By Ethan Sapienza
A few weeks ago, NYU hosted a forum for students to voice concerns and grievances about race relations within the University. To say there are problems with race would be a grave understatement: students spoke of a lack of diversity within the faculty, little to no consideration or care for the needs of minority students and outright callous treatment of many black or brown scholars. Protests at Yale, Mizzou and the rhetoric of the Republican presidential candidates are further proof of how systemic and widespread ignorance and racism are in America today.
Another part of that conversation is the violent fruition of prejudice, where black men have continuously been killed, most commonly, by white police officers. On the same day as the discussion, the NYU Program Board hosted a screening of HBO’s upcoming documentary “3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets”, which looks to remind people of these travesties. The film, directed by Marc Silver, focuses on the 2012 case of Jordan Davis, an unarmed black 17-year-old who was gunned down in Florida by a white man, mere months after the killing of Trayvon Martin.
For those unfamiliar with Davis’s death, it happened in a gas station parking lot, where he and three other friends were in a car blasting music. Michael Dunn pulled alongside, asked for the audio to be lowered and, after a verbal quarrel, brandished a pistol and fired ten times into the vehicle, only striking Davis, though fatally.
It’s an incident the public has become so familiar with that many are now numb to it. I had trouble even remembering the specifics of Davis’s death before watching the documentary, depressingly mixing it up with the details of similar killings. Marc Silver does a remarkable job in thwarting this desensitization though, telling a story with extensive applications.
The film is comprised of footage of Davis’s grieving family and friends, the murder trial and the media’s coverage of the affair. It’s shocking how these three swirl together: going from Jordan’s mother’s tears, which are likely daily, to the decision for a mistrial with the homicide charge, despite damning testimonials that prove how Dunn is a bigot, to the media’s refusal to highlight the race factor in the case. Silver shows that, despite the deliberation of the jury and new stations’ insistence on it being a “loud music” spat, instead of pureblooded racism, there is a wounded, oppressed community and grief stricken family to be thought of. Behind every cold news report on a killing, whether it’s Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray or Laquan McDonald, there are people in terrible pain.
After the screening, Chris Hearn, a sophomore in Steinhardt majoring in music business, led a talk that touched on many of the issues surrounding deaths like Davis’s. Students voiced fears of being in similar situations or having siblings with similar behaviors, driving around with friends and playing music. It was stirring, saddening, though beautiful, as many felt there had been some progress, with these deaths being far more in the public eye.
The one thing I am certain of, as a white man who grew up in an affluent suburb, driving with friends and playing music is not a practice tied to race. The violent reaction to it, on the other hand, is.
“3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets” is currently streaming on HBO Go.
Ethan is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.