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Death Of Florida Teenager Echoes Trayvon Martin


In Florida, less than a year after the death of Trayvon Martin, the shooting of another unarmed black teenager is drawing attention to a controversial law. Seventeen-year-old Jordan Davis was killed last month at a Jacksonville gas station following a dispute over loud music. The suspect is in custody. As NPR's Greg Allen reports, Davis' death is again raising questions about what it means to stand your ground.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It happened the day after Thanksgiving at a gas station in Jacksonville's Southside neighborhood. Michael Dunn, a white 45-year-old, told police he asked a car of black teenagers to turn down their loud music. Dunn, who has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, says the teens threatened him and he thought he saw a shotgun. That's when he took out his gun and fired eight or nine shots into their vehicle. One of the teenagers, Jordan Davis, was killed. Police say no guns were found in the teenagers' car.

R.L. GUNDY: Some of us tend to believe he profiled that boy - those kids.

ALLEN: R.L. Gundy is the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Jacksonville. He held a news conference today with Davis' father, Ron.

GUNDY: They were in their father's car. They were playing their music loud. He looked at them. See, what people in this country tend to forget is that if you're black, you do certain things in a certain way, you get profiled.

ALLEN: The case has drawn national attention because of its parallels with that of Trayvon Martin, another black 17-year-old who was shot and killed in February just over 100 miles away in Sanford, Florida. In that case, neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot and killed Martin after a struggle. Zimmerman called police and waited at the scene. In the Jacksonville case, the shooter, Michael Dunn, left the scene. He was arrested the following day after police tracked his license plate. Dunn was immediately charged with murder and attempted murder. He's now in jail awaiting trial. Dunn's lawyer, Robin Lemonidis, rejects comparisons with the Trayvon Martin case. And she says her client didn't start the altercation.

ROBIN LEMONIDIS: By asking politely a fellow citizen of this world to - would you mind turning that down, in that tone of voice, if that's precipitating violence, then we're all in trouble.

ALLEN: Lemonidis says her client acted in self-defense. But she hasn't determined yet whether she'll invoke Florida's Stand Your Ground law. That law, first adopted in Florida, now on the books in some two dozen states, allows people, when confronted with a threat of violence, to use deadly force to defend themselves. As it happens, Jordan Davis' shooting came just as a state task force was completing its work reviewing the controversial law. Florida's governor convened the task force following the Trayvon Martin shooting. But after several months of hearings, the group, which includes two authors of the statute, has concluded the law is mostly fine. Representative Dennis Baxley says, if there is a problem with Stand Your Ground, it's not with the law, but with how it's interpreted and applied.

REPRESENTATIVE DENNIS BAXLEY: You're going to have people claim it if they're in a situation, whether they're entitled to it or not. And I think it just takes more discernment and understanding on the part of law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts.

ALLEN: The governor's task force won't deliver its recommendations to the state legislature for another few weeks. But it's unlikely that Florida lawmakers will make any significant changes to Stand Your Ground. Jordan Davis' father, Ron, is starting a campaign to repeal the law. And the SCLC's R.L. Gundy says his group has signed on.

GUNDY: The legislative body, just because they have a majority, doesn't mean they have the final say-so when it comes to the people. If the people don't want it, then they should not have it.

ALLEN: Gundy says activists are planning Stand Your Ground protests for some high-profile events beginning with Jacksonville's Gator Bowl on New Year's Day. Greg Allen, NPR news, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.

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