Jordan Davis was killed over loud music. Now his parents tell their story in a gripping new film.
That's all it took for 45-year-old Michael Dunn to approach black boys listening to loud music at a gas station, shoot 10 bullets into the car of unarmed teens, and leave 17-year-old Jordan Davis dead.
Those 3 1⁄2 minutes in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 23, 2012, didn't just end Jordan's life. They sparked a case ("the loud music murder") that transfixed the nation. They added a landmark story to an ongoing movement about gun violence and the deadly impact of racism.
And those 3 1⁄2 minutes changed the lives of Jordan's parents, Ron Davis and Lucy McBath, forever.
"31⁄2 Minutes: Ten Bullets," the Sundance Award-winning documentary premiering Monday, Nov. 23 on HBO (three years to the day after Jordan's murder), is an intimate look inside the courtroom of the riveting and at times unbelievable trial as well as an up-close and personal look at Jordan's short life.
I had the honor of speaking individually with each of Jordan's parents in advance of the HBO premiere.
I've shared my dialogue with them below, edited for brevity and clarity. At the end of the interview, Lucy gives a chilling reason why you — and everyone — should tune in and watch the film.
EWS: Why was it important for you to share your story, Jordan's story, with the world? Why did you want this film made?
Lucy: Well, because we had paid heed to previous cases, specifically Travyon [Martin]'s case. We watched how Trayvon had been vilified and demonized as a young man of color who was up to no good, even though he wasn't doing anything other than just existing. And so we decided very early on that our truth needed to be told. And it needed to be told by us, his parents. That we didn't need anybody to speak for us. We would tell our story, it would be honest, and it would be raw.
We also wanted to prick the [consciousness] of those that are watching the film. We wanted to open conversations in people's homes and in churches and in businesses and academia about implicit bias, Dunn's racism, and gun violence. We knew that the only way that we could really elevate what we were trying to do is to expose ourselves as a means to motivate people to create some kind of change.
EWS: So how did you know the time was right?
Ron: Very early on, people started approaching us about doing a film, and nothing felt right. But then my lawyer received a letter from Minette Nelson, the woman in charge of The Filmmaker Fund in San Francisco. In the letter, she told me how her son had a friend that was 16 years old who had been killed, and his name was also Jordan. An article about our Jordan in Rolling Stone touched him so much that he brought it to her and she read it and cried and said "Look, I'm going to try to reach out."
When I read the letter, it was so heartfelt. It felt like this person got it. I picked up the phone and called her and we had a 30 minute cry-all conversation, both of us crying and I said, “You get it."
"We decided very early on that our truth needed to be told. And it needed to be told by us, his parents. That we didn't need anybody to speak for us. We would tell our story, it would be honest, and it would be raw."
— Lucy McBath
EWS: How does it feel to go through such personal, emotional moments on film? Did you forget the camera was there or was it always on your mind?
Ron: Most of the time, we forgot the camera was there. You see my emotion at the table when I start taking about Jordan in the beginning of the film and just start crying. I forgot the camera was there then. I was just being emotional. Whether I was talking or swimming or crying, I was just living my life.
EWS: There were so many moments like that one, that showed what it was like as a parent who has lost a child. Have you heard from other parents about that?
Ron: Yes. Not just other grieving parents, but also other parents who have experienced something similar. For example, we do work with the family of Oscar Grant [who was killed by a police officer in California and whose story is told in the film "Fruitvale Station"], his Uncle Bobby, his mother.
When Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, I happened to be speaking at the United Nations conference in Geneva and I was the first person to talk to the UN about it as an example of racial discrimination in the United States.
Then I went to Ferguson and I welcomed Michael Brown's father into a club that no one wants to be a member of, just like Trayvon Martin's father had welcomed me into that club right after Jordan's death.
I also told him to find your voice. When these things happen, it's hard to find your voice. That's why you hear so many representatives — like the Al Sharptons and the Jesse Jacksons — because as a parent you're so devastated, it's hard to find your voice. But for me, I knew that no one was going to tell the story of Jordan right but his parents, because no one knows my son better than us. So I didn't want anyone to speak for us.
EWS: One of the things that struck me about this case is that it got at the heart of so many issues — racism, gun violence, "stand your ground" — has the film been able to spark meaningful conversations around those issues?
Lucy: At a recent film festival, I had grown men coming up to me and crying, crying. Three of them. Two were young white males, millennials, and one was an older black male, maybe in his 40s. All of them bawling.
The older black gentleman said, "I know that this has existed, I know I've experienced it. But I have been remiss in not doing anything about it. And I'm a teacher. And I'm going to go back and have these discussions in my classroom. It awakened a sense of activism in me."
"When you're 17 and you see another 17-year-old get killed, guess what you feel? You feel like it could be you any day, any time. And I hate that. I hate that they have to feel their mortality."
— Ron Davis
One of the young white men was sobbing and saying: “I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry that my people have done this to you." But beyond saying "we're sorry for your loss," people are saying something's got to change and I've got to be a part of the change. And that's what we need people to do. It's like a spiritual awakening in a sense because we're dealing with a heart issue, a moral issue.
People have the propensity to not be concerned about what is not their reality. But when you expose the reality to people, when you show them the truth, anybody that has a sense of moral fiber can't go away from it not being affected.
EWS: During one of your prayers in the film, you say “I'm still human because I doubt." What about now? Do you still doubt? Or do you have hope?
Lucy: Well, I have to have hope. You have to have hope to do this kind of justice work. It's a very heavy mantle. Anytime you're doing it, you have to hope that change is gonna come. Ron and I have T-shirts that say "Hope Dealers" because that's what we want to offer the nation and communities that are disproportionately affected by the violence: a sense of hope.
We want them to know that there is an awakening happening now. You've got the Black Lives Matter folks that are mobilizing, you've got gun violence prevention advocacy, you've got mothers groups, grassroots groups popping up all over the country. People are definitely paying attention to what is happening, and that has to instill in you a sense of hope.
People do have to understand that this is going to be a long, long, long fight and battle. When you talk about how long it's taken to build this culture of fear and implicit bias and racism and policing — these structures have been building for years, and you don't tear them down overnight.
Anytime you change a culture — like with LGBT equality, like with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, like with the tobacco industry — it begins long before you see the victories in the newspaper or on TV. But yeah, there's hope because it — protecting the sanctity of life as God intended for us — is the moral, right thing to do.
EWS: What message does Michael Dunn's guilty verdict send to America?
Lucy: I don't think the guilty verdict was enough. It offers some semblance of hope, but it's not enough because we're one of the only cases that did see justice. There are far more cases where they did not receive justice, there's no indictment, there's no conviction than there are cases like ours. So there's a lot more work that needs to be done.
EWS: And to you, Ron? What did the verdict symbolize to you?
Ron: It said that this black life matters. Also, the state of Florida said that Michael Dunn was not right in coming into Jacksonville and killing one of its citizens. I wanted that validation from the state of Florida to say that Jordan's life matters and that Michael Dunn had no right to kill him.
EWS: Aside from the obvious trauma of losing your son, how have you changed over these past three years? Do you see the world any differently?
Lucy: Like anyone else, when you're working day to day and you're trying to raise children and you're trying to, you know, keep a roof over your head — trying to do all the things that you normally have to do just to exist — you hear the news, hear things that are happening in the country, and in some way you think: “Well, that's not going to happen to me. That's really not going to affect me." And you kind of go on about your own reality and live your life kind of in a bubble.
I thought that this country was more “post-racial" than it actually is. Because to tell you the truth, we lived in an upscale neighborhood, and Jordan had access to good schooling. His father and I did well financially and have always been able to provide. We never struggled. So we were living in our own little reality. I did not really understand the depth of racism in this country until these cases like Trayvon and Jordan. I certainly didn't understand how systemic it is.
"People have the propensity to not be concerned about what is not their reality. But when you expose the reality to people, when you show them the truth, anybody that has a sense of moral fiber can't go away from it not being affected."
— Lucy McBath
I'm shocked because of my experience living in my father's house, entrenched in the civil rights movement, and being hauled around in the car with him as children as he was speaking around the country. I have pictures of my father with Lyndon Baines Johnson as he signed the Civil Rights Act and Eleanor Roosevelt and Roy Wilkins and all the work that he did. And so I can't believe that I'm still fighting the same fight that Daddy fought 50 years later.
EWS: What response do get from young people when they see this film?
Ron: They come up to me and most of them say, “I hope my parents are going to be this strong for me if something ever happens to me." They feel their mortality. When you're 17 and you see another 17-year-old get killed, guess what you feel? You feel like it could be you any day, any time. And I hate that. I hate that they have to feel their mortality. They're supposed to be able to love and embrace life and live like they're gonna live another 80 years, you know?
EWS: One of the most beautiful and unforgettable moments in the film is when you are watching footage of your son and bobbing your head along with him. What was going through your head in that moment?
Ron: I was remembering how Jordan use to hate riding in my car because I don't have an MP3 receiver, so he used to listen to my Motown records. He knew all the Motown songs.
One of his favorite groups was The Brothers Johnson "Strawberry Letter 23." He liked that bass. So I was thinking about that as I saw him dancing and listening to his music, and I said to myself: “I wish I had more days of listening to his music with him. I wish I had more days of bobbing my head to his music, even though I'm not into hip-hop. I would have loved to just one more time bob my head to his music while he was listening."
And so I felt that kinship with him, and it made me smile. And cry.
EWS: What do you want this film to do?
Ron: It's gonna reconnect the public with the families and victims. I remember thinking in the Trayvon Martin case, the jury was disconnected from him. They connected more with George Zimmerman. And this is a way to help people who serve on juries, people who don't have exposure to young black kids or to African-Americans period, to see us.
They have to, some way, connect with what we go through and what these kids go through. Looking at this film, they'll connect with us and say, “They look just like us, they have heartaches just like us, they doubt, they hope, and they look for the justice system to prevail just like we do." So I want everyone to take from this film who we are, how much we hurt when we lose a loved one. And our humanity.
EWS: And why should people tune in and watch it?
Lucy: Because their lives may depend upon it.
"31⁄2 Minutes" premieres Nov. 23, 2015, on HBO at 9 p.m. ET/PT. It will replay on Nov. 24 at 3:05 a.m. ET/PT and Nov. 28 at 1:45 p.m. ET/PT. It will also be available on HBO Now and HBO Go.