3 1/2 Min­utes, Ten Bul­lets

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3 1/2 Min­utes, Ten Bul­lets doc­u­men­tary, not rated, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles

The ter­ri­ble truth is that tim­ing is not im­por­tant in the re­lease of a doc­u­men­tary about the sense­less killing of African-Amer­i­cans in this coun­try. The odds of the re­lease co­in­cid­ing with another sim­i­lar tragedy are all too good.

With the shock still vivid from last month’s mur­ders of nine black parish­ioners by a young white zealot in a Charleston church, a film about an ear­lier racist killing ar­rives in the­aters. 3½ Min­utes, Ten

Bul­lets deals with the 2012 mur­der of Jor­dan Davis, an African-Amer­i­can teenager, in a Jack­sonville, Florida, gas sta­tion and the sub­se­quent trial of his ad­mit­ted killer, a forty-seven-year-old white man named Michael Dunn.

Here’s what hap­pened. Dunn pulled into the gas sta­tion and parked next to a car where four teenagers were play­ing mu­sic at a loud vol­ume. He asked them to turn it down. They did, but then turned it back up again, ap­par­ently at the in­sis­tence of Davis. Words were ex­changed. Dunn pulled a gun from his glove com­part­ment and fired into the boys’ car. He con­tin­ued fir­ing as the pan­icked teenagers tried to flee. Sev­en­teen-year-old Davis was killed.

Dunn fled the scene with his fiancée, who had been in­side the sta­tion’s con­ve­nience store when the shoot­ing oc­curred. He was ar­rested the next morn­ing. His de­fense was that Florida standby for such a racially charged shoot­ing: the state’s Stand Your Ground self-de­fense law.

It was less than a year af­ter the killing of another un­armed black sev­en­teen-year-old Florid­ian, Trayvon Martin, by Ge­orge Zim­mer­man, a white man who would suc­cess­fully use Stand Your Ground as his de­fense.

A ra­dio caller on the movie’s sound­track asks the ob­vi­ous ques­tion: If this had been a mid­dle-aged African-Amer­i­can fir­ing into a car filled with white teenagers who were play­ing loud coun­try mu­sic, how dif­fer­ently would it be per­ceived by the press and public?

Some­time af­ter his ar­rest, Dunn ar­tic­u­lated his case: He thought he saw Davis aim a gun at him from the other car, and he fired to pro­tect him­self. No weapon was found in the teenagers’ ve­hi­cle or nearby. Un­der the con­tro­ver­sial Florida law, it is not re­quired that there ac­tu­ally be a weapon, only that the de­fen­dant thought he saw one, or per­ceived a le­git­i­mate threat to his life and safety.

Per­cep­tion is at the heart of this tragedy. It is not so much a ques­tion of whether or not Dunn saw, or thought he saw, some­thing that might have been the bar­rel of a shot­gun, or whether that claim was some­thing in­tro­duced later to for­tify his de­fense. What is clear is the per­cep­tion by the shooter that these kids were “thugs” (a term now per­ceived by many AfricanAmer­i­cans as a racial slur); that they rep­re­sented a threat, or at least an af­front to his dig­nity; and that he was jus­ti­fied in go­ing for his gun and pump­ing 10 shots into a car full of teenagers.

Di­rec­tor Marc Sil­ver (Who Is Dayani Cristal?) has laid out a strong case. He in­tro­duces us to Davis’ par­ents, Ron Davis and Lu­cia McBath, long di­vorced but brought back to­gether by the agony of their son’s mur­der. McBath’s fa­ther was an NAACP pres­i­dent in Illi­nois and worked with Lyn­don John­son on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In her 2013 tes­ti­mony be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­gat­ing Stand Your Ground laws, she said, “If he could see me to­day, tes­ti­fy­ing in front of the United States Se­nate, he would be beam­ing with pride and amazed at how far his daugh­ter had come. Un­til he came to un­der­stand what brought me here.”

We meet Davis’ girl­friend and the boys who were with him that night in the car — nice, open kids who re­mem­ber their buddy fondly as a sharp dresser and a lousy bas­ket­ball player. Sil­ver plays us Dunn’s plain­tive taped phone calls to his fiancée from jail: “I got at­tacked, and I fought back be­cause I didn’t want to be a vic­tim, and now I’m in trou­ble.” The di­rec­tor in­ter­views wit­nesses and shows us footage of the ini­tial po­lice in­ter­ro­ga­tion of Dunn, a man ap­par­ently un­trou­bled by his ac­tions and ex­pect­ing a quick re­lease.

Sil­ver’s cam­era was given ac­cess to the court­room, and he takes us in­side to show us the ma­chin­ery and the­atri­cal­ity of jus­tice at work. It’s not ex­actly great moviemak­ing, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a dev­as­tat­ing look at the jeop­ardy and vul­ner­a­bil­ity of African-Amer­i­cans in what the Supreme Court has de­clared to be post-racial Amer­ica. Some­times rep­e­ti­tious, some­times voyeuris­tic, at its best the film is a re­minder of the hu­man­ity and the de­cency of the vic­tims it puts be­fore us, and the sense of en­ti­tle­ment in the hearts of white men who stand their ground against un­armed black teenagers. — Jonathan Richards

Jor­dan Davis and his killer Michael Dunn

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