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21 Things You Can't Do While Black

The following story first appeared in Mother Jones. For more great Mother Jones content, subscribe here. 


Florida's second sensational, race-tinged murder trial in less than a year is underway. Michael Dunn, a white, 47-year-old software developer, shot and killed Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old African American, as the teen sat in an SUV with three friends. Charged with first-degree murder, Dunn is pleading self-defense under Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law. He contends that he argued with the teens (over what a witness says he called their "thug music") and fired on them after he claims he saw Davis brandish a shotgun. Police found no gun at the scene, and witnesses say Davis never had one.

Like the George Zimmerman trial, during which the self-styled neighborhood watchman successfully argued that he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in self-defense, Dunn's case has raised questions about Florida's broad self-defense law, racial profiling, and how the two issues intersect. Would Martin and Davis be alive if they weren't black? Would they have been afforded the benefit of the doubt by their killers if they had been white? Their deaths didn't happen in a vacuum. There's evidence that just being black in the United States is often all it takes to arouse suspicion. Here are 21 examples from the last five years of some of the things black people can't do without others thinking they're up to no good.

1. Listen to loud music at a gas station.

2. Walk home from a snack run to 7-11.

3. Wear a hoodie.

4. Drive after swimming.

5. Drive in a car with a white girl.

6. Appear in public in New York City.

7. Walk on the wrong side of the street.

8. Wait for a school bus to take you to your high school basketball game.

9. Drink iced tea in a parking lot.

10. Seek help after a car accident.

11. Inspect your own property.

12. Show up at your job.

13. Talk trash after an NFL game.  

14. Throw a temper tantrum in kindergarten.

15. Buy designer accessories at Barney’s.

16. Buy designer accessories at Macy’s.

17. Be a 13-year-old boy.

18. Enter your own home.

19. Botch a science experiment.

20. Be a tourist.

21. Lay face down in handcuffs.

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