“No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms” were the words Thomas Jefferson wrote in three drafts of the Virginia Constitution. There’s a reason for that, it’s a powerful phrase, one with a sentiment that should be remembered and respected by our government. All Americans, regardless of skin color, should have the full protection of the Second Amendment. Unfortunately, history has shown that these words have been all but forgotten by law enforcement.
In January 2014, police were called to the house of Gregory Hill for a noise complaint. In what can only be called a suspicious scenario, the deputies fired four rounds at Hill. Three rounds hit Hill, killing him. The official story is that Hill, a black man, pointed a gun at the police. However, when SWAT arrived on the scene Hill was found dead with an unloaded gun in his back pocket. Outside of a science fiction story, it is hard to see how someone could place their gun into their back pocket after taking a fatal shot to the head. The more likely story is that Hill was simply in the possession of a firearm and was shot for it. Despite the evidence, a jury awarded a paltry $4 to Hill’s family, under the reasoning that he was at fault for being intoxicated. Not only is this idea that intoxication equals fault an asinine argument, the case ignored Hill’s right to possess a firearm. The jury’s decision in the Hill case is a reoccurring theme.
Gregory Hill isn’t the first black man to be shot while exercising his Second Amendment rights. In 2016, Philando Castile was shot and killed by Officer Jeronimo Yanez. Castile was in possession of a legally concealed firearm when Yanez shot and killed him. Yanez’s reasoning was that he feared for his life due to Castile’s use of marijuana. Maybe Yanez had recently watched the 1936 propaganda film Reefer Madness and took the movie’s themes for facts. That can be the only explanation for his bizarre and unreasonable excuse for ending another man’s life. This dubious reasoning was apparently enough for the jury as Yanez was acquitted of all charges. The reasoning was also enough for the NRA’s Dana Loesch who pointed out that Castile was in violation of the law for possession of a controlled substance while carrying a firearm. Minnesota’s statute 624.7142 makes it a misdemeanor to carry a firearm while under the influence of an illicit substance. Loesch’s argument is extremely disappointing as the NRA’s mission is to protect the rights of gun owners. Should Castile’s use of marijuana strip him of his right to bear arms? Throwing away Second Amendment rights over misdemeanors is a dangerous precedent to set.
It’s not just black men that get a raw deal when they practice their Second Amendment rights, it’s black women too. In February, a jury convicted Siwatu-Salama Ra, a 26-year-old black woman, of a felony firearm charge. The case stemmed from a 2017 incident in which she brandished a legally owned firearm at Channel Harvey. Harvey had rammed her vehicle into Ra’s car while Ra’s two-year-old child was inside the vehicle. Under Michigan’s “stand your ground law” Ra has the right to defend herself. Yet, neither the Second Amendment nor the “stand your ground law” stopped Ra from receiving a two-year prison sentence. It should also be noted that Ra is pregnant and will give birth in prison. Where is the justice in sending a pregnant mother to prison for exercising her constitutional rights?
These are just the most recent events in an old and oppressive trend. Denying black Americans the right to bear arms predates the Civil War. In 1857, the United States Supreme Court’s opinion in Dred Scott v. Sanford was partly based on the idea that granting citizenship to slaves and freedmen would give them the right to bear arms. Writing the opinion of the court, Chief Justice Roger Taney stated that if persons of African descent were to become citizens they would have the right to keep and carry arms, which the Court worried would result in “inevitably producing discontent and insubordination among them, and endangering the peace and safety of the State”. Those last four words say it all. The State did not want those of African descent to have the ability to defend themselves or to revolt against their oppressors. Granting them citizenship and the right to bear arms would have threatened white supremacy as well as the institutions that benefited from forced labor. Today’s criminal justice system carries on this odious tradition.
If the primary purpose of the Second Amendment is to defend against a tyrannical government, shouldn’t it apply to the most disenfranchised groups in our nation? Shouldn’t they be equally protected under this amendment? Black Americans shouldn’t be gunned down or imprisoned for practicing the rights many others enjoy. One should not have to have the same skin color as the framers of the Constitution to be protected by the Constitution.
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