In Harlem’s storied Schomburg Center on a brisk Tuesday night, about 100 people filed into burgundy auditorium seats, somberly, to watch a documentary that many, just minutes before it began, admittedly did not prepare to view.
How impossible, even in the face of daily Black trauma and in the midst of the largest Black liberation movement in recent history, to prepare to watch the life, death and aftermath of an unarmed 17-year-old who was killed by a White man for listening to his music too loud? How visceral the emotion would be, even as the world carried on apathetically.
An hour and some change later — many of those moments filled with expected tears, but also laughs — Jordan Davis’ parents, Ron Davis and Lucia McBath, took the stage to answer questions about the HBO documentary 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets, which focuses on the trial that sent Michael Dunn — the man responsible for fatally shooting Jordan on Black Friday three years ago — to jail for life, racial bias in the justice system, and both Davis and McBath’s journey to dismantle the controversial self-defense law, “Stand Your Ground.”
It was Dunn’s claim that he feared for his life during an argument about Jordan’s music that led to a mistrial last February. Months later, Dunn was charged for first-degree murder in Jordan’s death. But the road for the grieving parents was not easy. And as the calendar ticks towards another Thanksgiving…another Black Friday…it still isn’t easy.
“It’s really important that people understand the dynamics of what happened to the families in these [gun violence] cases,” McBath told NewsOne in an exclusive video following the screening. “The destruction, spiritually, psychologically. You never really see the bird’s-eye viewpoint. I want people’s hearts to be pricked,” she said.
“I want people, first and foremost, to know the truth and implicit bias and how all that is fused in gun violence and fear and racism and hatred,” she said of the film, which premieres Monday night on HBO.
That bias, displayed prominently in the film by Dunn himself, is a similar if not identical prejudice the world heard from George Zimmerman — the man who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin just months before Jordan’s death — and from police who have historically engaged in racial biased practices that lead to the disproportionate incarceration of people of color and in the worst cases, death. In the trial, Dunn described the loud music as “thug music.” He told the jury that the four unarmed teenagers — three of whom took the stand to admit they were just out for a good time to pick up girls like teenagers do — made him fear for his life. He claimed, if not imagined or fabricated, that Jordan pointed a barrel at him during the dispute.
That unreasonable and historic fear of Black bodies led Dunn to shoot at the car multiple times, killing Jordan. But Jordan wasn’t a kid anyone needed to be afraid of. That was a point 3 1/2 Bullets director Mark Silver wanted to get across without overloading the audience with images of Jordan in an attempt to humanize him — a forced effort to prove that he was “good child” who subscribed to “respectability politics.” That decision to hold most images of Jordan until the end of the film was a deliberate one to dismantle that dangerous idea.
“The filmmaker waited to show Jordan because he didn’t want the pictures to be the means by which you got to see who Jordan was,” McBath explained to NewsOne. “He wanted you to experience Jordan through the eyes of his friend, who knew him best. I think that was brilliant for him to do it that way.”
It’s also the way Davis and McBath wanted to present their miracle baby — Jordan was conceived after a number of attempts by the then-married couple — in a way that would make other families think, “hey, that’s my child too.”
“When you look at your children, you see Jordan. I want you to see Jordan as a human being. I want you to see all his faults and his successes. I want you to feel something for these kids. The Tamir Rice’s of the world, the John Crawford’s of the world, the Oscar Grant’s of the world. Just like Jordan, these people had families. I want them to look at these victims and realize they had friends and families who loved them,” Davis said of the film.
“I want Jordan to be a canvas for thought.”
“The demonization and victimization of what people did to Trayvon…You didn’t get a chance to see Trayvon,” McBath added. “We were making sure that people really understood who Jordan was.”
That’s evident in the film. From his bubbly attitude, his swagger, and his lack of basketball skills, hilariously relayed by Tevin Thompson — a friend of Jordan’s who was in the front seat of the SUV when Dunn opened fire — the world will see a Jordan that his family was not allowed to present during the weeks-long trial.
But just as important, Davis and McBath hope to spark change. It’s something McBath has tirelessly done since her son’s death, attending hearings and summits on gun reform and the flawed self-defense laws that have allowed many across America to shoot with impunity.
It’s working. Just this month, HB 169, a measure that could have made it easier for people to invoke the Stand Your Ground defense, failed to pass in the House. Though work is no doubt being done to amend the National Rifle Association-backed measure and present it during January session, McBath is urging communities to be aware of legislation in their states to dismantle the laws on the books.
“I’ve always said a thousand times my people perish from a lack of knowledge and what is happening with the gun laws,” she said. “Be educated, understand how these laws disproportionately affect you.”
“This is going to be a cultural shift, a cultural change. We’re exposing the nature of gun violence in this country, we’re holding people accountable, broadening our scope.”
Davis, who has been on the front lines of the Black Lives Matter movement for some time, understands that Jordan is just one story of many in America. For him, the most immediate change can come on Black Friday, the third anniversary of Jordan’s death.
“We’re asking people not to spend one dime. Not one dime,” he says of the activist initiative, Black Out Friday. “Jordan was killed on Black Friday in 2012. Maybe we can make a difference that day. Some of these other things take a long time. But on Black Friday, do not spend one dime. Show your economic freedom.”
The film, Jordan’s family says, is the first step.
“I want people to see Jordan as a symbol of hope. I want them to see him as a symbol of what’s right in the world, what can be right in the world. I want people to see Jordan as a catalyst for change, as a symbol of love, acceptance and forgiveness. I want people to see Jordan as an agent of change,” McBath said, adding that the premiere of the film will be hard, but necessary for America.
3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets will air on HBO on Monday, November 23 at 9:00PM EST.
For more information about the film, click here.
PHOTO CREDIT: Dorothy Hong