Rules aren’t applied equally across all ethnic groups
Last week in Michigan, Elijah Woody was arrested for openly carrying his gun. Thankfully Woody was not shot dead, but his story highlights the inequality of gun rights for certain groups in the United States. If he was a white man, the cops probably would not have stopped him. If they had, and the white man had quoted to them the law which allows for open carry, they might just have let him go and gone on with their day’s planned events of terrorizing drug users and showing up an hour after a violent crime was committed.
Unfortunately, Elijah Woody was black, and black men are not equal in the eyes of the police. Last month in Ohio, John Crawford was murdered in a Wal-Mart while holding an air rifle after police arrived on scene responding to reports of a black man wielding a weapon. Ohio is an “open carry” state, and the gun was a fake, but that didn’t matter. This is the story across America: If you are black and armed, you are a threat. And to get to the ugly bottom of it, that’s true, and it’s why blacks re-introduced politically conscious open carry.
The Black Panthers were the first modern practitioners of open carry as a challenge to state authorities. The reason they carried these weapons was not to show off their machismo, to frighten conservative white people or the gunphobic. They carried their guns in self defense, knowing that to walk unarmed in 1960s America as a black man was a good way to get kidnapped or shot by the local authorities. When Huey Newton and his Panthers needed to raise their guns, they did. One such famous incident is covered at Bleeding Heart Libertarians by Matt Zwolinski in an excellent article, which is responsible for one of the most fantastic and concise critiques of the modern American police state: “An armed policeman confronting a disarmed civilian is the picture of inequality.”
Open carry began as a direct opposition to authority, not as some political protest aimed at changing some far off and unreliable social end. The Panthers realized they did not have that time to waste, and that if freedom is to begin, then it must begin today. Many risked and lost their lives, but their stand for autonomy now remains.
So, a message to those who wish to challenge authority rather than submit a message respectfully to it: When you arm yourself, you are making yourself a target. This is true for everyone, but unfortunately especially true if your skin color is darker than the average American’s. When you march down your local city’s street imposing what everyone around you sees as a risk, there are going to be responses to that of an aggressive nature. From this point, you have two options: respond by asserting your power of self defense or be kidnapped or gunned down. When a cop asks you what you are doing with that weapon, ask what he is doing with his. You are supposedly equal under the judgment of the law.
Of course, you aren’t actually equal. Putting your gun in a cop’s face is treated much differently than him sticking his gun in yours. There are only two options: make yourself equal or submit. There is no shame in submitting and no glory in being killed for your ideals, mind you. I would comply, put my gun down, and go quietly. What are you going to do with your gun?
Ryan Calhoun is a Philosophy student and activist at the University at Buffalo.