I’d lived in Oklahoma for two weeks when it happened. Doorbell ringing. Doorknob jiggling. Then bang — someone kicked in the door. They ran off as we called police — it seemed obvious they thought no one was home. The next day I went out and bought a gun. Oklahoma is an open carry state, which means it’s legal to carry a gun openly. With another permit, it’s legal to carry it concealed. It’s also legal to carry a gun in Louisiana. And in Minnesota. But I’m starting to think there is a caveat to that: It’s legal… unless you’re black.
Within less than 24 hours, two black men have been killed by police officers in America. Alton Sterling was killed Wednesday when police stopped him while selling CDs outside of a convenience store. Police said he had a gun, though the two videos released of the incident thus far don’t show a gun. Thursday, Philando Castile was shot and killed in Minnesota by police after he was stopped for a broken tail light.
His girlfriend, who started streaming a Facebook live video after the shooting, said her boyfriend was reaching for his wallet when the officer pulled his gun. She says Castile let officers know that he was carrying a firearm, and reports say he had a concealed carry permit for that weapon. It was legal.
Hang on. This is the point where I pause, take a breath and wipe away the tears as I read the part of Castile’s story where his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds (who uses the name Lavish Reynolds on Facebook), sits in the back of a police car and is comforted by her young daughter. “It’s OK, Mama,” the little girl says. And I imagine my own kids comforting me the same way and I can’t stop crying. Whew. I’m back.
I scanned the news all day and well past my bedtime. I’m expecting the statement from the NRA any time now. You know, the voice of outrage from our nation’s organization bent on protecting our Second Amendment rights. The voice that condemns the actions of police who would shoot someone who identifies himself as carrying a gun (which, as stated before, is legal in that state). And before you question whether Castile (or Sterling for that matter) was legally permitted to carry such a weapon (at this time, there is no evidence that he was not), how does one produce such a document after he’s been shot?
A (white) friend and former colleague of mine texted me yesterday, saying, “I don’t want to live in a world where cops might kill my friends. And get away with it. And it never changes.” (Pause. Tears. Wipe.) That was one shooting ago. And it’s sad that I’m now counting black bodies by the number of text messages I receive in between them.
I live in a state now where it’s legally permitted to carry guns. I see them all the time — in the holster of a guy shopping nearby at Kohl’s. Within easy reach of the fellow customer shopping at the local sporting goods store. Quick guess as to what similarity — what trait — each of these guys shared.
So go ahead, listen to the rhetoric that more guns is what we need to protect ourselves. But you may not want to do that if you’re black — not if you want to live, anyway.
And right now, my husband and my friends and I are less likely to be killed in a mass shooting and more likely to be killed by police. I’ll take my chances.
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