Robin Martin is an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati and CEO of Leading Beyond the Post, a consulting firm.
Caller, how may I help you? "There is a black person with a gun in the Walmart and the in park...I am scared to death." Minutes later, the smell of death permeates the state of Ohio.
What kind of reaction were you expecting when we voted on the pro-gun provisions. What the hell did our unimaginative state legislators think would happen when they allow people to carry semi-automatic assault weapons in the street or better yet, when they voted on asinine policies such as:
Gun bans: None.
Waiting periods for gun purchases: None.
License or permit to purchase guns: None.
Registration of guns: None statewide.
If carrying an open weapon is the new normal in the state of Ohio, WHOM shall I fear? Soon, walking down the street with a AK-47 will be as common as carrying a cell phone. To be clear, I support the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. However, as President Obama takes executive action on guns, blacks in the Buckeye State bear witness to a different reality for their loved ones.
For all the talk about nonviolent or peaceful protest, violence seems to be the normal response for highly trained police officers. John Crawford was shopping in Walmart, the largest retailer of guns in the US, with a fake gun in an open-carry state when he was killed in Aisle 6. Can you imagine your 12-year-old son playing cops and robbers alone in the park, when suddenly his darkest fears come true -- gunned down in cold blood in 1.9 seconds by a “trained” police officer. Aren’t they supposed to shoot the “bad” guys?
Over the past year, I, along with many other “law-abiding” African Americans ponder whether “stand your ground,” the Second Amendment, or pro-gun provisions apply to us. We deliberate whether to purchase, stockpile, or start defense funds for our children and loved ones to ward off imminent threats to our lives.
On one hand this sounds like the wild, wild west. On the other hand, it sounds like an essential reaction. If a police officer is afraid of a 12-year-old child playing in the park, then certainly you can understand my fear when an officer carrying multiple deadly weapons approaches my car or patrols my neighborhood. While I firmly believe and support efforts of good community policing, lately I am stricken with fear for my personal safety and the safety of my black and brown countrymen.
While some argue my fears are unfounded, history provides compelling evidence that racism underlies gun control laws and not in any subtle way. Throughout much of American history, gun control laws were openly used to keep blacks and Hispanics in their place and quiet the racial fears of whites. In fact, the French Black Code in 1751 required Louisiana colonists to stop and “shoot to kill” any blacks carrying any potential weapon, including a cane, if he or she did not heed to the commands of a white citizen. Similarly, in the 16th century the colony of New Spain, terrified of black slave revolts, prohibited all blacks, free and enslaved, from carrying guns. And now today, we learn that qualified black citizens in Chicago are denied gun permits without explanation.
So where do we go from here? Is it time for blacks to join the NRA, or start a similar organization to ensure our Second Amendment rights are exercised and protected? Or do we continue to endorse the non-violent, peaceful demonstrations, or “the Lord will get us through” vigils while our children are murdered without legal recourse? What would it look like for blacks to organize around pro-gun laws and seek justice using these legal protections? I ask these questions not as a threat, but rather to seek advice.
Where do we go from here, and more importantly, what is the end game?