Michael Dunn stands trial this week for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Jordan Davis after Dunn complained that Davis was playing loud music. Dunn is expected to raise the defense that gained notoriety after the death of Trayvon Martin, Stand Your Ground. (If Martin were still alive, he would turn 19 Wednesday.)
Martin and Davis are two of at least 26 children and teens who have died in Florida Stand Your Ground cases. Stand Your Ground laws that have proliferated in at least 20 states are associated with vigilantism, authorizing violence by individuals who perceive a “reasonable” imminent threat to their life, without any duty to attempt retreat. But they have also taken the lives of a dramatic number of young victims. Out of 134 fatal Florida cases analyzed by the Tampa Bay Times in which the Stand Your Ground defense was raised or played a role, 19 percent saw the deaths of children or teens. Another 14 involved victims were 20 or 21. And another 8 teens were injured in nonfatal cases. The Tampa Bay Times last updated its database last year, and there have likely been more such deaths since.
Here are some of the young Florida victims:
- The youngest was nine-year-old Sherdavia Jenkins, who was killed in the crossfire of a dispute in which the defendant unsuccessfully raised the Stand Your Ground defense.
- 18-year-old Daniel Amore was stabbed to death by his 31-year-old legal guardian Kunta Grant, after Amore punched him during a dispute. Grant was given Stand Your Ground immunity by a judge.
- 19-year-old Christopher Araujo was shot by Norman Borden, who said “he was walking his dogs when three men in a Jeep shouted threats at him and warned they had bats as weapons. Borden went into his home and came back out armed. He told his friends to leave the area. The Jeep returned, and Borden said they tried to run him down. He pulled a gun and shot five times through the windshield, then nine more times after the Jeep hit a fence post and stopped.” A judge denied the Stand Your Ground motion, but Borden was acquitted by a jury of first-degree murder and other related charges.
- 18-year-old Carlos Mustelier was shot to death, after he and his 16-year-old friend approached Thomas Baker jogging, and one took a swing at him. Thomas responded “You wanna play games? You wanna play games?” and fired eight shots. The surviving teen said they planned to rob Baker, but neither was armed. A Hillsborough County prosecutor opted not to charge Baker.
- 19-year-old Christopher Cote was killed by his neighbor, after a dispute over walking his dog on his new neighbor’s property. When Cote came back, unarmed, to talk to 62-year-old Jose Tapones about the dispute, Tapones answered the door with a shotgun, stepped outside onto the lawn, and shot Cote twice. A judge declined to grant Tapones Stand Your Ground immunity during his first trial, but was granted a new trial and acquitted the second time around.
Some of these defendants were granted immunity; others were not. But the Stand Your Ground law can come into play in a number of ways. First, law enforcement officers sometimes use the Stand Your Ground law as a basis for not charging the shooter to begin with. That was initially the position of police who cited the law in not arresting Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, for more than a month. Second, many defendants who are charged request a special Stand Your Ground hearing and may be granted immunity by a judge before even going to trial. Third, defendants may raise the Stand Your Ground defense during the trial as a basis for acquittal. And fourth, as evidenced by the George Zimmerman case, the language of the Stand Your Ground law may be incorporated into the jury instructions and factor into the jury’s decision, even where the defense is not explicitly raised by the defendant.
In the latest high-profile case, Michael Dunn is expected to use Stand Your Ground language during trial to claim he shot Jordan Davis in self-defense. The case of an older white man shooting a young black teen after a loud music dispute became even more racially charged when letters from Dunn released by the State Attorney’s office this week revealed blatant animus towards African Americans.
In part because Stand Your Ground has had a particular impact on the young, mothers have been among the loudest voices to call for repeal of these laws. During a legislative hearing to repeal Florida’s law, Davis’ mother Lucia McBath said, “My grief is unbearable at times. I’m here as a face of the countless victims of gun violence.” The legislative committee nonetheless voted down a repeal bill, and instead advanced another bill to expand it. McBath is the spokeswoman for a gun reform group formed after the Sandy Hook Massacre called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
The group’s founder, Shannon Watts, pointed out that cases like Davis’ — involving a dispute over loud music — show how Stand Your Ground laws attempt to “normalize behavior that isn’t normal.”
“A teen who was playing loud music, which is what my teens do. That is sort of the attitude of the teenager,” Watts told ThinkProgress. “You don’t have the right to kill an innocent unarmed teen.”
Jury selection continued in Dunn’s case on Tuesday.