Right from the start of 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets, a wrenching HBO documentary set to air tonight on HBO, I was left with a twisted, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“It was like pop, pop, pop, pop, pop,” said a male voice calling 911 from a Gate gas station near Jacksonville, Florida, on November 23, 2012, three years ago today. “And then it stopped for a second…and you heard ‘pop, pop, pop, pop…’”
The violence erupted when Michael Dunn, a 45-year-old white man, became outraged by loud rap music coming from the car of four teenage boys. They’d stopped to get cigarettes and chewing gum. It was the day after Thanksgiving and they were going to the mall, hoping to talk to some girls.
Dunn was in town for his son’s wedding and, after having “three or four rum and cokes,” he was heading back to the hotel with his fiancée, Rhonda Rouer. They’d stopped for a bottle of wine and some potato chips.
According to all accounts, Dunn asked the boys to turn the music down, which they did, at first. In fact, they turned it off. But Jordan Davis, 17, wasn’t having any of it. He mouthed off. He cursed. Clearly, the teenager was agitated. “I’m tired of people telling me what to do,” he shouted. The music went back up. More angry words were exchanged.
“Are you talking to me?” Dunn asked, again putting his car window down. “You’re not going to talk to me that way,” he said, according to the testimony of the boys. Then, after reaching into his glove compartment for a pistol, Dunn fired ten shots into the boys’ car. When it was all over, Jordan Davis was dead.
“It wasn’t like he was in a bad neighborhood,” Jordan’s father, Ron Davis, recalls in 3 ½ minutes. One can almost see his brain churning, still searching for answers as he ticks off all the reasons his son shouldn’t have been in danger. “He was five minutes from home. It wasn’t late at night… 7:40 in the evening. He was with his good friends. All good boys.”
All good boys indeed.
Jordan Davis’s friends recount what a bad basketball player he was. The worst. Ever. But that never stopped him from wanting to play. They were on the court almost every day. He never got any better, they recalled, smiling.
The “loud music” case happened in the wake of George Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin and amidst heated debates about Florida’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” law, which requires only that someone has a “reasonable belief” that their life is in danger. It doesn’t have to be a real threat, as the film reminds us, just a “perceived” one—which leads us to the heart of the matter.