ground laws. 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets also recounts a bit of American history.
“I think that film was showing what happened in a recent past,” Cobb says. “If we go back to the 1930s, where Black people were being lynched in Florida, there is a really terrible continuity among these things. So we’ve seen this as a regular feature of American society, a regular feature of the state. I’m optimistic that things will be better at some point, but I’m not optimistic that they will be better in the near future.”
The arch of 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets is built around the Michael Dunn trial, and goes in and out of the courtroom featuring interstitial interviews with Ron Davis and Lucia McBath (Jordan Davis’s parents), along with Davis’s core group of friends (and passengers of the SUV), Leland Brunson, Tommie Stornes and Tevin Thompson, and Michael Dunn’s fiancée, Rhonda Rouer. The documentary culminates with Dunn being convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 90 years, after a retrial.
Themes of race, victimization and vilification abound. Through interview tape and conversations with his fiancée from jail (which were public record), the documentary shows that Michael Dunn unequivocally believes he’s a victim in this case. At one point Dunn compares himself to a woman raped for wearing provocative clothing, and then blamed for her clothing choice.
“Michael Dunn’s belief that he was a victim, even though he seemed to have conjured up an imaginary shotgun and an imaginary scenario in which his life was in danger, in a broader sense was a metaphor for a scenario for a White sense of endangerment that has been related to what we’ve seen recently in the Obama years,” says Cobb.
An even more compelling anecdote from the film is Ron Davis’s description of a message he received from Tracy Martin, the father of Trayvon Martin. Martin texted Davis, welcoming him to a club in which no one wants to be a member: a club of fathers with slain sons. Since then, Davis has had to welcome Michael Brown Sr. and Walter Scott Sr., amongst others, to this brotherhood.
“I hate to keep welcoming people into this club,” says Davis. But he doesn’t take membership lightly. “It means you have a responsibility, you have a duty.” And for the parents of Jordan Davis, this duty means activism.
Today, Ron Davis and his ex-wife Lucia McBath vociferously speak out against injustice, racism, and Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. “Stand Your Ground is giving cover to people who have malice in their heart, that want to shoot first and ask questions later to Black and brown bodies,” Davis told EBONY.com. Additionally, McBath and Davis are in the midst of a multi-city tour advancing their cause and Jordan Davis’s legacy.
Ron Davis has never spoken with Michael Dunn, but if afforded the opportunity, would remind Dunn of his son’s humanity. “Michael Dunn: Jordan was a human being that had the love of his family and the love of his friends and the love of his community,” he says. “You can’t just think that because of the brownness, or the Black body that you see, they have no value in this world.”
How far have we come if every day there is a new hashtag demanding justice for dead, shining light on the glaring racial injustices that plague our “home” in the United States? In the three years since Jordan Davis’s death, how far has this nation come?
“Not very far,” admits Jelani Cobb. “It is important that we see that [Michael Dunn] was convicted, and that’s significant. But generally speaking, that sort of situation can happen now, and the next day it can turn out the opposite way. We should not at all feel secure.”
Trayvon. Jordan. Michael. Eric. Tamir. Sandra. Say their names. This list isn’t exhaustive, but within a year, the number of names will no doubt increase. Ron Davis hopes that his son’s death will not be in vain, and continues to fight in honor of his legacy. Above all, Davis hopes that 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets will promote awareness and understanding. He aims to change the mindset of the many bigoted people of the world.
“Right here in the United States, it doesn’t seem on a day-in and day-out basis that Black lives matter,” says Davis. “I want people to look at this film and understand why it matters. It matters because these [slain] people are love. Jordan Davis was love.”