Fear: How Open Carry Can Lead to an Open Season on Black Males

Fear is a powerful emotion that is governing profiling, policing and politics.  This fear has fueled some legislators to pass open carry laws that allow individuals to carry firearms in hallowed places such as faith and educational institutions. Second amendment proponents proclaims loudly that individuals have the right to protect themselves. However, these same individuals are eerily quiet when black male citizens are gunned down by individuals who are supposedly trained to “protect and serve”. What can Black males do to be protect themselves when the agents of public safety represent credible threats to their ability to remain among the living?

The events over the past 48 hours have ripped off the scab covering the deep wound resulting from the tumultous relationshp between marginalized males and the police. Too many funerals have been and continue to be planned for African American males whose last moments on this earth were spent absorbing bullets from gun barrels pointed at them by police officers supposedly engaged in routine traffic stops and street interactions.  Police shootings often associated with Chicago and Baltimore are now springing up in cities like Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. When does it end? How will it end? As someone born during the late 1960s, I never was able to grasp the fear of law enforcement expressed by older family members coming of age in the South during the Jim Crow era. I now get it. As I reflect on the events surrounding Eric Garner, LaQuan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling and Phlando Castile, I recall the haunting   lyrics of the Billie Holiday classic “Strange Fruit” that bear witness and protest the lynching of Black Males. The lyrics of today are captured video footage bearing witness to horrors of policing by fear.

President Obama reponds to the deaths of Mr. Sterling and Castile by challenging us to “do better”. In my mind, doing better requires us to do the hard work of holding public servants at all levels accountable. Protests are important and necessary; however, demonstrations must not be limited to crowds and megaphones. They need to evolve and involve coalition-building and community organizing. Indivduals of conscience and goodwill need to come together to demonstrate that we are a nation in which we are our brothers and sisters keepers. When this occurs, we will have a collective strength and power to face our fears, and do what is necessary to ensure that all lives matter.

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Answering the Bell

A few weeks ago, Mr. Wesley Bell was declared the winner of a local city council election. In most cases, local elections do not warrant national press; however, this city was ground zero for protest against police brutality for the past year. Ferguson, Missouri has been scrutinized and criticized for it lack of diversity in position of power and thinly veiled oppressive practices that filled municipal coffers with revenues raised by exploitive police practices. Mr. Bell has worked to be part of the solution as he was a calming force in the streets and decided to lead by example. In short, he answered the bell by serving the community and then running to lead it through public service. The leadership in Ferguson has a different hue and there is a ray of hope for a new day. Michael Brown did not die in vain. The events surrounding the tragic and premature end to his life rang a bell much like Dap Dunlap in School Daze telling America in general and Black America in particular to wake up.

Since then we have witnessed a number of tragic deaths of black males. The age of the victims ranged from early adolescents (Tamir Rice) to middle age (Wesley Scott); however the offender was the same, a police officer. The offenses bringing police officers to the scene were minor but the consequences were heartbreakingly monumental as gunshots from those who pledged to protect and serve the public ended lives of those were not threats to themselves or others. The victims of these police shootings were imperfect as we all are; however, death was not an appropriate response to a traffic stop or a tense interaction. We have yet to learn the lessons from Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, and Charleston because Baltimore is now on fire. Bells are ringing loudly for those of sound minds and sincere sensibilities to step forward to be our brothers and sisters keepers. It is an assumption of social scientists that human beings are social beings; therefore, we need others to help us grow, learn, and love so that a society of imperfect people can strive towards a more perfect union that is indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

John Donne penned a meditation that was reshaped into a poem that is hauntingly appropriate for this day and age.

No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thine own

Or of thine friend’s were.

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.