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.

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?

American justice is NOT the same for everyone


Don’t think so?  Ask Chris Hayes, who recently said this about his experience with drugs and law enforcement officials

“I can tell you as sure as I’m sitting here before you that if I was a black kid with cornrows instead of a white kid with glasses, my ass would’ve been in the back of a squad car faster than you can say George W. Bush.

It’s not just with drugs, however that this disparity in justice between black and white is evident, it’s also about perception.  There is this notion that crime is only committed by people of color and only they deserve the attention of the justice system.

On April 29, 2012, I put on a suit and tie and took the No. 3 subway line to the Junius Avenue stop in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville. At the time, the blocks around this stop were a well-known battleground in the stop-and-frisk wars: Police had stopped 14,000 residents 52,000 times in four years. I figured this frequency would increase my chances of getting to see the system in action, but I faced a significant hurdle: Though I’ve spent years living and working in neighborhoods like Brownsville, as a white professional, the police have never eyed me suspiciously or stopped me for routine questioning. I would have to do something creative to get their attention.

As I walked around that day, I held a chipboard graffiti stencil the size of a piece of poster board and two cans of spray paint. Simply carrying those items qualified as a class B misdemeanor pursuant to New York Penal Law 145.65. If police officers were doing their jobs, they would have no choice but to stop and question me.

I kept walking and reached a bodega near the Rockaway Avenue subway station. Suddenly, a young black man started yelling at me to get out of Brownsville, presumably concluding from my skin color and my suit that I did not belong there. Three police officers heard the commotion and came running down the stairs. They reached me and stopped.

“What’s going on?” one asked.

“Nothing,” I told them.

“What does that say?” the officer interrupted me, incredulously, as the other two gathered around. I held the stencil up for them to read.

“What are you, some kind of asshole?” he asked.

I stood quietly, wondering whether they would arrest me or write a summons. The officers grumbled a few choice curse words and then ran down the stairs in pursuit of the young man. Though I was the one clearly breaking a law, they went after him.

Eventually the writer of the piece above was arrested and inordinately punished for bringing attention to the differences people of color face when confronted by America’s judicial system.  But this isn’t news….merely an affirmation of what has been said repeatedly and unfortunately hasn’t changed very much since.

 

Living black in America


Another example of citizens taking control of their safety


I’m not a big fan of the “police state”.  It is often time abusive and tramples on the rights of citizens.  The story of the cops blasting into the house of someone they thought was issuing internet threats against the local police department is just one very small example of a police force out of control.  Of course excessive policing is about control over the citizenry not about protecting them.  Diligent, aware citizens are generally able to protect themselves; police only need to mop up what’s left.

This story is an excellent example of the ability of a homeowner to defend himself and his family and the keystonesque inability of the local police force to pick up where the homeowner leaves off.  Awakened late at night by noise, the homeowner, Joe Pacetti found this whacked out individual, Jeremiah Haughee (pictured above) sitting on Pacetti’s roof, and otherwise invading his property.  The homeowner  confronts the naked trespasser with a legally owned firearm and a struggle ensues.  The property owner joined by his son is able to subdue  Haughee and in the course of the struggle is smart enough to give his firearm to his wife in order to avoid injuring himself, his son or even the trespasser!!  Evidently he realized he didn’t need to shoot him.  Wow….what a guy!  Unfortunately, the police have to get involved and they do, in a blundering sort of way.  Where a single homeowner and his son and wife are able to subdue Haughee, it took 5 police officers to get him into their car.  Oh, and we forgot to mention the number of times they  tasered  him before doing so.  Five officers and repeated tasing to do what it took one man and his son to do.  I would have preferred the homeowner take Haughee down to the police station himself.

I can’t speak for the property owner…no doubt he was glad to have the police come and help him out, but I can say that he’s an excellent model of how to do things right!  He’s a responsible firearms owner who recognized the danger of engaging  someone with his weapon in his hand at the same time realizing that the weapon was not the appropriate way to deal with the situation, (Remember Rodriguez in Texas that we wrote about yesterday??) was able to safely secure the weapon and deal with the situation so that the invader was no longer a threat to him or his family.  Bravo!!  The Pacetti family needs to be given the keys to the city where they live.  I’m not trying to be funny here….I applaud that kind of diligence and competence.  We need more of it from our citizens.  It shows we can protect ourselves, without the oppressive and abusive powers of police departments; unfortunately it also shows that those who are supposed to protect and serve usually get in the way!  Citizens 1, police 0.

The Face of American Terrorism


American based terrorism doesn’t get much mention in mainstream media, maybe because those who are responsible for it in many cases reflect the ethnicity of those who write about terrorism.  I mean it’s much easier to call someone who looks different from you and has a funny name a terrorist than it is to call your next door neighbor or the person who attends your church or synagogue one.  Janet Napolitano knows a thing or two about what happens to people who take an even handed approach to this issue of homegrown terrorism because she was excoriated in the media by pundits for a 2009 report released by Homeland Security entitled, Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment. Because there’s no mention of Islam in the title, the report was denounced by many across the political spectrum.  Media Matters does a pretty nice job of detailing the arguments of some of the people opposed to labelling American terrorism just that, and their analysis can be found here.  Needless to say, the 2009 report doesn’t follow the meme so often repeated in public discourse that ‘all terrorists are Muslim’ because such a statement is false on its face, racially charged and bigoted.

Do you know who the people pictured above are?  They are members of Hutaree who see law enforcement as the enemy and  they planned to kill a police officer, possibly at a traffic stop, and then attack the funeral procession to kill more officers. Sounds much like terrorism to me, but instead these folks were charged with seditious conspiracy against the government, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence.  Ever  hear of the group The Sovereign Citizen?  You can see for yourself the width and breadth of this group across the country here.  The FBI has a full page on them which says in essence they do not feel bound to obey the laws of America, do everything to circumvent the law up to and including murder of public officials and the destruction of government institutions.  The ubiquitous federal government isn’t the only entity to see the danger Sovereign Citizen members present to the general public.  A local Texas sheriff, Chief Smith has issued his  own terrorism warning saying in part

Chief Smith wants the Citizens to be aware that these people could be practicing their beliefgs in this area.  Chief Smith warns that these persons have the potential to act out in very violent manners with both citizens and law enforcement if the contact with them is negative.

The Chief has every reason to be concerned.  Just last week a ‘sovereign citizen’ in Florida, claiming he “did not have to follow the law or obey law enforcement officers” fired an AK-47 weapon at a store after calling them repeatedly to demand a product they did not have.  Larry Kelly then led law enforcement officials on a chase through the city of Ensley, Florida before being captured.  Again, last week another ‘sovereign citizen’ Matthew O’Neill was arrested after sending a white powder substance to the Colorado Department of Revenue which was dealing with his tax issues.  It doesn’t take a genius to understand the significance of that in post 911 America does it?  Then it was an act of terrorism, now it’s a disgruntled tax case.  But ‘sovereign citizen’ encounters with the law have also been deadly.  What’s significant is if one were to replace each of the above linked news stories with someone’s Arabic name or reference to their religious belief it would be a sure indicator of their terrorist inclinations, BUT absent such identifying tags, while still abhorrent and deadly, the acts are crimes which we have all too often been accustomed, absent the accompanying terrorism hysteria.  Conservatives have for some time bemoaned the increase in laws on the books to handle what they consider situations already adequately addressed in law, yet many on the right are the first to claim the need for increased laws to save America from ‘sharia law’, for instance to the presence of municipally approved places of worship to articles of clothing to any number of other things associated with Islam and Muslims in America. This is the dilemma America faces today; how to deal with the hypocrisy and demagoguery of politicians and political parties, such as the Republican  and Tea Party, while still legitimately addressing the role of the rule of law.  What’s good for the goose IS good for the gander as well.  It’s either all terrorism or it’s not, but most likely chances are it will not be classified terrorism, especially by the main stream media, as long as people who write about it look like the people above who perpetuate it.

The Awful Truth


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This is the life for some who live in America.  For too long, America has allowed itself to be divided along lines of color, ethnicity, and now religion.  Our failure to address each of the previous wrongs we have inflicted upon members of our society mean we will continue this progression of oppression and racism which will only lead to the demise of our way of life.  Far greater than any hostile state we have had to face in our past, the biggest and greatest threat to America has always been Americans and their lust for violence and bloodshed.  The Civil War, an antiquated battle fought over a century ago, still stands as the biggest killer of Americans of any war since, including all the ones we’ve fought with the latest gadgetry.

Unfortunately, we don’t reflect on that; instead we sweep it under the rug and or ignore it altogether; which only increases our peril.  Wake up America!