A BLACK GUN CARRIER ON WHY SIX SHOTS WITH TWO TO THE HEAD IS NOT EVIDENCE
“Six shots, two to the head. He was unarmed,” I said referring to the Ferguson, MO police officer’s killing of Mike Brown.
“Yeah, I know…” my friend said.
I added, “How does a cop justify shooting a person SIX TIMES with two shots to the head? We have to address issues pertaining to excessive force, due process, or procedures when police handle suspects.”
“—But the shots are a ‘Zip ‘Em Up,’” he interrupted
“What? No, I am saying that six shots are excessive. Why did he have to shoot toward the head? Why not graze him?”
He said, “Graze him? That is what they do in the movies. Do you know what ‘Zip ‘em up’ means?”
“Kill them?” I asked.
“It is what a shooter is trained to do when they discharge their gun. If a person discharges their gun, they are trained to follow through with their shots from the center of the person’s body to the head. That is common to a gunmen. That is a zip ‘em up.”
I stopped and listened to my friend. “I was not here” for anything that may be construed as victim blaming. Then I realized the disadvantage that I may have in engaging a trained gun carrier on the topic of guns and excessive force. I was “in over my head” in his gun carrier-speak. The distinction my friend made was not to support the premise of the police officer’s actions but rather to clarify why there are some black gun carriers who are not as passionate about the evidence that has fueled the unrest. While many black people legally own guns, there are still many black people who are unfamiliar with gun culture. To a trained gunman, six shots with two to the head does not signify excessive force.
This summer, we have been inundated with reoccurring narratives about police brutality, domestic terrorism, and vigilantism against black citizens. On one hand, some people have shared that they are fatigued by the coverage. They find themselves in despair after (in)digesting imagery of violence against people who look just like them. On the other hand, I have been shocked by some of my black male friends’ dispassionate response to the unrest.
My gun carrier friend’s perspective is one of a few marginalized voices in the police brutality debate that may inform non-violence activists as they develop persuasive language, policies, and strategies, while engaging people who seem indifferent to the cause. His response to my interrogation evoked broader questions: What are other ways that black spectators may interpret police brutality grievances? Or what are the discreet ways black men navigate interactions with the police? So I gathered a few unique perspectives on navigating police confrontations that one may not come across in the media.
While injustice and protest is important to black gun carriers, I realized that some of them are reframing the conversation through their participation in the development of gun laws, involvement in the local police department, and even protecting their personal mental wellness by limiting their engagement with the news. Should black people become well-trained gun carriers and well-versed in the law, there would be a shift in youth victimization, police brutality, and prosecutions for illegal possession of a weapon.
Orlando Jones recently reframed, for example, the Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) Icebucket challenge by pouring a bucket of bullet shells over his head instead of ice water. While he sympathizes with the ALS social media campaign, he admits that he was distracted by the Ferguson unrest coverage. He was compelled to draw attention to the urgency of addressing escalated police confrontations. During his video response, Jones mentioned that he is a member of the NRA, which means he is privy to gun legislation updates. His membership is a way to have his say in the discourse around gun violence, while challenging the U.S. imagination that white males are the only law-abiding gun carriers. Orlando Jones also shared that he is a “special policeman” and showed a Florida badge of some sort.
I have heard a lot of prominent or affluent black men share that they donate to their local police department. People who donate often receive various badges to carry on their person or to display on the car. Black men use these tokens and insignia to prevent police aggression, should they be stopped. However, citizens do not have to donate to know about gun discharge incidents and policies. Police departments annually release reports about their incidents and the outcomes from them.
Black gun carriers are advocating for black people to become decision makers and consumers in the weaponry industry. Many of them believe that as long as we are absent from this industry, we are unable to shape its policies and practices.
I must admit that after listening to these perspectives I am seriously reconsidering my involvement with my local police department, with the NRA, and other organizations that monitor police brutality. I am also going to look into target practice. I am not condoning gun violence but I am interested in the ways in which my active participation in these groups may help me to better translate to non-sympathizers police’s disproportionate use of excessive force toward people of color. I would be curious to see the ways in which the gun carrier legislation and the weaponry industry change as people of color become more involved.
Photo © 2014 Sid Hastings/Associated Press