The seg­re­ga­tion of our Se­cond Amend­ment

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Eu­gene Robin­son

— If you are a black man in Amer­ica, ex­er­cis­ing your con­sti­tu­tional right to keep and bear arms can be fa­tal. You might think the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion and its amen cho­rus would be out­raged, but ap­par­ently they be­lieve Se­cond Amend­ment rights are for whites only.

In reach­ing that con­clu­sion I am ac­cept­ing, for the sake of ar­gu­ment, the ac­count given by the Char­lotte, North Carolina, po­lice of how they came to fa­tally shoot Keith La­mont Scott on Tues­day. Scott’s killing prompted two nights of vi­o­lent protests that led Gov. Pat McCrory to de­clare a state of emer­gency. On Fri-

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day, po­lice in Tulsa, Ok­la­homa, shot and killed Ter­ence Crutcher — an un­armed black man — and the two in­ci­dents gave tragic new im­pe­tus to the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment.

Scott’s rel­a­tives claim he was un­armed as well. But let’s as­sume that po­lice are telling the truth and he had a hand­gun. What rea­son was there for of­fi­cers to con­front him?

North Carolina, af­ter all, is an open-carry state. A cit­i­zen has the right to walk around armed if he or she chooses to do so. The mere fact that some­one has a firearm is no rea­son for po­lice to take ac­tion.

This is crazy, in my hum­ble opin­ion. I be­lieve that we should try to save some of the 30,000-plus lives lost each year to gun vi­o­lence by en­act­ing sen­si­ble firearms re­stric­tions — and that the more peo­ple who walk around pack­ing heat like Wild West des­per­a­dos, the more deaths we will in­evitably have to mourn. In its wis­dom, how­ever, the state of North Carolina dis­agrees.

We should con­tinue to lobby for tighter gun laws and hope that some­day the voices of rea­son are heard. But at the same time, we should de­mand that cur­rent laws be en­forced fairly even if we don’t like them. Scott’s death is the se­cond re­cent po­lice slay­ing to sug­gest that laws per­mit­ting peo­ple to carry hand­guns ap­par­ently do not ap­ply to AfricanAmer­i­cans.

In July, po­lice killed a black man named Phi­lando Castile in Fal­con Heights, Min­nesota, af­ter pulling him over for a traf­fic stop. When of­fi­cers ap­proached the car, Castile told them he was li­censed to carry a hand­gun. I can only as­sume that Castile made this dec­la­ra­tion so that the of­fi­cers would not be sur­prised upon see­ing the gun. But rather than as­sure them that he was a law-abid­ing cit­i­zen ex­er­cis­ing his con­sti­tu­tional right, Castile’s an­nounce­ment had the op­po­site ef­fect.

The hor­ror that en­sued was live-streamed on Face­book by Castile’s girl­friend, Di­a­mond Reynolds. Her cell­phone video and calm, com­posed nar­ra­tion were chill­ing, es­pe­cially to those of us who fre­quently com­mit the of­fense of driv­ing while black. One of the of­fi­cers shot Castile sev­eral times, and Reynolds watched as he slumped next to her, his life bleed­ing away.

Did Castile reach for the gun? Reynolds main­tains he was merely reach­ing for his wal­let to get his driver’s li­cense, as the of­fi­cer had or­dered. But we have seen many times, in­clud­ing in the re­cent Crutcher case, that any per­ceived sud­den move­ment by a black man un­der ar­rest, even if he is not known to have a weapon, can be seen by po­lice as a deadly threat. Dis­clo­sure of the gun, meant to avert po­ten­tial tragedy, seems to have in­vited it.

Af­ter­ward, it was con­firmed that Castile did in­deed have a le­gal per­mit to carry a gun. He was not guilty of any crime. He was just 32 — and, in­cred­i­bly, had in his brief life been stopped a to­tal of 52 times for nickel-and-dime traf­fic vi­o­la­tions.

That qual­i­fies as ha­rass­ment. I know many black men who have been pulled over for some trumped-up ex­cuse and felt threat­ened by po­lice. This has hap­pened to me.

In the Scott case, ac­cord­ing to a Char­lotte po­lice de­part­ment state­ment, of­fi­cers said they went to a neigh­bor­hood look­ing for some­one else and saw Scott “in­side a ve­hi­cle in the apart­ment com­plex. The sub­ject ex­ited the ve­hi­cle armed with a hand­gun. Of­fi­cers ob­served the sub­ject get back into the ve­hi­cle at which time they be­gan to ap­proach the sub­ject.”

If all they saw was a man with a gun who got out of a car and back in, what il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity did they ob­serve? Why did they “ap­proach the sub­ject” in­stead of go­ing about their busi­ness? Did they have any rea­son to sus­pect it was an il­le­gal gun? Are all men car­ry­ing guns be­lieved to be car­ry­ing guns il­le­gally, or just black men?

Our gun laws should be changed. Un­til then, how­ever, they must be en­forced equally. Does the NRA dis­agree?

Eu­gene Robin­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at eu­gen­er­obin­son@wash­post.com.

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