As we’re still reeling from the shooting of several African American parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, it’s especially poignant to watch the documentary, “3-1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets.” This film is about Jordan Davis, the 17-year-old black youth who was murdered by Michael Dunn in Jacksonville, Florida on Nov. 23, 2012 when he and his friends were playing loud music at a gas station.
Filmmaker Marc Silver was allowed to shoot footage of the court proceedings from the back of the courtroom, as long as he didn’t turn the camera on the jury. I was surprised that Dunn, a middle-aged white man, did not come across like another blatant racist, angry George Zimmerman type. What we see is Dunn crying on the stand.
But what we also see is a much less overt form of racism – the kind that evokes fears that cause people to see things that aren’t there and act irrationally as a result. When they have a gun at the ready, that makes the irrationality all the more lethal.
One of the most compelling aspects of the film are audio recordings of the personal phone calls between Dunn and his girlfriend, in which he maintained that he was attacked and only defending himself. He still believes that Jordan was 100% responsible for his own death and that Jordan probably would have eventually killed someone. This despite the fact that there’s no evidence whatsoever that Jordan was anything other than a normal teen with a little bit of a rebellious mouth.
During the court proceedings, Dunn testified that he saw the boys with a weapon and that he told his girlfriend that fact more than once. Then, when she took the stand, she was adamant that he never said such a thing to her, not immediately after the shooting and not later. I have to applaud his girlfriend’s bravery for refusing to lie for him. The weapon that Dunn referred to was never found, and Jordan’s friends testified there never was one.
The prosecutor called it an issue of self-denial on the part of defendant Dunn. The defense argued that according to Florida’s stand your ground law, the threat did not have to be actual. It only needed be perceived to be justifiable. That’s the frightening aspect of stand your ground laws.
Jordan’s parents and friends are also front and center in the documentary. They tell us what Jordan was like – everyday things like his less than stellar basketball skills or his habit of dressing better than his friends.
Jordan’s mother, Lucia McBath, is also a key subject in another documentary I wrote about called “The Armor of Light” – an exploration of the link between Christianity and gun culture. Ms. McBath, who is a devout Christian, is also an advocate for more moderate gun control laws.
In “3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets,” we watch as Dunn is first found guilty of all counts except first-degree murder – due to the stand your ground law, no doubt. In the subsequent trial ending in October 2014, however, he was convicted of the first-degree murder charge and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
The film forces us to look at our assumptions about people based on their color and age, and it effectively puts stand your ground laws on trial. I think it’s an important one to see.
“3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets” opened in Los Angeles on June 26, 2015. Watch for it in your area or soon on VOD services and HBO.