So, I’m walking down the aisle at my neighborhood food market, searching for a certain brand of yellow cornmeal. Just then, I was startled by a guy walking my way with what looked like a .45 caliber gun on his hip. He stopped and turned to look at something on the shelf behind me.
A couple of other people stopped and also took notice of the gun. I was left to wonder if he was off-duty law enforcement, a so-called “good guy” with a gun, someone planning to shoot me and others or someone who felt showing off the gun somehow made him feel safer.
The people on the aisle with me didn’t say anything and just moved on, occasionally looking over their shoulders. I had a rush of thoughts and much of it had to do with race and what-if.
The guy with the gun and the other customers on the aisle were white. I wonder what their response would have been if the guy with gun had been an African American with a T-shirt and a baseball cap on? What if he was a man of color with dreads?
My guess is that there would have been a call to law enforcement which would have arrived before that person of color was able to get his items to the checkout line. I can almost bank on it. And there may have been guns drawn on him and things could have gone south in a hurry.
But in this instance, there were no police calls. The guy eventually got what he was seeking, went through the checkout line as the clerk stared at the gun, and went on to his truck in the parking lot. I know because I was in the checkout line next to him.
My experience with him made me think about the thousands of people, few people of color, with guns, semi-automatic rifles, (maybe some automatic rifles, too) multiple clips of bullets and bulletproof vests recently in Richmond, Virginia. They were there to protest a law passed in the Virginia Senate that would allow authorities to seize, temporarily, the firearm of someone deemed a threat.
Essentially, if a disheveled guy walked down Main Street holding a pistol and saying he was going to kill people, those folks believe the government would be overreaching and stripping him of his Second Amendment rights if they took his weapon away.
Here’s my thought: Had the guy in my neighborhood store been African American or some other person of color, or had those thousands of people in Richmond had been persons of color, how would that have been handled?
My guess is some customers in my local store would have urged someone to call authorities, or they might have called themselves to report a suspicious person.
Lord knows if 2,000 African Americans had shown up with rifles, guns, bandannas on their faces and bulletproof vests, think of the commotion that would have caused. If you don’t think so, then you are not being truthful with yourself.
Consider this. In 1967, about 30 armed members of the Black Panther Party showed up on the steps of the California state Capitol armed with rifles and guns. Well, guess who quickly went to that state's legislature to deal with that? Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan and other Republicans quickly passed the Mulford Act, a bill prohibiting the open carry of loaded weapons. Take a wild guess who supported such a thing — the National Rifle Association.
Every African American I talked with about what I witnessed in the store and what went on in Virginia said they are certain law enforcement would have been a lot more aggressive. One thing here, the folks I talked with and myself, we all support police and are aware of dangers they face.
But the crystal clear truth is that African Americans are aware if they gather today in the thousands with weapons and threaten anarchy, they will not be treated with kid gloves like they were Virginia, or brushed aside in a local food market.
By the way, I wonder if the guy from the supermarket was there.
Email Edward Pratt a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column at email@example.com.