Posted on 2/21/2014

On the night of November 23, 2012, 47-year-old Michael Dunn pulled into a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida. His fiancé went inside to get some wine and snacks (gas stations, as we know, do sell the best wine). A red Dodge Durango was next to Dunn, and inside were four teenagers, all African American. They were playing loud music and “sharing it” with everyone. Dunn later referred to it as “rap crap.”

Dunn had just left his son’s wedding before pulling in to the gas station. I’m guessing he’d had a few drinks there already and was feeling emboldened by Bacchus. He decided he didn’t like the loud music blaring next to him – I can’t say that I blame him – but instead of making a note-to-self not to purchase that particular artist, or instead of rolling up his car window and turning up his own fav’ tunes, or instead of pulling out of his parking spot and into another one a little farther away, he decided to tell the kids to turn it down.

Those are the facts. Exactly how he asked (“Pretty please, with a cherry on top?”), or exactly what the kids said in response, we will never really know. Dunn claims that one of the teens threatened him with a gun, although no such gun was ever found by the police. Again, instead of backing away, or driving away, he pulled out his own gun and shot 10 bullets into the Durango, killing one of the teens, 17-year-old Jordan Davis, and he continued firing at the SUV after it began driving away. Dunn would later be convicted on February 15, 2014, on 3 counts of attempted second-degree murder. He was not convicted of the murder of Jordan Davis, but even so faces up to 60 years in prison.

Why didn’t Michael Dunn walk away from this conflict at some point before firing into the SUV? I can’t help suspecting that the honor syndrome might be behind his foolish behavior. According to the honor code, a real man never backs down from a fight. A real man never displays weakness or vulnerability. And if Dunn believed that the loud music represented a symbolic affront, something akin to the 4 teens giving him, and everyone else, the “finger,” as if to say, “Hey we don’t care if you like it or not – deal with it!” — well, then, in that case the honor code dictated that Dunn must answer the challenge if he wanted to be a “real man,” a man of honor. Once he confronted the teens and they pushed back, verbally or otherwise (again, we’ll never really know), then the stakes were already raised, and the code mandated that he had to raise the wager, too. That’s how minor affronts escalate to violence in honor cultures. It can start with just a sneer, an ill-timed joke, but it can end with gun shots.

It’s worth noting that Florida is one of almost 20 states in the US currently with “stand-your-ground” laws, which permit people, as the name suggests, to stand their ground when threatened in a location where they have a legal right to be, rather than retreating to avoid a confrontation. Retreating might seem like the rational approach to dealing with an aggressive person, but not so in an honor culture. Retreating in an honor culture isn’t just frowned upon. It’s virtually forbidden, at least for men. Retreating means you’re weak. Retreating means you are a target worthy only of scorn and exploitation. Never retreat. Never even re-tweet, lest someone report that you re-tweeted and other people misunderstand. Your reputation might never recover from the shame.

This is now the second high-profile case of a gun-toting White man killing a Black teen in Florida in the last 2 years. Will Florida wise-up and repeal its stand-your-ground law? I’m guessing not. Doing so might seem like a sign of weakness. Politicians are, it seems, subject to the same reputational concerns as everyone else in an honor culture, perhaps even to a greater degree due to the publicity of their jobs. My guess is that rather than changing any laws, the only near-term result will be that gun sales in Florida among White males will increase. As a consequence, I would also guess that homicides will also go up over the next year or two in this same demographic. I suppose time will tell, won’t it?

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