Powerless in the Face of White Supremacy and a Gun

While out shopping in Georgia at my favorite bookstore, the same day theEmanuel AME Church reopened its doors after the mass shooting, a white man in camouflage entered the store openly carrying a gun on his hip.

In my home state, we recently allowed licensed individuals to bring their guns into bars, churches, and college campuses, all for the sake of “safety.” Yet, in this moment, at the bookstore, I realized that such gun control laws only ensure certain people feel safe, while others who do not wish to own a gun are left feeling powerless. opencarry

This tense moment was still too soon. Too soon after Charleston, after the deaths of Eric Garner and Rekia Boyd—and even too soon after Emmett Till. Too soon after cops in Georgia attacked Kenya Harris until she miscarried.

Too soon because I haven’t processed the constant surveillance and prosecution I experience as a dark-skinned Black person navigating a society where I can be tried and executed in the streets without jury.

The gun-toting man had a wide-shouldered build and was probably shorter than me once he took off his combat boots. Looking back, I probably could have taken him on in a fair fight. Lord knows, I’ve fought men bigger than him before.

The bookstore employee, who will go down in history as my favorite bookstore employee ever, immediately said to the man, “Woah, that’s a gun! That makes me uncomfortable.”

Anywhere you stood in the store you could hear his reply: “Well, it shouldn’t be a problem so long as I don’t feel threatened.” The way his voice trailed off as his eyes panned the room froze me temporarily. I tucked myself behind a bookshelf where I could still see and hear what was happening. He also said he has an open carry licenseas if that would make us feel safe.

And then to change the subject, as if carrying a gun in a bookstore is no big deal, he shared that he had been scoping out the bookstore for some time, but only just decided to come in. I popped my head over a bookshelf to lock eyes with the bookstore employee. We widened our gaze and raised our eyebrows at each other to non-verbally confirm that this situation was indeed absurd.

But what troubled me most about the situation as it was happening was the realization that our legislative system was working as intended in that moment.

Long before I walked in to buy a copy of Octavia’s Brood, so that I could think about a world where my body is free through activism-driven science fiction, the system set things up with discriminatory gun control laws.

The idea of openly carrying a gun to protect myself has never been a realistic option—only when I’m imagining myself as Storm from X-Men dismantling oppressive systems with Black feminist thunderstorms and a small silver glock just in case. In reality, if the cops saw me with a gun, a bag of Skittles, or even a loosey cigarette, they would probably shoot me and ask questions about my permit later. As a Jamaican-American whose parents had to navigate the country’s unjust immigration system, I’ve almost always known that papers and permits don’t save dark-skinned people.

And so now, Georgia’s open carry policy, the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the whole foundation of America’s justice system works as it was always intended: allowing certain people to feel safe at the expense of others existing in fear. I was without arms and face-to-face with a man who may or may not have wanted to kill meand a man who had the freedom to make that decision without repercussions.

As he approached me in a corner of the store, my heart raced as I thought about the families of the victims and the nine people who were being put to rest in Charleston. I kept thinking ofTywanza Sanders jumping to defend his aunt Susie Jackson. I wondered if I could drum up that courage. I wondered if Cynthia Hurd was as frozen as I was. I wondered if Ethel Lancefelt as caught off-guard. I thanked the employee, a fellow woman of color, repeatedly in my head for maintaining calm in that moment of uncertainty. The man and I stood for a moment side-by-side browsing titles like Does Your Mama Know. It was a split second. Then I darted away to the middle of the store in three wide steps.

After he burrowed his nose into every corner of the bookstore, all he bought were two button pins with probably the most unpolitical messaging on them. I didn’t get to see them, but I know the store carries some very alluring pins of cats. Maybe he got those? At the counter, he showed the employee his Harry Potter tattoo. He made uncomfortable comments about how the tattoo reminds him of seeking truth and justice against liars, loud enough for all of us to hear. He talked about his “no good” ex. He said “open carry” ensures that his son respects him.

“Do you need a bag,” the bookstore employee interrupted, making it clear it was time for him to go.

Once he left, the rest of us still in the store let out a communal, belly-deep sigh. One customer noticed that subconsciously all the books they had collected to purchase were about men and violence. “They take up so much space,” the customer said with regard to the man who just left and the bundle of books in their arms.

Oppression can preoccupy our safe spaces, even in our minds.

My fellow customer’s comment allowed all of us in the store to laugh and begin the process of grasping what had just happened.

I don’t know why he came in armed. I don’t know what his intentions were. I don’t want to know. I want to know a world where I don’t have to be caught up in fear in the first place. I want a world where none of us feel the need to carry a gun. A world where the Confederate flag and a CVS aren’t more important to our political leaders than seven burning churches, the countless dead at the hands of militarized police, and those empowered with the false hubris of white supremacy.

People like me, and hopefully you, are trying to make that world a reality in the here and now. Bree Newsome, for example, took the Confederate flag down from the South Carolina statehouse with her bare hands. Emanuel AME Church reopened its doors when I’m sure domestic terrorists and other right-wing extremist groups were hoping they’d stayed closed. Not only are these activists not giving in to the pressure, but they’re reminding all of us that the world we’re fighting for uses love to overpower violence. Sanders’ 5-year-old niece, just by virtue of surviving the shooting by playing dead, is proof of Audre Lorde’s prophesizing.

No, we were never meant to survive, Lorde, and so whenever we end up doing so, we are being revolutionary, perhaps even futuristic.

Jimmy Carter-On Point…….again

Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter

Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter

Hands down, Jimmy Carter is the best American former president that this country has ever had.  Perhaps being an ex-president makes it easier for him to say the things that really need to be said from the vantage point that office brings.  He is no longer burdened with mass appeal for political purposes versus the reality of life in a diverse, large country such as America….yet he still finds a way to say the things that need to be said, that we as a country need to hear but yet not in a harsh, scathing way that evangelism often lends itself to.  His latest pronouncements can be read here but this is the one quote I salute him for

The recent publicity about mistreatment of black people in the judicial and police realm has been a reminder that the dreams of the civil rights movement have not been realized. Many Americans still have racist tendencies or feelings of superiority to people of color.

Those feelings of superiority are now known as white privilege and Mr. Carter has put his hand on the crux of what is still ailing this country.


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Gun ownership, police and white privilege in a post racial America

Hypocrisy in power is an amazing thing; not everyone can see it.  Police and armed citizens are a good start and a toxic mix.  As shown here constantly police who confront armed white citizens usually take a more professional and more restrained approach than they do when confronted with citizens of color, armed or not.  This is a decent collage of experiences that have occurred lately in America

Police Actually Do Show Restraint—When They’re Facing Armed White Guys

What is going on in the minds of some cops that frequently prompts empathy for armed white men but unleashes lethal fury on unarmed African-American men?

As a ceaseless flat line of tragedies snuffs out the lives of young brothers, one peculiar parallel trend emerges: For every unarmed black man who dies at the hands of white police officers, it seems as if there’s one armed white man who survives such an encounter.

In a way, that flies in the face of a popular national narrative that police officers are having some trouble restraining their trigger-happy selves. The excessive use of force by police is at the core of that discussion: Recently, for example, the Justice Department applauded the Seattle Police Department’s implementation of mandatory “de-escalation training” program for new officers. The force used “must be both reasonable and necessary,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta in a statement last week. “[T]his training will provide valuable guidance to officers when they make split-second decisions about when and how to use force.”

The problem, however, is that we assume that cops have a restraint problem. But judging from a growing number of confrontations between police and armed white guys, it’s reasonable to conclude the killings of African-American men and women may have another cause. And in the rush to a future full of body cameras, training, diversity hiring and other essential tools for modern law enforcement, we should probably find out what it takes to change that.

Michael Wilcox, 27, prone on the ground, unharmed

Michael Wilcox, 27, prone on the ground, unharmed

Going viral recently is a body-cam-captured video of rookie New Richmond, Ohio, cop Jesse Kidder talking down a young, armed and white 27-year old Michael Wilcox, who is accused of killing his fiancee and best friend hours before. Wilcox challenged Kidder to “shoot me!”

Kidder did not. He reasoned Wilcox into a peaceful arrest, earning himself all sorts of national props for showing “great restraint and maturity.” And who knows? Maybe policing in the post-Ferguson world made Kidder rethink the situation.

And maybe it didn’t. Instead, Wilcox ended up joining the pantheon of armed and dangerous white dudes who stayed alive even after police have identified them as homicidal suspects on killing rampages. One unfortunate week might find us gripped in national outrage over the untimely and unjustified deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore or Eric Harris in Tulsa; but, highlighted less are numerous confrontations between cops and rather dangerous white guys with guns who have already massacred people or are about to commit domestic terrorism.

This raises deeply disturbing but necessary questions that hint at a need for more than just a “de-escalation” program. What exactly is going on in the minds of some cops that frequently prompts empathy for armed white men but unleashes lethal fury on unarmed black men?    

Eric Fein, Fugitive survivalist and accused cop killer Eric Frein was finally captured last night in the Pocono Mountains after 48 days evading law enforcement

Take Eric Fein, for example, a white 31-year old sitting comfortably in jail on charges of killing one Pennsylvania state trooper in September and wounding another before forcing state police into a 48-day manhunt. Or still-alive 41-year old Ryan Giroux, a white supremacist who is accused of killing one person and injuring five in March during a shooting rampage in Mesa, Ariz. Cops finally caught up with him and took him into custody after Tasing him. And let’s not even get started on the jaw-dropping actions of Adam Kokesh, a gun-rights activist who not only loaded a shotgun across the street from White House grounds, but also videotaped and posted the whole thing online.

 James Holmes' Class of 2006  Westview High School photo

James Holmes’ Class of 2006 Westview High School photo

Perhaps one of the more notorious armed white guys involved in mass murder is James Holmes of Aurora, Colo., who, even after allegedly slaughtering a dozen people and injuring 70 in a movie theater shooting in 2012, managed to survive the police response and is on trial.

In almost half of all active-shooter situations, police didn’t even kill the shooter. According to aSeptember 2013 FBI briefing on a study of 160 mass-casualty, “active shooter” incidents between 2000 and 2013, most ended once the perpetrator stopped shooting, either because he fled or took his own life.

Curiously, the FBI details every demographic, geographic and casualty-type of data in its compelling 47-page study, even telling us that only six of the shooters were female, but fails to disclose one critical shooter characteristic: race.

The Congressional Research Service, however, did some leg work for its own March 2013 paper“Public Mass Shootings in the United States.” Despite an annoying lack of data, that study did conclude that the “the gunmen generally acted alone, were usually white and male.” Of the 81 shooters in this report, 41 died by suicide and 10 at the hands of law enforcement.

Police restraint is employed frequently when officers run up against gun-carrying white dudes engaged in all forms of villainy. Yet, we’ve seen unarmed and ultimately innocent black men and black women find themselves either badly hurt or dead just for looking suspicious or being in the wrong place at a particular wrong time.

Most frightening is the issue of why. There’s never really a clear answer for that beyond our 400-year knowledge of state-sanctioned violence against African Americans. White officers, in particular, would never admit to any subconscious bias pegging black men as subhuman.

What recent studies do show is that public perceptions of black people do not help.  When white people aren’t generally associating black people with criminal activity, they are viewing people of a darker hue as otherworldly.  The Sentencing Project’s 2014 “Race and Punishment” study shows that most whites support criminal punishment for blacks and Latinos because they perceive people of color as most likely to commit crimes.

Meanwhile, the Religion News Service’s “2012American National Election Study” and Associated Press polling showed that most whites still harbor a view of blacks as less hardworking and less intelligent.

But an even more recent and troubling study, published in November 2014 in the journal Social, Psychological & Personality Science, appears to offer some insight. Researchers determined that white attitudes have shifted dramatically over generations, from once perceiving blacks as “three fifths of a human” to now being “superhuman.”

Respondents in surveys were more likely to link terms such as “ghost, paranormal, spirit, wizard, supernatural, magic, mystical” to pictures of black people than they were to ascribe those qualities to whites, who were linked to more “human words”  such as “person, individual, humanity, people, civilian, mankind, citizen.” The authors of the study worried that “[p]erhaps people assume that Blacks possess extra (i.e., superhuman) strength which enables them to endure violence more easily than other humans.”

Perhaps, for reasons still unknown, there are white police officers who think that brothers are faster than bullets and speeding trains.  Maybe—and we don’t know—an armed white guy receives more lenience because there’s a chance he could be exercising his rights as a “citizen.”  For now, all we have is instinct, polls and a growing list of sad stories.

We’re not getting better at dealing with our differences, we’re getting worse and it’s hurting us as a civilization, as a country.  The inability to deal with this problem could lead to the destruction of America in the ways we experienced during the days preceding the Civil War.  Do we really wanna’ go there America?


Another black motorist killed by police

Walter Scott on the left, Michael Slager on the right

Walter Scott on the left, Michael Slager on the right

It happens with too much regularity in today’s America and it has to stop.  Walter Scott was killed, some say assassinated, I say executed by a white North Charleston, SC police officer…shot at 8 times with nothing in his hands and no weapons on his person while he was running away from the officer.  That it sounds like what happened to Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri who too was shot at while running from police, is eery at best and horrible that it happens so close.  Scott’s murderer seems to have a history of using force in his encounters with motorists and officer Michael Slager is now in jail, charged with manslaughter in Scott’s death.  All of this wouldn’t have come to light were it not for the video that was captured by a passerby who said at the point he began videoing the killing the police officer  had the situation under control and was in no threat from Scott.  To the State of South Carolina’s credit they have charged Slager with a felony and this is the third time law enforcement officers in that state have been disciplined for excessive force when dealing with black motorists but this is the deadliest.  Last year 2014 more African-Americans were killed by police than were killed in the 911 attacks over a decade ago! When will it stop America?


Theo Scott, Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Theo Scott, Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Remember the ‘Jena 6….a group of young black men who were charged and convicted of beating one of their white classmates in Jena, Louisiana? One of them, Theo Shaw has gone on to make a name for himself by being admitted and receiving a full scholarship to the University of Washington Law School in Seattle, Washington.  That law school, which U.S. News and World Report puts in the country’s top 30, has chosen Shaw as one of the incoming class’ five William H. Gates Public Service Law Scholars. It’s a full scholarship, covering tuition, books and even some money for room and board and incidental expenses.

Shaw has also distinguished himself by advocating for juvenile justice reform in a very unconventional way calling for the state of Louisiana to close down or not fund juvenile prisons in the hopes that they won’t be filled needlessly by offenders who don’t belong there in order to continue receiving state and federal money.  Such reasoning should make him a darling, and justifiably so, among many in his state who want to reduce spending and also show that redemption is uplifting for all.


Where are American congress men and women with this kind of courage?


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