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Justice Looks Like White Teens Ordered to Write Essay for Carrying BB Guns While Black Man Shot Dead In Open Carry State

Alton Sterling with his family.

Alton Sterling with his family.

America, 2016: white kids get leniency for writing about white supremacy while Black people die from living it.

Would you like to know what race in America looks like in the 21st century? Let me show you.

In Ohio, back in 2014, John Crawford was holding a toy gun in a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio. Police arrived, responding to a 911 call.

John Crawford is dead.

That same year, in that same state, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was playing with a BB gun outside a Cleveland recreation center. Again, police drove out, in response to a 911 call.

Tamir Rice is dead.

No questions. No doubts about the legality of what happened in each case. No nothing.

However, this month, once again, in the same state, two white boys playing with toy guns in a park were confronted by police officers. Two 15-year-old white boys — both of whom were pretty much doing the same thing, behaving in the same manner as Crawford and Rice — were approached by agents of the state.

Both white boys are … still alive.

What happened to them? Well, their BB guns were taken and — get this — the boys were assigned an essay. They were told to write about the difference between what happened in their case and Tamir Rice. The effing gall!

But, this isn’t the worst of it. No, no, no.

Two days later, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 37-year-old father Alton Sterling was confronted by police officers who, again, were responding to a 911 call.

Sterling, known for selling CDs outside a convenience store — with permission from the store owner — was approached by two BRPD officers. He was tackled to the ground, kneed in the side, restrained and killed — officers shot him in the chest and back multiple times.

Louisiana is open carry state. Even so, that doesn’t matter. He was armed, according to reports, But the gun was tucked away in his pocket. From the beginning to the end of the entire altercation with the two officers, Sterling wasn’t holding — as in, he never actually held the weapon his hands — his firearm. He never reached for it. It remained his pocket throughout the scuffle. Officers would later pull the weapon out after the whole thing was over.

Likely the killing of Alton Sterling will be justified on the basis that he was armed. It’s probable that BRPD will spin what happened outside that store to make it appear that Sterling aimed his firearm at officers, kind of like these white men who pointed their guns at police officers but made it out alive.

Louisiana and Ohio are open carry states. What does that mean? Everyone, every citizen — on paper, at least — has the right to carry a gun on their person.

However, when you’re Black, that doesn’t matter. Laws regarding anything — health, education, housing, guns, etc. — count for little if anything at all.

Of the 558 people killed during encounters with police in 2016 alone, 321 of the victims have been Black people. Just over 100 unarmed Black suspects were murdered. Unarmed! Logic dictates that when first responders are told that a suspect is Black and armed, the stakes will be 20 times higher. No, make that 100. The chances of an armed, Black suspect making it out of an encounter with the state alive are none. Absolutely zero.

Nothing, not a damn thing, will save him.

The fact that a Black gun owner lives in a state that legally permits him to keep a gun on his person won’t save him.

The fact that the firearm in question was not in the palm of the Black suspect’s hands won’t save him.

The fact that the gun was stuffed in his pocket and he never reached for it won’t save him.

It would not have mattered if the gun was not on his actual person, but 4, 5, 6, or more inches away from him. Nine times out of 10, officers will kill him.

It wouldn’t matter if the gun was in the glove compartment of the Black suspect’s car, on his back seat or in the trunk. It wouldn’t matter if he fixed his eyes firmly forward and stared into the hysterical pupils of the arresting officers, never once glanced at the weapon or gestured as if to grab it.

Precedent suggests that the state will kill him, and justify — rationalize — the killing. It suggests, as well, that the revelation that the arms in question were, in fact, toys will not bring the dead victims, their families and the larger community justice.

None of those circumstances would matter, because black lives still — to this day, to this hour, to this very second — do not matter. Still.

So much so that even some of our highest representatives — Black artists — are precariously growing numb to the deluge, on the edge of loosing their humanity.

There is a danger — a clear and present danger — that the state is disproportionately dropping Black bodies so fast and with such impunity that the reaction from the people experiencing the trauma is … nothing. That we are, or have, approached this awful day should horrify us. You. Me. Him. Her. Them. Us. Everyone.

I empathize with this sentiment. Within this space, I’m working to ward off bitterness and remain encouraged — an extremely difficult task indeed, given the gruesome pattern set in America regarding the sad process that follows police crimes against Blacks.

I summarized it on my Facebook page:

This is America, folks. In 2016. A nation where Black bodies are killed for carrying toy guns and white boys are issued fines, where white suspects are assigned essays on white supremacy for breaking the law, while Black suspects must live it; where Black people cannot do anything — be valedictorian, buy skittles, express joy, do math, sell CDs, carry arms in open carry state, [fill-in-the-blank] — for fear of triggering the sick, pornographic fantasies of the white imagination to the point of inviting death.


Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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