**JET takes a look back at a powerful story that we are continuing to follow, with exclusive updates from Ron Davis, the father of 17-year-old Jordan, who was slain by a gun owner and collector claiming “stand your ground” defense. We will continue to keep our focus on these cases, which impact our community and highlight ways that we can come together to prevent future tragedy. This cover article originally ran in our Jan. 14, 2013 issue.*
Just months after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin brought national attention to Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law; another Black boy is dead by the hand of a gun owner who says he shot out of fear. Now, the parents of Jordan Davis are looking for answers— and changes to a law they say allows for vigilante justice.
Even after the horrifying phone call that revealed his child might be lying on an emergency room table and the worry-racked half-hour drive to the hospital, Ron Davis held on to a sliver of hope. He prayed that even if his youngest son had been shot, that he would still be okay. But when medical staff finally compared the photo on Davis’ cell phone with the teenage body a few rooms over, and returned with a team of people— including a doctor, a chaplain and two police officers— he knew that every parent’s worst nightmare had rushed to life for him in Technicolor.
The lifeless youth was indeed his son Jordan Russell Davis, a promising 17-year-old high school junior who had hopes of being a Marine. How his child died added rock salt and hot pepper to Davis’ shattered heart: Jordan was shot and killed by a Florida man upset that the teenager and his friends were… listening to loud music.
“When the doctor saw my tears, his eyes welled up,” Davis tells JET in an emotional interview. “He said, ‘He’s such a nice-looking kid, but I just couldn’t revive him. I’m so sorry, Mr. Davis.’ That’s all I heard. That’s all I hear now.
“They said I could see my son, but because there was an investigation, I couldn’t touch him,” Davis recalls. “But when I saw Jordan lying on that table, I just grabbed him and I kissed him. They had to tear me away. And then I just sat there with him. He looked like he was sleeping, but we all know the finality of it.”
It is the finality of Jordan’s death, and a proclamation by an attorney that his killer, software developer Michael Dunn, may invoke the controversial Stand Your Ground defense, that has Davis and Jordan’s mother Lucia McBath fighting to dismantle laws that allow ordinary citizens to carry firearms in public and shoot to kill without judicial repercussion. Their call for gun law reform comes only nine months after another Floridian, George Zimmerman, employed a similar tactic to justify killing 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin, inspiring a nationwide referendum on race, the vulnerability of Black boys and our nation’s fascination with guns.
“I will be out here stomping all over the nation, fighting for my son,” says Davis. He insists that while he supports a citizen’s right to bear arms, he firmly believes “we need to change these laws back to ‘when you shoot somebody, you’re going to be held accountable for doing it.’”
Indeed, it is accountability that Davis and McBath seek as they mourn their son, who died on Black Friday, November 23, 2012, of wounds he suffered after being shot by Dunn in a Jacksonville, FL gas station parking lot. According to police, Jordan, having just finished hanging out with friends at the St. Johns Town Center mall, was sitting in the back seat of an SUV listening to music with three of his buddies when Dunn, accompanied by his fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, arrived to the gas station. While Rouer went into the station’s convenience store to purchase wine, Dunn got into a heated argument with Jordan and his friends over the volume of their music. When the boys refused to turn it down, Dunn, a gun collector with a permit to carry a concealed weapon, pulled out a handgun and shot at least eight or nine times into the car.
Dunn, who’d just left his son’s wedding reception, sped away to a local hotel. The next morning, after learning someone died by his hand, he drove more than 170 miles back to his home in Satellite, FL. Police used his license plate number, jotted down by an eyewitness, to locate and arrest Dunn, who claimed he was about to turn himself in to local police. The 46-year-old has since been charged with first-degree murder and three counts of first-degree attempted murder, and is facing life in prison if convicted.
Calls and emails to Dunn’s current lawyer, Cory Strolla, and Dunn’s software firm, Dunn & Dunn Data Systems in Vero Beach, FL, went unanswered. But his previous attorney, Robin Lemonidis, claimed that Dunn shot up the car after the kids, whom he thought were gang members, verbally threatened him and pointed a shotgun at him through the back window. Police say they did not find any weapons in or around the boys’ car.
Lemonidis added that Dunn was considering a Stand Your Ground defense, a Florida law that grants immunity to criminal charges and civil action for citizens who can show they were justified in using deadly force against a threat of imminent death or severe bodily harm, regardless of whether they could have retreated.
It is the potential for that defense that has reignited debate on gun laws and the efficacy of Stand Your Ground. Josh Horwiz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, says it puts too much power into the hands of untrained gun owners, makes human life less valuable and allows people to think, “I can kill at will.”
A Texas A&M study distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research backs up Horwitz’s claims. The study, which examined homicides in 20 states with Shoot First laws, found an annual increase of 700 more homicides. FBI data also showed an increase in the number of justifiable homicides following the enactment of Shoot First laws, including in Florida where the rate rose almost 200 percent.
Equally disturbing was a finding that when it comes to race, Stand Your Ground laws tend to favor Whites. Researchers at the Urban Institute investigating the racial impact of the laws found that when White shooters kill Black victims, 34 percent of the resulting homicides are deemed justifiable. Only 3 percent of deaths get a similar ruling when the roles are reversed.
While state justifiable homicide laws have seen some changes following Trayvon’s death last February— legislation in Alaska and Iowa was shelved, and the American Legislative Exchange Council said it would no longer push the measures— getting the laws repealed altogether will be an uphill battle against the powerful gun lobby. But sympathetic family members of victims have the potential to win over the public. This is what Jordan Davis’ parents are banking on. “This is bigger than Ron, me and Jordan,” McBath tells JET. “There are so many other people out there that have lost their families and no one hears their voice. We need to be that voice.”
Jordan was a good kid— a typical 17-year-old who had a penchant for skinny jeans, Vans sneakers, and football. His parents call him their “miracle baby,” because he was the product of a high-risk pregnancy that came after McBath and Davis, then married, suffered several miscarriages. “I sat flat on my behind for nine months just to make sure that he got here,” McBath remembers.
When McBath, a Delta Airlines employee, and Davis, a retired Delta employee, divorced McBath raised Jordan as a single mother in Marietta, GA. But when her son turned 15 she sent him to live with his father in Jacksonville so that Davis could help usher their child into manhood. In the two years that they lived together, the father and son built a bond that was unmatched; they went fishing and crabbing together and sat quietly among the palm trees and waterway in Davis’ posh backyard, where they fed ducks while planning for the future. Jordan was set to start his first job at a local McDonald’s a few days after that fateful Black Friday; to help prepare his son for his employee orientation, Davis purchased a razor, with the intention of teaching him how to shave and tie a tie.
“All the things a father wants for his son, I wanted him to have,” Davis says. “I wanted him to have his own apartment… I wanted to see him fall in love for the first time and get married and be there for that. He was being groomed to be a great adult who cares about the community and other people.”
The day before he was killed, Jordan showed his maturity when he agreed to give the Thanksgiving meal prayer. In it, he vowed to talk to God more often. “It was almost like a good-bye prayer,” Davis says. “I had never heard him speak that way.”
Now, Davis can’t find rest. His miracle baby is gone. So searing is his anguish that Davis has resorted to sleeping with one of Jordan’s sweaters, which still contains a hint of his cologne. “Every night is just so hard to sleep,” Davis shares. “But I keep that sweater with me and whenever it gets hard, I touch it and hold it close.”
He and McBath spend most of their days now giving interviews, organizing rallies and talking to kids about the need to love, rather than hate. McBath even started an online petition, WalkWithJordan.org, aimed at getting the Obama administration to declare Stand Your Ground illegal under federal law. “I’m trying to get people to get back together and stop all of this,” Davis says, solemnly. “I don’t have any revenge in my heart at all. The system takes care of that— that’s between Dunn and the state of Florida, because being vengeful is not going to bring my son back. What I want is for us to stop acting like we’re in the Wild West.
“My son,” he adds, “left this Earth, but I want to make sure it was to make things better.”