Gun Intimidation

Me at the office where not allowed a gun
Me at the office

In my naive freshman year I was arriving at campus around 7:30am to get a relatively decent parking spot and only have a ten minute walk to class. I could arrive at 7:45am, but the walk would be closer to fifteen minutes. Plus, I could use the extra 20 minutes to study before my 8:00am class. What I failed to account for was the white female student who was arriving to campus about the same time and walking to the same building. Some days we were not in sync and I never saw her. Other days she’d be slightly behind. The days where she was slightly ahead became scary when the Campus Safety officer started showing up and placing himself between us with his hand on his gun watching me. The message was clear that the officer was ready in case of danger. But, I also suspect the officer used this to signal a message of intimidation that he would have no problem shooting me if there was a need. So, I would sit in my car until 7:40am and place myself outside the dangerous window of time.

It was a common occurance for me that Campus Safety officers would hold their gun still inside the holster while talking to people of color. African-American males would hang out on the Quad joking around the same as they might on their home front porches. Campus Safety would show up and order them to disperse while holding their weapon. The Quad was the only designated area of campus where students are allowed to gather. White students were okay, but black males must disperse under duress of armed officers holding their guns “just in case.”

When interacting with my white friends, these same officers never touched their gun. The message was also clear that the officers did not feel in danger around my white friends. This held true even when my white friends were antagonizing a visiting preacher and causing a very tense, uneasy situation. These were college kids looking for a fight, but intimidation was not warranted when the pale kids were aggressive.

This was not the experience with all law enforcement during the same period. City, county, and state officers who pulled me over for speeding or a not working tail light often did the same hand on the gun thing. An off duty city police officer would work security midnight to 8am at the Waffle House knockoff where my friends and I would hang out Saturday and Sunday mornings. He never did the hand on the gun thing for anyone that I saw. Even when belligerent drunks were about to throw down, the threat of using the gun was not suggested. When I asked about the behavior of officers holding their gun while interacting with others, he expressed concern about the threatening posture of it. Talks about what he liked doing the job was helping people and building a rapport and de-escalating tense  situations. He had the gun in case, but for him it was a tool for a very specific job that he would rather not cause.

When people talk about civilians carrying a gun, I think back to these encounters. The presence of a gun would make them more intense and dangerous not less. The officer would be more terrified of what I might do. My darker skin adds to the threat calculus. Enough so I feel like I would be more likely to be shot carrying than not. We are supposed to be safe by complying with an officer’s orders. Lately the citizen videos seem to show that is not necessarily the case. Tell the officer you are armed and have a permit might just make the officer more twitchy. They have the gun to use deadly force if necessary but the threat of deadly force is a tool to intimidate us unarmed citizens. It maybe makes them more confident knowing they could protect themselves against me if needed when I am unarmed. Having my own gun removes that confidence making it more likely that I end up shot.

 

Black Guns Matter

(There seem to be two Black Guns Matter campaigns. One about Blacks owning guns. The other about owning tactical rifles also showing up as #blackriflesmatter.)

Several years ago before Orlando, before Charleston, and maybe even before Sandy Hook, I had a conversation with my mother about guns and gun rights and gun control. I made a point that has stuck in my brain:

Gun Rights activists want everyone to have a gun EXCEPT for people like me. They want people to have a gun to protect themselves from people like me.

As a six foot four semi-black male, as Walter White put it, “I am the danger.” [1] People see me and move to the other side of the street. Full beard, scruff, or no beard does not make a difference. People are scared of me. And I am okay with that. My “Resting Bastard Face” probably does not help, but that is a post for another time.

Guns are how people with too little melanin feel safer around monsters with too much melanin and testosterone. The stereotype is that we are murders, rapists, drug dealers, with presumably a few good apples.

Think of the Open Carry people walking into businesses with their guns openly displayed. I did a Google Image search and only counted individuals where I could see the weapon and skin and not a police officer and not duplicates. I was surprised to see a black male as the 5th image. Out of the first 100 people shown me, he was in the results twice. (Two different photos of the game guy.) The token open carry guy? Adding Georgia to the search got different results and a different black male in the 42nd, 46th person and a black female at the 47th. At 70 there were so many duplicates that I stopped counting.

Certainly even during the pacifist Civil Rights movement, there were armed individuals. Martin Luther King, Jr owned a gun. He just did not take it into tense situations where it might escalate further people already primed to violence. The Black Panthers were armed black men standing up against the government. Samuel L Jackson said for an L.A.Times article,

I don’t think it’s about more gun control. I grew up in the South with guns everywhere and we never shot anyone. This [shooting] is about people who aren’t taught the value of life.”

Of course, the whole thing is irrational. Gun sales skyrocket after a mass shooting because people become scared the government will take them. Yet, they are tiny fraction of gun deaths while dominating the new cycle. There is not enough time in the year to achieve the same amount of coverage for suicides. Of course, news organization policy is not to report on it so others will not copycat it. How bizarre!?!? One would think the same should apply to mass shootings.

[1] The full context of the Breaking Bad quote.

Skyler White: Walt, please, let’s both of us stop trying to justify this whole thing and admit you’re in danger!

Walter White: Who are you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see? Do you know how much I make a year? I mean, even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe it. Do you know what would happen if I suddenly decided to stop going into work? A business big enough that it could be listed on the NASDAQ goes belly up. Disappears! It ceases to exist without me. No, you clearly don’t know who you’re talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks!