Ta-Nehisi Coates: Juries Are Not Beyond Reproach

by Greg Pollowitz

Here’s the latest from Coates on the Michael Dunn trial. Now they jury is at fault:

Either way, the view that the jury believed Dunn was “not acting in lawful self-defense” is not consistent with the recollection of one of the jurors who sat down to talk to Nightline:

Nightline: You all first took your first poll of guilt or innocence on the murder of Jordan Davis, what was the vote?

Juror No. 4: 10-2.

Nightline: Ten people thinking he was guilty.

Juror No. 4: Yes, sir.

Nightline: And two people saying what?

Juror No. 4: Self-Defense.

The juror later says, “We took a poll. There were two of us undecided. Two for was justified and the rest not justified.”

[. . .] As it stands, the facts hold that three jurors believed that the killing of Jordan Davis was just, and nine did not. My contention is that that belief is inseparable from our racist heritage, which dictates African-American life is of lesser value.

Put modestly, from the mid-17th century until the mid-20th century, the policy of our ancestral colonies and the policy of this country proceeded from this assumption. Perhaps the most amazing feature of our current era is the belief that 300 years of such policy gives no tell on our daily lives. The second most amazing feature is the belief that juries are somehow beyond reproach and capable of cleaning up our s**t. 

A hung-jury 10-2 means African-American life is of lesser value? Also, do click on the Nightline link above as Coates has omitted much of what Juror No. 4 had to say. Some excerpts:

According to Valerie, the jurors who believed Dunn was guilty were split between first-degree, second-degree and manslaughter – but because they were unable to unanimously overcome the issue of self-defense, the jury was deadlocked. The jurors yelled and screamed at each other at one point, but all were respectful of each other’s position. [. . .]

Despite the disagreement over whether shooting Davis was justified, all the jurors agreed that Dunn escalated the situation by then shooting at the others inside the car, she said.

Coates ends with:

A very wise man wrote me the other day and said he would have been happier if Dunn had been convicted of first-degree murder, gotten 15 years, and then was released to try to pick up the pieces of his life. And I think that really gets to the point. This is not about the ruination of white people—individual or collective. This is about coping with a heritage of regarding black people as subhuman. 

Well, for starters, this “very wise man” doesn’t know Florida law. First-degree murder in Florida carries a sentence of death or life in prison, Dunn was facing the later. Secondly, 15 years for murdering a person?  Dunn will be incarcerated for at least 60 years; 20 years for each attempted murder charge and 15 on the charge of firing the gun into the car. 

It seems to me that the jury — the entire jury — put a higher value on Davis’s life than Coates and his “very wise man.” 

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