So this video has been circulating on facebook of a man (I’m presuming white, but he could be off-white) arguing with the police about his right to bear his firearm as he walks the streets of some city called Portland (could be Maine, or Oregon, or some other land of Ports).
I’ve had a number of discussions (pre-and-post-Ferguson) about the opportunity to interact with Police, specifically as a Black Male, with contempt or combativeness BUT within the law. We are so often taught-and-reminded to prostrate ourselves before the badge in fear of the consequences that a failure to do that will produce – not that compliance with this philosophy will unilaterally produce positive outcomes (see: a list of Black men seemingly shot while laying on the ground on their stomachs).
It’s my feeling that there is a real impact that the threat of being the next Mike Brown/Rodney King/ (or the litany of lesser harassment and violations). The probability that it will happen to us as opposed to them that is an active dissuasive presence in our minds when we deal with the cops. We are never unaware of where any even routine interaction with the law can escalate.
Lots of us don’t know the law (I accept that, and more probably don’t than do for a range of reasons), but in this video — a man carrying a gun in public… If he were black, would he have been approached and spoken to calmly? Or would he have been treated as a threat, and would the interaction have been escalated as that.
Comparing anecdotes… Here we have a video of a (we presume) white man brandishing a firearm, who has been reported by the public as being a safety concern. He speaks aggressively to the Police, and is clearly combative – It’s important to note that this is after they have already seemingly peaceably disarmed him of his actual-real-life-shoot-and-kill-people weapon (the video starts after they take his pistol). He is given the opportunity to not be a threat to the police, and to argue his case on the basis of legal right/wrong. He is afforded this opportunity (I’d argue) because he is not perceived as an imminent threat (or however you’d like to describe the way “we” are so often projected/perceived).
Meanwhile, outside of Dayton, Ohio, a young man is walking around Walmart with a not real, not shoot and kill people TOY gun. He is reported as being a threat, and police arrive (to a call I’m going to assume was not a passive, oh by-the-way call, but I recognize this is an assumption influenced by my bias). He is then shot dead while trying to explain to the officers that his gun is not real, and that he is not a threat. He is not given an opportunity to say: “Officer, why is it illegal for me to hold a toy? Why are you harassing me in the country that I live in, where I have the right to proceed about my private business unmolested – I am not a disturbance, please leave me alone.” We don’t/won’t know what he might have said if discussion was an option, and are-too-often-denied-the-opportunity-to defend ourselves with rhetoric.
It is not my argument that these are comparatively the same circumstance (could be tangerines vs. oranges; I would argue the video is probably much more “dangerous” than the Walmart incident), but I think it highlights a probability and perception that influences our (peoples of color, specifically Black Americans) ability to feel as though we are allowed to interact with law enforcement with anything but the fear that anything we do will be perceived as rage and impending assault-to-be-met-with-force.
All of this begs the question. As a Black Man what am I supposed to say to the cops when they catch me with a toy gun in my hand? As a Black Man interested in having sons who will be black-and-not-by-their-choice, what do I tell them to do?
Talk to me. I’d love to know your thoughts?