With the attention surrounding the seemingly never ending string of police killings of unarmed or toy-armed black men and boys, it’s easy to forget that white people regularly survive armed encounters with law enforcement, even after pointing their guns at them. Another such incident took place recently, brought to my attention by some Newsbusters editor whining about how liberal MSNBC would never cover it, and my immediate reaction was to wonder why it should be news to anyone that cops didn’t shoot a white dude whom they encountered with a gun. We pass stories like these around as evidence of the white privilege that allows for an outcome that the families of John Crawford and Tamir Rice would give anything for, and rightly so, but there’s an unlearned lesson we’re leaving on the table.
The “suspect” in this case is a member of Open Carry Texas who recorded an encounter with Houston Police last week as he was demonstrating on a public street. in the four-minute video, officers ask him for identification, detain him when he fails to provide it, and attempt to erase the video from his phone. Now, the social justice liberal in me watches this and goes “Boo-hoo, gun nut has to sit in the back of a police car for a few minutes, cry me a river!” but if you relax those muscles a little, and ignore the mostly-wrong, badly grammar-copped text, there’s some useful observations to be made. Listen to what the cop says, and check out the very last title card in the video:
“You are going to jail for failure to ID because you can’t tell me who you are, you can’t prove who you are. I’m tired of you idiots coming out here.”
Again, try to resist the urge to cheer the cop for calling the open carry guy an idiot, or to sneer at the videographer’s legal analysis. Technically, the officer probably had the right to ask for ID, since all he needs to claim is that a citizen complained about the handling of the gun, and so searching him before putting him in the car was also legal, but all of it was pretextual. Just because we don’t like the guy doesn’t mean we should not care about his rights. What the cop said is significant, though, because he talks about other run-ins with open carry protesters, including this guy. Like black men, particularly young black men, these guys are overpoliced.
Overpolicing is a fact of life that even most conservatives can accept, even if they can’t attribute it to race. Ironically, this recognition leads to an idea that the rash of police incidents is just a numbers game, born of increased contact with police for whatever reason, with sometimes tragic results. Incidents like this open carry roust also demonstrates that police can and will abuse their authority, overreact, and employ pretexts for detention regardless of race.
In fact, in that final title card, the victim in this case explicitly recognizes the parallels, noting that “No one got choked to death,” and that “police don’t like video recorders,” but he chalks up the difference in outcome to the wrong variable. He introduces his “lessons learned” by saying that “Bearing arms while ‘protesting’ is important.”
He thinks carrying a gun is what kept him safe, got him released from that police car with a “fare thee well” and a police investigation into the officer’s conduct. But John Crawford and Tamir Rice were each shot dead carrying toy guns in an open carry state, and Eric Garner was killed holding nothing more than a legal quantity of cigarettes. Being white didn’t keep this man from getting jacked up by the cops, but it kept him from being viewed as an automatic threat, and it kept him alive. It will be interesting to see how that police investigation goes. Incidents like this should make white people want better cops, but also realize that for some people, better cops are a matter of life and death.