In the wake of mass shootings, there has been a narrative about who should and should not carry a gun in America. Politicians and high-profile gun groups like the NRA routinely rally to support gun owners and the Second Amendment.
But does their support include all gun owners? The silence is deafening when it comes to people of color and their gun rights.
Three high profile examples come to mind: Philando Castile, Jemel Roberson, and EJ Bradford.
In July 2016, Philando Castile was pulled over while driving in Minnesota. He was a licensed gun owner, and during the stop, disclosed this information to responding officer Jeronimo Yanez. When he reached for his license per the officer’s request, he was shot and killed by the officer. The usual smear campaign ensued – his driving history of minor civil infractions was trotted out before the public. The officer was discharged after being acquitted of criminal charges.
But where was the outrage from the NRA for the death of a licensed gun owner? Rather than vilify the victim, where was the support from the gun community? A spokeswoman from the NRA went so far as to blame Castile in his own death.
Last month, Jemel Roberson was shot to death by a police officer in a Chicago area bar. There was no question as to whether he was a good guy with a gun – he was a security guard at a bar who had just managed to subdue a shooter. As he had the gunman pinned to the ground, the clothing that he was wearing bearing the label “security” did not save him from an officer’s bullet.
Another day, another shooting where multiple lives were lost. This time, it was in a a place designed to save lives — Mercy Hospital in Chicago.
Dr. Tamara O’Neal was the victim of domestic violence. The shooter was someone she was in a relationship with. Three other lives were lost: Pharmacy Resident Dayna Less, and Officer Samuel Jimenez. Officer Jimenez had been on the police force for less than three years. The gunman Juan Lopez also died.
The whole incident is heartbreaking, especially after the NRA made a big to do by telling doctors they should “stay in their lanes” and not have discussions about firearms with their patients. Interestingly, last year, the ACLU at Florida successfully sued for the First Amendment right of doctors to be able to talk to their patients about gun safety in a case commonly known as “Docs v. Glocks“. The importance of doctors having such conversations is that it can lead to a discussion as to whether or not the patient feels safe in their own home. Revelations of domestic violence open up the door to the resources that are available to victims.
There is a narrative that if a victim arms herself that somehow domestic homicide could be prevented. Let’s think through this particular situation. Is a doctor going to go from surgery to surgery, patient to patient with a gun strapped to her back? It’s not practical. Domestic violence calls are one of the most dangerous calls any police officer can respond to because of the volatility of the situation. If it is unsafe for a trained professional, how is it any safer for a civilian? Additionally, how many of us (especially in communities of color), remember the case of Marissa Alexander? She fired a warning shot during a domestic violence situation, and ended up in prison. This leads to a question with regards to equality of 2nd Amendment enforcement across racial lines (but that is the next installment –stay tuned!).
One of the reasons why I vocally opposed Marsy’s law in the state of Florida is the fact that it provides no resources to victims of crime. Nationwide, there has been a strain on budgets to protect survivors of domestic violence. Shelters are operating on a shoestring budget. Some shelters cannot accommodate whole families especially if the children are over a certain age, or are male. DV service providers often rely on the kindness and donations of others rather than robust government funding. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides a source of funds, but more is always needed.
Women of color are more likely than their white counterparts to be victims of domestic violence, and for it to be more fatal. Again, it comes down to access and networks of assistance. If you are wealthier, you may be able to finance your escape from your abuser. If you are in a lower social strata, it is more difficult for you to be able to pick up and leave. It’s even more difficult if there are children involved. Think about it: you have to come up with a first, last and security deposit, in a place that is not near your abuser, as well as buy furnishings and make sure that your children’s education is not interrupted. Meanwhile, you need to maintain your full-time job. We all know that jobs are not easy to come by.
This heartbreaking scenario and loss of lives should be a call to action. Not for more guns, but for more resources so that victims and survivors can start their lives over again. Aspects like counseling, shelter, relocation, and more police presence if required are critical to successfully escaping an abusive relationship. Employers should be required by law give days off to verified domestic violence victims so that they can attend court hearings, get a restraining order, or to move if necessary. Also, it should be mandatory for workplaces to train with regards to domestic violence situations, so that if such an issue is brought to their attention, they know to know to notify security or take extra steps to make sure the abuser does not gain access to the workplace.
To be clear, my points about the lack of resources is not to dissuade victims from leaving — it is to raise awareness about the challenges surrounding domestic violence as well as ways we can do better as a society. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, you do not have to suffer in silence. Click here for resources.
May Dr. O’Neal and all of the victims rest in peace. May their families find comfort and healing. And may their deaths not be in vain — but instead, stimulate discussion, legislation and change around the issue of domestic violence.
I had the privilege of being on the Channel 10 South Florida Roundtable this past Sunday. We took on some tough issues surrounding the recent bill passed by the Florida legislature in response to the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida. While some aspects are good (increased funding for mental health), many have concerns as to how this will eventually affect students of color.
Check out the footage here and share your thoughts!!
So Chicago is the latest in a line of areas relaxing their gun laws. While cities and states of the East coast, still reeling from tragedies such as Sandy Hook, seem to be getting more strict, a judge in Chicago has done the opposite.
The most concerning for me is the ability to “gift” a gun to someone. So commit a crime then “gift” the weapon?