A Black, off-duty St. Louis policeman was shot by a white colleague when he went to assist officers with an arrest. The Black officer had, according to reports, showed up on the scene and was ordered to get on the ground until he was identified, at which point he was told stand up and walk toward them. At that point, a white officer who had not originally been on scene showed up and allegedly shot the off-duty Black officer. He claimed he was scared.
Whether it is a matter of the so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws, police shootings of unarmed African-Americans or, as in the now-notorious case of the police killing of Philando Castile in Minnesota who possessed a LEGAL firearm, we are being bombarded with the rhetoric of supposedly scared white people who, regardless of the circumstances, believe that their lives are in mortal danger because we happen to be in the vicinity.
The Castile case was remarkable on so many levels, not the least of which was that he informed the officer who killed him that he possessed a legal weapon. What was even more striking was the thunderous silence of the National Rifle Association, which consistently and vehemently defends the rights of gun owners, in the aftermath! Would they have been as silent had Castile been white?
This issue of white fear is over the top. Frankly, and specifically, I am sick and tired of hearing white police discuss their fear. What did they think was going to happen when they entered law enforcement? Did they think they would be protecting Mayberry, N.C., the fictitious town in “The Andy Griffith Show”? Should the actions of unarmed or legally armed African-Americans automatically evoke fear in white people?
Another way of looking at this situation is to understand that the cry of fear is the rhetoric of racial suppression. It is a “fear” that has been generated in the hearts of whites since the time of slavery and the Indian Wars amid their ever-present concern that the slaves might rise up in revolt or the Indians might leave the reservations. Our mere presence induces fear. We do not have to do anything other than exist in order for whites to quake in fear at the thought of us exploding in righteous anger.
The National Rifle Association could not respond to the killing of Castile because doing so would call into question the implicit message that the NRA has propagated for years, i.e., increase weapon ownership is for protection from Blacks. It has nothing to do with the 2nd Amendment but is instead based on the notion that gun ownership is actually the prerogative of whites only, a right rooted in the era of the genocide of Native Americans and that of slavery when only free white men could possess weapons.
This is the discussion that must be held. It is not about firearms safety or, for that matter, gun control. And, to be truthful, it is not, mainly, about police accountability. What is at issue is the extent to which U.S. society continues to keep a bull’s eye on the forehead of African-Americans because of the fear that we generate, a fear rooted in their deep guilt and anxiety about the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and genocide.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the former president of Trans Africa Forum. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.