Armed While Black
Problem: Mass shootings occurring at a nearly daily rate in the US.
Solution (proposed by the President, most Republicans, and the NRA): more guns. Lots of guns. Guns in schools; guns in places of worship; guns in shopping venues, sports arenas, and durn-near everywhere.
“Problem”: Some people who own guns are people of color.
Apparent law enforcement solution: shoot them on sight, and figure it out later.
Yes, America, you can be a “good guy with a gun”. As long as you’re white.
Right now, here in Birmingham, AL, we are struggling in the aftermath of the death of Emantic “EJ” Bradford, who, as you probably know by now was murdered while apparently actually behaving like a “good guy with a gun”; that is, during an active shooter incident he was ready to respond if he sighted the shooter, and was herding bystanders to safety. If this was the only recent incident like this, we could call it an aberration; an unfortunate accident; a statistical outlier at the far end of the bell curve of probabilities.
But it’s not.
Less than a month ago, security guard and aspiring policeman Jemel Roberson was gunned down while in the performance of his duties; he had, in fact, detained a mass shooting suspect. He was gunned down less than five seconds after initially being screamed at by an arriving police officer. That’s not a lot of time to figure out what you’re supposed to do with A) your gun, and B) the shooter you are currently pinning to the floor with your knee.
And sadly, both of these fine young men, these “good guys with guns” were not only murdered for their heroism, they had their reputations impugned by the law enforcement agencies which killed them in being described as “the threat”, or “subject with a gun”.
And lest we forget, there has yet to be justice served in the case of Philando Castile, who was shot to death sitting calmly in his car, in front of his wife and four year old daughter, by a police officer who he politely informed “Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me,” which was, of course his admission of guilt to the crime of being armed while black. And the long line of those tried, convicted, and summarily executed of that crime would fill pages, and sadly, even include a 12-year-old boy named Tamir Rice, executed by officers who did not even get out of their patrol car, for the “crime” of playing with a toy gun.
These are not “outliers”. We have some serious problems in this country, and insisting that we don’t have a problem isn’t a solution. We have a gun problem. We have a race problem. And, here at the intersection of the two in Birmingham, Alabama, things are getting tense. The Hoover police Department, responsible for the death of EJ Bradford, has not come clean. They have failed to assume full responsibility and apologize (most likely on the advice of their attorney, who fears the huge settlement that is sure to come, which will not in any way actually compensate EJ’s family for the loss of a beloved son, brother, nephew), they are refusing to release all of the mall security and police bodycam videos of the incident claiming that “it may not only jeopardize the integrity of the case, but also complicate or delay their efforts”. Well, I can see how showing God and everybody that you shot an innocent man in the back just might “complicate your efforts.”
And the really disturbing thing is that rather than attempting to be transparent, conciliatory, and cooperative with the peaceful protesters who have become a nightly fixture in Hoover, the local law enforcement agencies are doubling down: they have begun showing up en masse in full battle gear; full, that is, except for their names or their badges (so no individual can be held accountable for their actions). And although local media is reporting they shut down the highway last night, protesters are reporting that it was the law enforcement officers who shut the freeway down after those leaving the site of the protest got on it, essentially trapping them.
Why is this a spiritual issue? Because racism isn’t merely a social problem – though it certainly is that. And racism isn’t only an interpersonal problem – though it’s that as well. Racism is profound spiritual malady that arises out of a belief that one life is worth more than another. This is an idea that Jesus roundly denounced in no uncertain terms, not only in his words, but through his actions. Jesus regularly prioritized the marginalized, the rejected, and the misunderstood above those with power and might. If our spirituality isn’t a vehicle to greater identification with others, greater love, greater empathy, then it might well not deserve the name.
Whoever the Bull Connor wannabe at the Hoover PD is needs to stand down – because it is the right thing to do. This situation can best be handled with honesty, respect, and dialogue, not with anonymous cops and more guns. Because, quite frankly, a racist police state is actually “bad guys with guns”, and nobody wants that.
With the possible exception of our President, the Republicans, and the NRA.