- (Photo: Reuters)
In the wake of the jury deadlocked on whether to charge Michael Dunn for first-degree murder charges against the late Jordan Davis, pastors and Christian leaders have criticized Florida's Justifiable Use of Force law, most often referred to as the "Stand Your Ground" law.
Dunn was convicted on three counts of attempted murder, but the Florida jury came to no consensus on Saturday on whether to convict or acquit the defendant in the African American teenager's 2012 murder.
Dunn, who is white, shot into Davis' car 10 times after the teenager ignored his requests to turn his music down and "mouthed off" to him. The defendant also claimed that Davis had a shotgun, but police found no weapons inside the car.
The jury's ruling came in spite of the fact that it did convict Dunn on three counts of attempted murder, and has angered both African American and white Christian leaders who say that the verdict sheds light on the injustice of Florida's self-defense laws.
L. Ronald Durham, the senior pastor Greater Friendship Baptist Church in Daytona Beach and president of the Daytona Beach Black Clergy Alliance, wrote that the inability of the jury "to achieve a first-degree murder conviction" "defies logic" and could continue to set a dangerous precedent for the law.
In an op-ed in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Durham argued that Stand Your Ground could "become what we African Americans feared it would become — a legal license to kill. This senseless 'stand your ground law' needs to be repealed, so that no person should feel that his or her life can be taken on a whim."
"Without a retrial, our fear now is that this incomplete justice will become a precedent in the courts for future cases against emboldened racist vigilantes. Partial justice is no justice at all for the victim, Jordan Davis," he wrote.
St. James AME pastor, the Rev. Glenn Dames, told Florida Today that the case's outcome would only make black youth more cynical of the criminal justice system.
"What do we tell our youth now? We have told them to believe in the system, let the system work this out. Tonight, we've seen again how in the case of an African American male, the system has clearly let us down again," he said.
Dames said that although he wants to believe that "color plays no part, I know that is naive."
"It seems that when young African American boys are killed, we have to prove they were good boys, they didn't make any mistakes, that they didn't mess up in life. It just seems that is not the case with anybody else with any other nationality," he asserted.
Jim Wallis, who is president of the left-leaning Christian social justice advocacy group Sojourners, said that the African American community should not be the only voice criticizing the Dunn's trial and Florida's Stand Your Ground law.
"As a white evangelical I believe that we should not leave the issue of race to be brought up only by our African American brothers and sisters," he wrote in a statement to The Christian Post. "When racism is tolerated, it contradicts the reconciling work of Christ on the cross, which is the heart of the Gospel. The church was designed to display the 'manifold wisdom of God' through our unity. And when racial discrimination is part of our criminal justice system, it's our collective responsibility and calling--as individual Christians and the church as a whole--to speak out against that injustice."
"The problem is the systemic injustice inherent in Stand Your Ground laws: just feeling like you are being threatened can justify your response in 'self-defense.' Under Florida self-defense laws now, someone can use even lethal force if they "reasonably believe" it is necessary to defend their lives or avoid great harm," wrote Wallis.
Wallis also suggests that the law "creates an opportunity for racial factors – whether they're conscious or not – to trump facts when even one juror who is sympathetic to a defendant's 'reasonable' fear can prevent prosecution."