It's one thing to write about the police killings of unarmed black people, but it's another thing altogether to "touch the trail," as we journalists sometimes say—meaning to actually hit the pavement and come into contact with the story, with the people who are personally affected by the tragedies we've been protesting with our Black Lives Matter articles, marches and hashtags.
When I hugged Jordan Davis' father, Ron Davis, at a New York City screening of the documentary 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets and then began to utter the words, "I'm so sorry for your … " I couldn't get out the last word, "loss," because my voice started to crack and tears formed at my eyes. A colleague rushed to my side and finished the sentiment I had tried to convey.
Davis graciously patted my shoulder and said, "It's OK. It's OK."
There was nothing Davis said that had conjured up that emotion. You could tell that both he and Jordan's mother, Lucia McBath, were all cried out. Don't get it twisted: They will forever mourn the loss of their son, Jordan, who was shot dead by Michael Dunn, a white man who thought Jordan and his friends were playing "rap crap" music too loudly in their car at a gas station.
Dunn pulled out his gun after an exchange with Jordan and shot at the car 10 times, killing Jordan. The incident turned Davis and McBath into mourning parents and impassioned activists: gun-control activists, Black Lives Matter activists and criminal-justice activists.
The documentary is about Jordan's life and death and Dunn's subsequent murder trial. After two trials, Dunn was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted murder. He'll likely die in prison—thank God.
The documentary is remarkable. You can watch it Monday on HBO at 9 p.m. EST. It follows Jordan's family throughout Dunn's entire trial, so you'll get to witness the emotional ordeal from their perspectives. I won't spoil it for you, but there are a few things I learned about the trial during the Q&A session that Davis and McBath conducted after the New York City screening. Stuff that's not in the film.
You'll see that Dunn's fiancee, Rhonda Rouer, a white woman, testified during the trial. Rouer was actually a key witness for the prosecutor. During her testimony, she opened up about what happened during her and Dunn's car ride back to a hotel after he had just shot up a car filled with human beings. (Rouer heard the gunshots while she was in the gas station convenience store, and knew Dunn had been involved.)
She testified that Dunn never, ever told her that he saw Jordan or any one of his friends pick up or wield a gun, or anything resembling a gun. (That was Dunn's bulls—t excuse for shooting at the car: that he thought he saw Jordan or one of his friends reaching for a gun.)
But don't be too quick to call Rouer a hero, McBath warned during the Q&A session. It turns out that prosecutors threatened to indict her as an accessory to murder. Why? Well, when Rouer saw the shooting on the local news later that night or the next morning, and saw that someone had died, instead of encouraging Dunn to turn himself in, or to go back to the scene, she asked Dunn to take her home.
Yep, she said, "Take me home."
Rouer was strongly encouraged to tell the truth about what happened. That's when Rouer shook off her convenient amnesia and testified that Dunn didn't say a mumbling word about a gun.
Dunn will disgust you: He was a deadbeat dad; even his neighbor hated him, Jordan's parents explained during the Q&A session. A chronic racist if there ever was one. The phone calls he made with Rouer after he got arrested will make you irate: "I'm the victim here," he said during one conversation.
You'll get the sense that Jordan Davis is dead because Dunn has a white slave master's complex. He didn't like that Jordan had spoken back to him, perhaps disrespectfully. Dunn thinks that black children, especially black male teens, ought to do what white people say. Same with George Zimmerman's attitude toward Trayvon Martin. It was another case of a prideful white man becoming angry when challenged by a young black boy, and then lashing out violently toward him because of a bruised ego.
Jordan's friends who were in the car with him that day all testified. They are a beautiful trio of young, handsome African-American teens who brought Jordan's humanity to the trial and the screen. You see, Jordan's parents were instructed not to show too much emotion during the trial, lest the judge declare it a mistrial.
The prosecutor couldn't talk much about the kind of beautiful person Jordan was, either, but his friends, just by being themselves, could. And in the film, they are seen doing just that.
Each of them deals with Jordan's murder in different ways. One of them gets by with comedy; he's the humorous one. Another, you can tell, is still reeling from the incident. He is very somber, his anger balled up inside (makes me cry thinking about that young man to this day). He never looks at Dunn while he testifies.
Enjoy the documentary. It was beautifully done. Have a box of tissues nearby.
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.