On November 23, 2012, while sitting in a parked car with three friends, 17-year-old Jordan Davis was shot and killed by 45-year-old Michael Dunn following a verbal dispute over loud music. The story of a white man who became so angry at the impertinence of four black teens that he fired 10 bullets into their SUV came to horrify the nation. Black parents clutched their children tightly as they watched Jordan's parents, Ron Davis and Lucia McBath, face a loss both unimaginable and horribly familiar. The whole tragedy served to emphasize the constantly present threat of losing our black children to a world that seems out to get them.
The documentary 3½ Minutes, 10 Bullets is about the aftermath of Jordan's killing—the trial that revolved around the effort to humanize the killer and dehumanize the victim, the endless public debate, the media circus that surrounded it, and the survivors' quest for justice.
Though the trial is over, and Dunn is sentenced to life without parole, the aftermath is ongoing: In the two and a half years since their son's murder, Jordan's parents have watched the parents of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Renisha McBride, and so many others mourn children who were callously gunned down—making this documentary more timely than ever.
"When the jury of the Trayvon Martin trial said they 'couldn't connect with Trayvon,' that really hit me," Ron Davis says over the phone, explaining to me why he agreed to participate in the documentary. "I want to make sure that everybody could connect with Jordan. My son Jordan Davis was not even allowed to be called a victim during the trial. We could not show [photos of] Jordan interacting with his relatives. [The defense] could show Dunn interacting with his relatives. We could only show Jordan's ID picture. During the second trial, they showed Dunn the picture and asked, 'Do you recognize this man?' He said, 'No.'"
The pain in his voice makes it clear how open his wounds still are. "How do you not recognize the face of the person you killed?"
The element that is often missing from the news frenzy surrounding these deaths are the actual young people whose lives were stolen due to racial hatred and fear of blackness, and the families who are left behind to pick up the pieces. 3½ Minutes, 10 Bullets never lets us escape the humanity of Jordan Davis. We see his father talking with the friends who were in the SUV with Jordan when he was killed. They aren't talking about the evening he was shot but about what a terrible basketball player Jordan was. "He never got better," they laugh while shaking their heads. You can see the joy in Ron Davis's face as he thinks of his son fumbling around the basketball court.
"He was a typical 17-year-old," Davis tells me with loving honesty. "American kid. A kid we all see on television who acts silly. They play with their friends, they go to the mall to look at girls. He didn't do drugs. No drugs, no alcohol—not even tattoos. The National Guard envelope came in the mail a week after Jordan was killed. He was thinking of signing up. All they see is the color of his skin and the fear that was drummed into them. Is America for everybody, no matter what race?"
This documentary shows the pain of Jordan's friends and family as they try to find justice, juxtaposed with the shocking remorselessness of Dunn. We see him in court footage and hear excerpts of recorded phone conversations Dunn had with his fiancée from prison.
Davis was confronted with this apathy every day of the trial: "There was a point when Dunn was trying to get out on bail. He thought he was getting out on bail that day. During the recess, he turned around and smiled at his parents and friends. And it just got to me. I started toward him. I got about five or six feet away, and the guards started moving toward him, and my lawyer put his hand on my shoulder. I saw then that he had a lack of empathy for my son. He didn't care that he killed Jordan. It didn't mean enough for him to dial 911."
This lack of empathy gets to the heart of why this documentary was so important to Davis and why he's working so hard to make sure that people see it. "These people who don't have empathy have guns," he says. "This is going to knock on everybody's door. When you have more guns than people, this is going to knock on your door."
Davis has taken his fight to the legal system, specifically regarding Stand Your Ground laws, which he feels embolden people to react violently instead of trying to defuse conflict. He's traveled the country pushing for awareness and change to legislation. He's pragmatic about what can be done about the laws (which currently apply in 22 states, including Washington State). "I realize they will never repeal the law," he tells me, "but we hope to amend it. They need to take out the position that you don't have a duty to retreat. I think that as Americans, we all have a duty to retreat if we can do so safely."
While the verdict in the Michael Dunn trial has been long since read, Ron Davis is still fighting for justice for his son. "When people see this film in this country and around the world," he tells me, "it's going to show them that these victims are not faceless. These victims have families. These victims are cared for. Maybe if you see this, you will think that the person you are thinking of shooting is a person. Think: 'That person has a family. Maybe I can retreat safely.' I hope that this film, in the name of my son Jordan, saves lives."
I am awed by Davis's devotion to his son in the face of such loss and pain. I thank him for his time. Before hanging up, he asks, "How old is your son?"
"Thirteen," I answer.
He laughs. "You've got a teenager? Yeah, I see why you worry, because teenagers are silly. I used to tell my son to be home at 10:30, and you know teenagers, they take that to the last minute. So every time at 10:29, I'd hear his keys in the door."
He pauses for a moment. "You know, it's two and a half years later, and still every night at 10:29 I catch myself looking at the door. Hoping."