Par­ents’ pain goes be­yond ‘Min­utes’

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Steven Zeitchik

NEW YORK — The tragic events hap­pened more than two years ago, and Ron Davis has been men­tally re­play­ing them ever since.

That hol­i­day week­end when his life turned up­side down. When he re­ceived the call from Le­land Brun­son, the close friend of his 17-yearold son Jor­dan, and also a young black male. When he heard the words he couldn’t quite be­lieve.

“He said to me ‘Mr. Davis, Jor­dan’s been shot,’ ” Davis re­called in an in­ter­view. “Not ‘dead,’ ‘shot,’ ” Davis stressed. “And as a par­ent, I wanted to keep it right there. I didn’t want to know if it was that bad.”

Davis drove to the hos­pi­tal and heard that his son had died. Then, in a haze, he re­turned home.

“I re­mem­ber sit­ting in the car out­side my house not want­ing to go in. Be­cause I knew once I went in, I would have to call Lucy [ex-wife Lu­cia McBath]. And that would set the ball rolling, and it would keep it rolling. And that would be like another death.”

Davis and McBath had made

the trip here last week from their homes in Jack­sonville, Fla., and At­lanta to talk about the for­mer cou­ple’s only child and the new doc­u­men­tary, “3 1/2 Min­utes, 10 Bul­lets,” that chron­i­cles his death. With the killing Wed­nes­day night of pas­tor and state Sen. Cle­menta C. Pinck­ney and eight oth­ers at Charleston, S.C.’s Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church by sus­pected lone gun­man Dy­lann Roof, their story is as trag­i­cally timely as ever.

On the Fri­day of Thanks­giv­ing week­end in 2012, Jor­dan Davis — a well-be­haved teenager with a bright smile and fu­ture — pulled into a Jack­sonville gas sta­tion park­ing lot with three friends af­ter a day of shop­ping. It was not yet 8 p.m. A mo­ment later, Michael Dunn, a white 45year-old soft­ware devel­oper, pulled up along­side them en route from a wed­ding.

Dunn soon got into a ver­bal al­ter­ca­tion with the young men, all of whom were un­armed, over the vol­ume of their mu­sic. Sev­eral min­utes later, Dunn had drawn his gun and shot 10 bul­lets at the car. Three of the young men sur­vived. Davis did not.

Bri­tish film­maker Marc Sil­ver di­rected the movie, which af­ter win­ning ac­co­lades at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val pre­mieres at AFI Docs on Thurs­day and opens in New York on Fri­day and in L.A. next week. Grip­ping and timely

With its in­ti­mate por­trayal of a tragedy that echoes the killings of un­armed black men around the coun­try, “3 1/2 Min­utes” of­fers a tale as emo­tional as it is top­i­cal. To many Amer­i­cans, these events are no­table for their le­gal con­se­quences and so­ci­o­log­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. To the par­ents, they are about los­ing a child in an act of racial vi­o­lence and ran­dom­ness.

Sil­ver’s work takes the stuff of many news cy­cles — in ad­di­tion to the shoot­ings at the Emanuel AME Church, there was also the shoot­ing of Wal­ter Scott in April by a po­lice of­fi­cer in South Carolina — and he makes them per­sonal. “3 1/2 Min­utes” of­fers a po­tent re­minder that, for all they sug­gest about race in Amer­ica, these in­ci­dents op­er­ate at far more than the touch­stone level on which most of us re­late.

“There was some­thing about this crazy co­in­ci­dence of mil­lions of cars driv­ing around, and these two cars pulling up next to each other,” Sil­ver said in a sep­a­rate in­ter­view. “I was fas­ci­nated by what that means for those who are the sub­jects of that co­in­ci­dence.”

The killing and en­su­ing le­gal pro­ceed­ings were cov­ered heav­ily at the time. But they were largely given a nightly news treat­ment. Sil­ver wanted to tell the hu­man sto­ries be­hind that cov­er­age. He spent a week with Davis and McBath seek­ing their co­op­er­a­tion, of­ten sit­ting at Davis’ kitchen ta­ble just talk­ing about Jor­dan (some of that footage, with a warmly hu­man qual­ity, is in the film).

There was some hes­i­ta­tion be­fore the pair came to the con­clu­sion that al­low­ing Sil­ver’s film would be the best thing to do for their son. Davis and McBath have since em­braced the movie, watch­ing it scores of times, in­clud­ing at a screen­ing at the Hu­man Rights Watch Fes­ti­val here last week­end. (The movie will also air on HBO in the fall.)

“I think it’s im­por­tant for us to keep sit­ting through it,” McBath said, as Davis nod­ded in agree­ment. “We can’t let the story get stale. Be­cause if the story gets stale, then it won’t be real.”

McBath, 55, has a quiet re­solve that makes her words more pow­er­ful; her tone is pitched be­tween grief and anger in a way that man­ages to con­vey both but fall into nei­ther. Since her son’s death, she has formed a gun-con­trol or­ga­ni­za­tion and spo­ken out about gun vi­o­lence.

Davis, too, has sought to give his son’s death mean­ing. A for­mer Delta em­ployee like his wife, Davis, 62, has launched a foun­da­tion and talks regularly to other fathers in the same cir­cum­stance. (Shortly af­ter Jor­dan’s death, he re­ceived a call from Tracy Martin, fa­ther of Trayvon Martin, wel­com­ing him, as Davis re­counts in the film, “to the club that no one wants to be a mem­ber of.”) He has also talked to rel­a­tives of Os­car Grant, the vic­tim and sub­ject of 2013 drama “Fruitvale Sta­tion,” and sev­eral days be­fore the in­ter­view, spoke to Wal­ter Scott’s fa­ther, coun­sel­ing him about what to ex­pect cul­tur­ally and emo­tion­ally.

“Fathers are not re­ally seen in these cases. It’s the moth­ers. Fathers are not sup­posed to emote. They’re sup­posed to be stoic,” Davis said. “But I cry for my son ev­ery day. I don’t care who’s around. Be­cause that’s my son. That’s a part of my fu­ture, and for him to be gunned down in that way is some­thing to cry over.” Eerily pre­scient

Though the in­ter­view took place be­fore the Charleston church shoot­ings, both Davis and McBath of­fered com­ments that were eerily pre­scient given the events at Emanuel AME on Wed­nes­day.

“The thing about guns is how easy they are to walk around with. Peo­ple walk into Wal-mart with guns. It’s all about the fact that in the back of peo­ple’s minds, black lives don’t mat­ter. For black peo­ple, it starts to feel not like Amer­ica the Beau­ti­ful but Amer­ica the Dan­ger­ous.”

McBath agreed: “These laws get so ex­pan­sive, so peo­ple get more bold. They’ll walk in with their guns any­where. This hap­pened to Trayvon, and this hap­pened to Jor­dan, and this hap­pened to all these ba­bies in Sandy Hook, and our leg­is­la­tors are still al­low­ing it.”

Davis said he will some­times call McBath just to tell her he’s hav­ing a rough day, and she will re­spond with em­pa­thy.

Though they are now in re­la­tion­ships with other peo­ple, the two were close in co­par­ent­ing their son. Jor­dan, McBath re­called with a melan­choly smile, would of­ten en­cour­age them to spend more time to­gether — and said they have grown closer in the wake of the tragedy. Sil­ver noted rue­fully that the two “are in a way par­ent­ing Jor­dan even af­ter he’s died.”

At the trial, Dunn’s de­fense was that he felt threat­ened and saw guns in the car into which he shot. None were ever found, and even Dunn’s girl­friend said he had never men­tioned them in the af­ter­math of the shoot­ing.

Still, Dunn’s first trial ended in a hung jury (he was con­victed on lesser charges in­volv­ing the other young men). A sec­ond trial re­sulted in a con­vic­tion for the mur­der of Jor­dan Davis; Dunn is now serv­ing a life sen­tence with­out pa­role.

The Jor­dan Davis trial also be­came oc­ca­sion for a larger de­bate about racial as­sump­tions, and a flash­point for so-called stand-your­ground laws, which al­low for use of deadly vi­o­lence in sit­u­a­tions of im­mi­nent threat.

Sil­ver — who pre­vi­ously di­rected the Mex­i­can-immi- gra­tion doc “Who Is Dayani Cristal?” — presents the nar­ra­tive of those events coolly and with­out judg­ment, al­low­ing Dunn to de­scribe the cir­cum­stances as he ex­pe­ri­enced them. Dunn sug­gests that he was a vic­tim of in­tim­i­da­tion, de­spite lit­tle ev­i­dence to that ef­fect. (Dunn did not agree to be in­ter­viewed for the film but is seen or heard of­ten in archival footage, in­clud­ing in nu­mer­ous phone calls from prison.) As a re­sult, the movie sneaks up on view­ers, cre­at­ing a kind of quiet blood-boiling ef­fect.

Sil­ver said he as­sem­bled the film with a min­i­mum of even im­plicit di­rec­tor com­men­tary as a means of test­ing au­di­ences’ level of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the de­fen­dant.

“Some­thing in Michael Dunn is meta­phoric about this con­cept of a post-racial Amer­ica that is blind to its own racism,” said Sil­ver, who is white. “I wanted to con­struct it so that he wasn’t a bo­gey­man. Dunn said things that, if peo­ple were hon­est, they might say them­selves. This is about the root causes of racism, and I hope peo­ple re­flect on their own be­liefs.”

While those ques­tions per­co­late through­out the film, mat­ters of law and race can fall away lis­ten­ing to Davis and McBath con­tem­plate their lot. Even as they work on the leg­isla­tive front, they keep turn­ing over more unan­swer­able ques­tions in their minds.

What if their son had been way­laid even by a few min­utes on the way to the gas sta­tion? What if he hadn’t even been in Jack­sonville that day, as easily could have been the case; McBath said he had wanted to come to At­lanta but that she was trav­el­ing to Chicago for the hol­i­day, and she had tried un­suc­cess­fully to per­suade him to be with her there.

“I still wres­tle with what would have hap­pened if he had come to At­lanta or with me to Chicago. He’d be here at this very mo­ment, and Ron and I wouldn’t be here [be­ing in­ter­viewed] to­day,” McBath said. “I try not to beat my­self up over that. But as a mother, I feel like I pushed my son into harm’s way. I still have that sense I didn’t pro­tect him.”

Davis said he’s been hav­ing strange thoughts lately when he re­flects on his son ar­riv­ing at the gas sta­tion at that ex­act mo­ment.

“They’re about that Gwyneth Pal­trow movie ‘Slid­ing Doors.’ You know, the one where she makes the train and her life goes one way, and she ar­rives five min­utes later and her life takes a 180-de­gree turn? I feel like I’m liv­ing the worst ver­sion of that movie imag­in­able.”

Par tic­i­pant Media

THE DOC­U­MEN­TARY “3 1⁄ Min­utes, 10 Bul­lets” re­counts the

2 2012 shoot­ing death of un­armed teenager Jor­dan Davis, cen­ter.

Par tic­i­pant Media

RON DAVIS

and Lu­cia McBath are shown at a rally for their mur­dered son in “3 1⁄ Min­utes, 10 Bul­lets.”

2

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