Being a good black person with a gun

the perception of arms and race

art of the shot
Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense
Annoyingly frequently, a story will catch my attention in the “while black” section of the news. In this case, “sleeping while black.”

A black woman was shot and killed after Kentucky police entered her home as she slept, her family says. “Louisville Metro Police Department officers were looking for a suspect at the wrong home when they shot and killed Breonna Taylor, according to a lawsuit.” Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who had a licensed firearm, fired his gun when he thought someone was breaking in. He was arrested and charged with assault and attempted murder on a police officer.

People have asked me if I would feel safer being a good black person with a gun. Hell, no.

Back in 2018, a black man killed by police in Alabama mall was shot from behind. “Emantic ‘EJ’ Fitzgerald Bradford Jr., 21, was shot when police officers responding to reports of gunfire at the mall mistook him for the gunman. According to witnesses, Bradford was helping other shoppers to safety.”

That same year, there was an interesting article in The New York Times. ‘I Am the “Good Guy With a Gun’: Black Gun Owners Reject Stereotypes, Demand Respect. “After recent incidents in which police officers shot black men who tried to stop a shooting, African-American gun owners told us how they navigate being wrongly perceived as a threat.”

In the second half of 2018 alone, at least three black men in the United States had been shot by police in separate incidents while trying, according to witnesses, to stop an active shooting. Jordan Klepper, in his short-lived series, produced a piece, Open Carrying While White vs. Open Carrying While Black.

Philando Castile, RIP

I’m still pained, and slackjawed by the death of Philando Castile in 2017, a black man with a legally-owned gun, who announces in a traffic stop that he has a weapon in the vehicle and ends up dead.

This story is interesting: Racism and the black hole of gun control in the US. “Would tighter gun laws help protect African Americans or make them more vulnerable to racism and police brutality? Charles E Cobb Jr notes of the civil rights movement that “if not for the threat of gunfire, many more peaceful protests – and possibly the movement itself – would have been silenced by violence.”

Still, the perception of arms and race are quite different. And historical. Check out The Racist Origins of US Gun Control Laws Designed To Disarm Slaves, Freedmen, And African-Americans by Steve Ekwall.

In 2016, Agent Orange encouraged supporters to “watch” polls on election day. And similar noise is being made this year. Yet the tiny New Black Panther Party doing it in previous years was seen as terrorism, not Second Amendment freedom. What’s the difference here? It’s as simple as black and white.

COVID While Black, naturally

Not everybody can work from home

covid while blackTo add to the pantheon of Driving While Black, Shopping While Black, and the general Existing While Black, is COVID While Black.

ITEM: Black people have faced racial discrimination on Zoom meetings through Zoombombing. K’Andre Miller was making an appearance to talk to New York Rangers fans when he was subject to a vile racist outburst. The hacker posted the N-word hundreds of times during the online chat. A virtual meeting with black University of Texas students was cut short by racist ‘Zoom bombing’.

A friend of mine has posted about his personal experience of being targeted with the N-word and the F-word. while in a Zoom meeting. The hacker even called him by name because his name was under his picture. He was the only black person in that session. It appears that Zoom has fixed the problem with added steps of security passwords. Still, it was quite disturbing.

Who IS that masked man?

ITEM: You know how we’re all supposed to wear those face coverings to help stem the tide of the virus. But, in particular, black men fear homemade coronavirus masks could exacerbate racial profiling. “The CDC’s guidance on wearing masks outside comes with an added burden for minorities. ‘If you’re a person of color, you can’t just wear a mask.’”

I’ll admit to feeling a tad nervous wearing them myself, as though someone thought I might steal the toilet paper. I may be wrong, but I swear I’ve felt the negative reaction myself. And my masks are really nifty items, made from my daughter’s scarves.

Related, there are stores that have banned the use of masks, which makes no public safety sense.

ITEM: African-Americans may be especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Why IS that?

  1. African-Americans are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19. Not everybody can work from home. Black and Hispanic workers are much less likely to be able to telework.

  2. African-Americans have a higher incidence of underlying health conditions. And yet…

  3. African-Americans have less access to medical care. “Inequities in access to health care, including inadequate health insurance, discrimination fears, and distance from clinics and hospitals, make it harder for many African-Americans to access the sort of preventive care that keeps chronic diseases in check.”

Living while black, doing everyday things

Some Americans are afraid to explore their own country.

while blackIt is absurd in its awfulness. Someone who is black, let’s say a Smith College student, is quietly eating her lunch in a campus common room. A white person, an employee, calls the police to report someone who “seemed out of place.” When campus police arrived, they found the Smith student, taking a break from her campus job.

It is yet another example of police being called to investigate black people in everyday situations, the criminalization of blackness. There have been calls for laws to punish people who call police on black people for no reason. But I was curious as to the WHY.

“Because they’re racist!” Well, perhaps. Vox looks at the sociology of the living-while-black incidents.

“Many white people have not adjusted to the idea that black people now appear more often in places of privilege, power, and prestige — or just places where they were historically unwelcome. When black people do appear in such places, white people subconsciously or explicitly want to banish them to a place I have called the ‘iconic ghetto’ — to the stereotypical space in which they think all black people belong, a segregated space for second-class citizens.”

The ACLU has developed LIVING WHILE BLACK ON CAMPUS – A Roadmap for Student Activism.

Meanwhile, folks deal with selling real estatebabysittingeatinggrocery shoppingswimminghelping a homeless man, or cashing a check, all while black.

One reads White lady in golf cart calls cops on black father watching his son play soccer. “Gas Station Brenda” Calls Police on People Shopping In Her Convenience Store. North Carolina Woman Tells Black Sisters Waiting For AAA, “You Don’t Belong.” And there’s the language variation: Dunkin’ employee calls police on student speaking Somali with her family.

Some folks have looked at the phenomenon in a more comprehensive way. Dating While Black: What I learned about racism from my online quest for love. TRAVELING WHILE BLACK: Some Americans are afraid to explore their own country, concerns that evoke the Jim Crow-era Green Book. And it’s not limited to the USA: Morgan Jerkins: Three writers share powerful stories on what it’s like to seek escape in a world that surveils black bodies.

There are what I guess are “good” outcomes in these instances. White woman fired after blocking a black man from entering his home. And this scary tale: Michigan Man Who Shot at Black Teen Asking for Directions Found Guilty of Assault, as well he should have been.

On the other hand, being a “good guy with a gun” doesn’t necessarily apply while black.

This hardly-exhaustive list, mostly from 2018, is exhausting to write about. And scary. Having the cops arrive unnecessarily is not only nerve-wracking, but it’s also a waste of the police’s time and resources.

As Renée Graham in (Boston) Globe Opinion wrote back in April 2018, “To be black is to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time because, in America, there is never a right place for black people.”