Mother of Jordan Davis Reflects Upon The Loss of Her Son
Jordan Davis, a black teenager, was gunned down in a Florida gas station because he refused to turn down the radio, which was playing loud rap music.
Jordan’s murderer, Michael Dunn, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the crime. Jordan’s mother, Lucy McBath, has remained a very vocal advocate on behalf of all victims of such violence.
I spoke to Lucy, and here she reminisces about Jordan while discussing “3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets,” a documentary that chronicles the trial of her son’s killer. She also discusses her commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement and to pressuring the criminal justice system to hold all violators of black civil rights accountable.
Lucy McBath: Thank you, Kam. I’m glad we’re able to connect.
KW: 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets was a very powerful film. What did you think of it? LM: I’m extremely pleased because it’s truthful and it does the very thing we wanted, which is impact people. It’s been very, very well received, particularly among people who never spent much time thinking about the issues of racism and biases and guns and violence. They see how we’re all related dynamically to my story in some way, because it’s everybody’s story.
KW: What interested you in participating in this documentary?
LM: I’m a product of the Civil Rights Era. My father was a Civil Rights leader. So, I understood the power and authenticity of being able to move people for a cause. I felt that this would be one of the most effective ways to reach the largest possible audience and to prick their conscience and to get them to open their homes and communities to discussions about gun violence and race. This gives us a chance to reach more people than we’d ever be able to just in our own communities.
KW: Editor Jaymie Cain notes that you went to grammar school in her hometown of Joliet, Illinois.
LM: Yes, that’s where I was born and raised. And I still have cousins who reside there.
KW: She’s wondering whether you filed a civil lawsuit against your son’s killer, Michael Dunn.
LM: Yes, we did.
KW: How would you describe Jordan in 25 words or less?
LM: Fun-loving, intuitive, spiritual and humorous… [Chuckles] He was always playing jokes, yet he was also really concerned about others, especially people who had less than he had, and people who who didn’t have the opportunities that he had.
KW: What was it like to not only lose your son, but to have to grieve in the national spotlight, and at a time you were also battling breast cancer?
LM: It was extremely, extremely difficult. I had to deal with my son being murdered as well as my health, and have it all played out in the media. But I understood the inherent importance of what we were doing, and that I would have to put aside all of my ills and my “isms” because what God was doing was much greater than Jordan, and that Jordan’s life was serving as a catalyst for change. So, I had to put aside what was uncomfortable for me to do what I needed to do.
KW: Have you bonded with any of the other parents of other unarmed young blacks killed by whites in recent years?
LM: Absolutely! I’m good friends with Sybrina Fulton [Trayvon Martin’s mother]. Just recently, I spent some time with Michael Brown’s mother [Leslie McSpadden]. I’ve met Eric Garner’s mother [Gwen Carr] and Tamir Rice’s mother [Samaria Rice], too. Every year in Miami, Sybrina hosts what she calls “The Circle of Mothers.” Along the way, I’ve had a chance to meet quite a few other mothers who are grieving over the murders of their children, many of whose cases never garnered national attention.
KW: Do you see a psychological difference in yourself from them, since you’re the only mother whose son’s killer was convicted of murder.
LM: In that regard, I’m kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. Just because we’ve received justice, doesn’t mean that we don’t care about everyone who hasn’t. It actually makes us even more passionate because we know that justice can be done. We wanted to set a precedent in the justice system to give a sense of hope to our people. We have to care about what’s happening in our community. We have to care about the other mothers and fathers who have never received justice for their loved ones. So, we feel very responsible to continue to stand and fight the system with our heads high for the rest of our lives, if necessary, until we create the changes necessary for everyone to receive justice.
KW:Is there one widespread misconception about Jordan that you’d like to correct for the record?
LM: Yeah, Jordan was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Because it happened in Florida, everybody thinks Jordan was from there. But he has a whole history in Georgia. His church friends … his home school group … the church school group … The whole essence of who Jordan is, is because of Atlanta. That’s what I want people to know.
KW: Was there a meaningful spiritual component to Jordan’s childhood?
LM: Very much so. He was very heavily involved in his youth group. He would go on the spiritual retreats our church would have for the children. And when he was very young, I was a flight attendant,and my church family and other single-moms would come together and take care of him if I had to work, so he wouldn’t miss a beat. He was very enthusiastic about attending the children’s service. He would scream, “Come on mom, I don’t want to be late.” I was just so happy that, at an early age, he had found God for himself, and had his own personal relationship with God.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: What message do you want people to take away from 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets?
LM: I want people to think about more than just themselves. I want them to think about what’s happening in the country, dynamically, in terms of racism and fear and guns and violence. And if you don’t condone what’s going on, I’d like you to ask yourself what you’re going to do about it. In what small way can you contribute to make sure everyone’s human and civil rights are respected. We all have a responsibility to be each other’s keepers. If we don’t, we’re going to begin to fall as a nation, and you’ll see us completely begin to dismantle ourselves.
KW: Patricia also asks: What do you think should be done regarding gun control laws to make sure that weapons do not get into the hands of the wrong people?
LM: Because of the Black Market, I realize we’re not going to be able to take all the guns off the street. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t work with our legislators to change the laws so that they’re not so expansive and allow people to use their guns any way they want to as vigilantes and self-appointed sheriffs. Having representatives meet the families of the victims of gun violence is extremely impactful, because our legislators need to be reminded that they are accountable to their constituents and must work to keep their communities safe
KW: Why do you think Michael Dunn was convicted while George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin?
LM: I think the problem with Trayvon’s case was that he was demonized from the very beginning. And because he was dead, there was no one to refute what the shooter said. In our case, we had his friends and other witnesses who could testify. And if it weren’t for a stranger, Sean Atkins, who reported Michael Dunn’s license plate before he fled the scene, he might never have even been arrested.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles says: I hope I am not invading your private grieving, but are you willing to address what changes you’d like to see in society so that Jordan would not have died in vain.
LM: I’d believe how we look at race in this country, systemically, how people are allowed to use guns, and how police brutality plays into gun violence all need to be addressed. And all these issues are interconnected and interrelated. You cannot solve one without the others.
KW: David Roth says: I’m so sorry for your loss, and I’m also sorry for our society. Without excusing Michael Dunn’s sociopathic overreaction, I wonder whether you ever find yourself wishing Jordan and his friends had simply turned down the radio when they were asked? Did the evidence in the case suggest that such a response would have avoided provoking an insane, deadly response?
LM: If they had “obeyed” his wishes and turned downed down the music, yes, Jordan probably would be alive today. But I don’t dwell on that because Jordan had been raised to care about and champion the underdog’s freedoms and riots. And that’s exactly what he was doing. He gave his life caring about others. They weren’t doing anything other than exercising his rights. He was doing exactly what he’d been taught in terms of caring about others.
KW: Editor Marilyn Marshall asks: What advice should parents of young black males give them about the dangers they face in society?
LM: What we taught Jordan was: We do not want you to live in fear, however, you must protect yourself. You must be aware of your surroundings and who you spend time with, and you must understand that, as a young black male, people will make assumptions about you without even knowing you. I even had a big discussion with Jordan after the killing of Trayvon Martin, warning him that people no longer use reasonable convict resolution nowadays. That they will just take out their guns and shoot you. I remember saying to him, “Jordan, sweetie, you’ve got to be careful, because someone might shoot you rather than try to revolve a conflict peacefully.” He said, “No, mom, that’s not going to happen to me. I’m going to be okay.” It tears my heart apart whenever I reflect upon that conversation because I was foreshadowing my own child’s demise.
KW: Marilyn has a follow-up: How would you like Jordan to be remembered?
LM: I want him to be remembered as a young man who was very loving. He loved God; he loved his friends; and he was very inclusive, trying to bring all different types of people together. And he surrounded himself with kids who had a heart like his. I really believe that if Jordan had been allowed to live out his life here on Earth, he would have become a civil activist creating change out in the community. And now, I’ve become that very thing that I saw in my own son.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
LM: I see my father. I understand his work so much better now. He was the president of the Illinois branch of the NAACP for over 20 years. As a child, it had been hard for me to appreciate his commitment to justice for our people. Today, I finally understand his drive since that’s all I think about day and night, and with every fiber of my being, because I know it matters.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
LM: That we could live here in the United States, a nation of immigrants, as God intended us to live.
KW: If you could have a chance to speak with Jordan what would you say?
KB: [Long pause] I understand why you’re not here, sweetie… [While weeping] And I accept it, because I know that you were here for this short period of time for a greater purpose. Despite my selfish desire to have you here because you’re my son and because I love you, I understand that God had to call you home because you were needed for a larger purpose. I hope that I was the mother that you needed me to be. I want you to know that I am doing well and that I need you to continue to give me the strength to now be the mother to other sons.
KW: My sincerest condolences on your loss, Lucy, and best of luck in your mission to make sure Jordan didn’t die in vain.
LM: Thank you, Kam, for taking an interest and for helping us make a change. We really appreciate that.
Watch the 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets trailer: