The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Clarion, its staff or the institution. If you would like to submit a response or an opinion piece of your own, please contact Editor in Chief Abby Petersen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Four years ago, the scab over the supposedly healing wound of racial prejudice in America was torn off. A man was shot in Sanford, Florida. Two names emerged to the forefront of American media: Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.
Shortly after the incident, Black Lives Matter was formed and relative unrest in the aftermath of the use of deadly force from police has been pervasive ever since.
There are two sides in these circumstances, those who side with the police, or perhaps the murderer, and those who side with the criminal, or perhaps the victim. Because of the polarizing nature of these events, Blue Lives Matter emerged. I preface with this because I generally consider myself very trusting of the police, therefore, I am solidly under the Blue Lives Matter hashtag. I believe that our police officers are often times put in positions that are dangerous, scary and complicated. I also believe that the prominent culture in many black neighborhoods and a continued lack of communication between law enforcement and African American communities perpetuates an atmosphere of unsafe circumstances for people of color and police officers alike. This puts both sides in positions to do unreasonable and uncalculated things.
Generally, I am relieved when an officer in this position is acquitted. However, the circumstances of the Philando Castille case were different. Castile was killed only miles from where I live. Minnesota is my home. This didn’t happen in some far away state. I pictured the faces of some of my closest friends, people of color, in Castile’s position. Until that morning, I never understood what it was like to be afraid for someone I love from a group of people I trust to keep me safe.
I want to move beyond the fact that this shooting was unjustified. To me, that much is obvious. I want to talk about the lack of response from the National Rifle Association.
The NRA has always been the first line of defense for our constitutional right to keep and bear arms. They have spent millions and millions of dollars to lobby the government and have mobilized millions of people to march, demonstrate and vote to protect our rights. The NRA is possibly the most powerful advocacy group in America, boasting a membership of more than 5 million active members.
I regularly see stories on their social media of the concealed carrier who stopped a bank robbery, the elderly person who scared off a mugger or the woman who shot her would-be rapist. The NRA plays a big role in cases such as these. Even when someone’s life is in danger, and a shooting is justified, the legally armed citizen is still generally tried in court. These are the people that the NRA has always stepped in to protect. Providing legal and even financial support for the people who legally and rightfully defended themselves and others. However, the NRA was silent over Castile’s murder.
Now, I can’t say whether this is because of racism or simply because these situations are always complicated and any judgment at all would be met with criticism, but I believe the NRA should have spoken on this issue. This situation is far less complicated than others before it. Castile was legally licensed to carry that gun, he had no warrants, no drugs in his car, he was not backed into any sort of corner and therefore had no reason to even reach for the gun he was legally carrying. Because of this, I do not believe that the officers account adds up. We have video of the encounter. If the officer shot Castile for reaching into his pocket, why did he not shoot the passenger when she reached for her phone? That day I expected Black Lives Matter and the NRA to both be protesting outside of the governor’s mansion.
Black lives really do matter and I think that the NRA should be at the forefront of this issue. I have always believed that these issues are rooted in culture rather than in the color of someone’s skin. The same ways we prevent injuries in the sport of hunting can be used to fight gun violence at a community level. We should start by teaching people about basic safety around firearms. The NRA and hunting advocacy groups also teach about one very important aspect of owning and using a gun. They teach that life is sacred and that guns aren’t just toys, they are tools as well. The NRA should also use their lobbying capabilities to push for better training in police departments. I understand that the police have a difficult job, but they should always respect a person’s right to bear arms. This division between people of color and the law enforcement community can be healed if the culture of violence on both sides is changed. The NRA should lead this effort.
In the end, Castile was legally carrying a firearm and his second amendment rights were infringed upon during his encounter with the police. This should have been a rallying cry to the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of more African Americans, who should be in the NRA. If the NRA really cares about reaching out to an often disenfranchised community with a complicated past when it comes firearms and violence, they should run to the protection of any American who is legally carrying a firearm, regardless of their race.