By Latesha Johnson
As the jury deliberates the fate of Michael Dunn today, a Rollins College professor says Dunn might partly have shot 17-year-old Jordan Davis in 2012 because of his perception of rap music, and not because of how loud the music was.
According to prosecutors, on Nov. 23, 2012, Dunn, who is Caucasian, fired 10 shots in a Gate gas station parking lot in Jacksonville, at a parked SUV in which Davis, an African-American, was sitting.
This story has been called the “loud music trial” by many media outlets. Rollins College associate professor of history, Julian C. Chambliss, Ph.D., thinks there is a pattern of using popular culture to characterize African-American behavior and worldview.
“The victim’s music has been used as a means to explain the reason for Dunn’s fear,” Chambliss said. “The music does not excuse his action, it merely allows public to code the victim as outside the bounds of acceptable society.”
Dunn’s fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, testified that Dunn was annoyed by the loud rap music played in the SUV. While Rouer was inside the store, Dunn asked the teenagers to turn the music down, which they did, until Davis asked them to turn it back up.
Dunn and Davis argued causing Dunn to pull a gun and shoot at the SUV. Dunn pleaded not guilty, saying he acted in self-defense because he saw a gun.
In a letter to First Coast News anchor Heather Crawford, Dunn wrote that “This case has never been about loud music. This case is about a local thug threatening to kill me because I dared to ask him to turn the music down.”
Chambliss, who specializes in urban history, popular culture and race and ethnicity in the U.S., thinks that rap music is a signifier of culture.
“The music suggests that the youth in the car were dangerous because they listen to transgressive music that resisted or mocked middle-class values,” he said. “Rap music and associated culture represents problematic values and glorification of violence in the minds of many mainstream observers.”
Tracy Teartt, a senior at Florida Memorial University, agrees.
“Some music tends to influence behavior,” Teartt said. “By them listening to rap music, Dunn could stereotype them as gangsters.”
Teartt has taken courses that focus on race and cultural diversity. He has followed the case and he thinks it involves racism, but it is not addressed.
“The media is trying to make people see it at face value,” he said.
University of North Florida assistant professor of sociology, JeffriAnne Wilder, Ph.D., agrees.
In an interview with First Coast News, Wilder says even though people don’t want to talk about it, the trial is being viewed through a racial lens.
“He [Dunn] uses race as a justification, in my mind at least, as to why he had to commit this crime,” Wilder said. “He sees himself as defending against a group of thugs, who don’t, in his mind, have any citizenship or humanity or personhood; just people who are menaces to society.”