The problem with “reasonable”

24 Feb

“Michael Dunn, Jordan Davis, and America’s Racist Heritage” by Jamelle Bouie is a great response and analysis of the Michael Dunn verdict that convicted Dunn on three attempted murder charges, but not on the actual murder of teenager Jordan Davis (

I’ll let Bouie’s editorial speak for itself and just comment on this observation of the defense’s defense of Florida’s self-defense laws:

“Under Florida self-defense laws,” notes the New York Times, “people can use lethal force and do not have to retreat if they ‘reasonably believe’ it is “necessary” to save their lives or avoid great harm. The jury must, in essence, decide what a ‘reasonable person’ would have done under similar circumstances.” Here’s more:

“The law takes the position that you have to step into the shoes of the defendant,” said Michael Band, a Miami criminal defense lawyer who was a longtime prosecutor in the city.

Ye gods.

Has Michael Bond just presented the textbook defense for all hate crimes? That if we “step into the shoes of the defendant” and assume their point of view, we must concede it is entirely reasonable to shoot multiple rounds into a vehicle of unarmed teenagers?

In other words, “reasonable” does not suggest any expectation of cultural competence (including an understanding of normative identity prejudices, that we, as jurors, are also susceptible to, in even considering the “facts” of a legal case). “Reasonable” suggests including the lowest possible standards for self-awareness and social conscience because it is possible, and even not uncommon, for people to be proudly bigoted. (Yes, I see the double negative there. I couldn’t bring myself to write “even common, for people to be proudly bigoted.” I would really like to believe otherwise.)

We cannot continue to allow cultural incompetent juries to render verdicts without recognizing their own identity biases and the prejudices not only of those on trial but of our culture. Maybe George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn would end up with the same verdicts. But at least these would be informed by all the facts of the cases, including the facts of our own inevitable partiality, that we can only mitigate by noticing, naming and discerning how to act upon.


** Thanks to the other AP for sharing this link.

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