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“A Few More Thoughts On Thug”: The Words We Use Are Often Encoded With Racial Presumptions And Expectations

“I hate that thug music.”

This, according to Rhonda Rouer’s testimony last week, is what her fiancé, Michael Dunn, said when they pulled into a Jacksonville, FL gas station next to an SUV full of black kids who had the stereo up high, pumping some obnoxious, bass-heavy rap.

Rouer was inside the convenience store when she heard the shots. Dunn, who is white, had gotten into an argument with the young men about their music, had gone into his glove box for his pistol, and started shooting. As the SUV tried to get away, he fired still more rounds. At least one of those rounds fatally struck 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

Dunn drove to his hotel. He did not call police. He ordered pizza. The next morning, he drove home to Satellite Beach, 175 miles south, where police arrested him. Dunn claimed he shot at the SUV because Davis threatened him with a gun. Davis was unarmed.

Dunn is now on trial for murder. He’s claiming self-defense in the November 2012 shooting, saying he felt threatened, though his victim wielded nothing more dangerous than the aforementioned “thug” music.

And we need to talk about that word a moment. But first, let’s try a thought experiment: Close your eyes and picture a California girl. Close your eyes and picture a chess prodigy.

Chances are, you saw the former as a sun-kissed blonde in a bikini running along a beach in slow motion and the latter as a studious-looking boy in owlish glasses. Chances are you saw both of them as white.

Now, close your eyes and picture a thug.

It is exceedingly likely the person you pictured was black, like Jordan Davis.

The point is, the words we use are often encoded with racial presumptions and expectations. Thus, your image of a California girl is more likely to resemble Farrah Fawcett (born in Corpus Christi) than Tyra Banks (born in Los Angeles) and your idea of a prodigy will not include Phiona Mutesi, a teenage chess champion from Uganda.

And thus “thug” becomes the more politically correct substitute for a certain racial slur. This is why Stanford-educated black football player Richard Sherman was called a thug for speaking loudly in an interview, but singer Justin Bieber was just a “bad boy” while facing charges of vandalism, assault and DUI.

And it is why, in jailhouse letters released to the media, Dunn uses that word to describe the boy he shot. But he doesn’t stop there. “The jail is full of blacks,” he writes, “and they all act like thugs. This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these (expletive) idiots, when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.”

In other letters he decries the lack of sympathy from the “liberal b—–ds” in the media, and takes heart that the counties surrounding Jacksonville are dominated by white Republican gun owners. He writes, “The jail here is almost all black prisoners. You’d think Jacksonville was 90-95 percent black judging by the makeup of the folks in jail here!”

What he describes, of course, is the great Catch-22 of African-American life. They decide you’re a thug from the moment you’re born, so they lock you up in disproportionate numbers. Then they point to the fact that you are locked up in disproportionate numbers to prove that you’re a thug.

Michael Dunn is a hateful man, condemned as a racist by his own words and deeds. But that’s his problem. Ours is that this sickness is not confined to him. And that it causes blindness, rendering sufferers unable to see what is right in front of them.

So one can only wonder with dread how many of us gaze upon this man who shot up an SUV full of unarmed kids, then fled the scene, and see a victim.

And how many will see a “thug” in a teenager just trying to dodge the bullets.


By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo, February 12, 2014

February 13, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Racial Fears, Gun Fantasies, And Another Dead Teenager”: Real Action Hero’s, Standing Between America And Disaster

Among the arguments I’ve made about the troubling aspects of American gun culture is the way so many gun owners have in their heads a dangerous fantasy about what the world is like and what role they play in that world. The people I’m talking about, the ones who think it’s terribly important that they be able to bring their firearms into any store or coffee shop or church they might visit, believe that every moment of every day in every place they go is nothing more than a violent situation just waiting to happen. Will they be there to stop a mass shooting at the Safeway? Will they be walking down the street and come upon a group of heavily armed thieves taking down an armored truck? Will they encounter an al-Qaeda strike team at the Starbucks, and this 50-year-old insurance salesman with a concealed carry license will be the only thing that stands between America and disaster? They sure seem to think so.

Is that all gun owners? Of course not. It’s not even most gun owners. But it’s lots of them, and I think it comes through in the case of Michael Dunn, the Florida (of course) man who got into an argument with some teenagers outside a convenience store over the teens’ loud music, and ended the argument by firing 10 shots into their car, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. This case includes some rather remarkable statements about black people from Michael Dunn, which we’ll get to in a moment. But I think it’s the way race and the gun owner’s fantasy come together that produced this tragedy.

The basic facts are that Dunn and his fiancée pulled into a convenience store, where she went inside and he stayed outside. Dunn then got into an argument with four teenagers in another car over the volume of the music they were playing; the argument escalated, and eventually Dunn took out his gun and fired ten shots, killing Jordan Davis, one of the teens. Dunn claims that he saw a shotgun, or maybe a pipe, emerge from the teens’ car, so he had no choice but to defend himself. No such gun or pipe was ever found. That part of his story was also contradicted by his fiancée, who testified that afterward he said nothing to her about them having a gun. Dunn also says that Davis got out of the car and approached him, but that part of his story was contradicted by the medical examiner, who testified that Davis’s wounds were not consistent with someone who was standing up, but rather appeared to have been sustained while he was sitting in the car.

I can’t say with certainty what happened that day. As a liberal, is my bias to believe the gun-toting white adult was at fault and not the dead black teenager? Yes it is. But there are some good reasons to think that when Dunn got into an argument with a bunch of black kids over their music (“rap crap,” as he called it during his testimony yesterday), he was particularly inclined to assume they’d try to kill him at any moment, because that’s how those people are. While in jail awaiting trial, Dunn wrote letters to his family that said, among other things, “It’s spooky how racist everyone is up here and how biased toward blacks the courts are. This jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs.” When he says “racist” in that letter, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about bias against black people. He also wrote, “This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these **** idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.”

That doesn’t sound like a man who’s “crazy with grief,” as he testified he was over the shooting. But it gets worse. On a web site set up by Dunn’s supporters, the defendant writes this:

I am sorry for the tragic outcome of that night in Jacksonville and the loss of Davis’ son [sic]. But I would offer that, rather than rail against the “Stand Your Ground” laws, people take a look at the violence and lifestyle that the “Gangsta Rap” music and the ‘”thug life” promote. The jails are chock full of young black men – and so are the cemeteries. Gun laws have nothing to do with it. The violent sub-cultures that so many young men become enthralled with are destroying an entire generation. Root cause analysis says to correct the behavior. The black community needs to do a better job of selling worthwhile role models. Most importantly, young men need to know that they are not just risking jail time when they threaten the lives of others… they’re risking their very own lives.

Just to repeat, this is something Michael Dunn himself wrote. How is it possible to read that as anything other than, “That n***er had it coming”?

There was another detail of his testimony yesterday that stuck out to me. This is from the New York Times report:

As the Durango backed up quickly to elude the gunfire, Mr. Dunn stepped out of his own car, dropped to one knee and fired more volleys to thwart any ‘blind fire,’ or wild, random shooting out the car window, he said.

At that point, he said, his mind was on his fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, who was about to walk out of the convenience store. ‘I did it in my panicked state,’ he said, of the later volleys. ‘I was worried about the blind firing situation, where they would shoot over their heads, whatever, and hit me, or hit me and Rhonda.’

So the car is pulling away to elude his gunfire, and Dunn immediately considers the “blind fire” scenario, just like he’s read about in his gun magazines (or somewhere, anyway). He drops to a stable firing stance, then pumps shot after shot into the car. He saved the day—he’s not a 47-year-old software engineer, he’s a real action hero!

Gun owners argue that carrying a weapon makes you less likely to escalate a confrontation, since you know it could turn deadly. And I’m sure that for many of them, that’s true. But for others, after spending all that time at the range, after all the fantasizing about the day when they get to act out the things they’ve seen on screen, when a confrontation happens, instead of doing the things smart people do to make violence less likely, they think Bring it on. I’m ready. So when you get into an argument with some black kids about loud music, you’re sure that at any moment there’s going to be an exchange of fire, because those thugs probably brought a shotgun down to the convenience store, and you’d better fire first. Some guy won’t stop texting during the previews of a movie, and gets pissed when you tell him to stop? Better have your hand on your weapon just in case, and when he throws popcorn at you, you shoot him in the chest. That’s what a man has to do.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 12, 2014

February 13, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns, Racism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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