The most recent information coming out about the killing of Keith Lamont Scott by police officers in Charlotte, which led to days of demonstrations and a few unruly rioters, makes me wonder whether the officers involved know North Carolina law.
The police officer who shot Scott have now said that he first aroused suspicion because he was carrying a gun and a marijuana cigarette. Let’s take the marijuana first, since smoking marijuana is still illegal in North Carolina. The cameras tell us the officers were too far away from Scott to sniff the pot and know for certain Scott was toking it, although once they were hovering over the dead body they may have seen a joint. So their defense for considering Scott a person of suspicion rests entirely on seeing a gun, which in North Carolina should not signal suspicion because North Carolina is an open carry state, just as is Oklahoma, where the other recent police shooting of a civilian took place.
Would a white carrying a gun have aroused the suspicions of the officers? Would the officers have cared if they saw a white who might be taking a few tokes of the wacky tabacky? It’s impossible to say. We do know that throughout North Carolina police are 77% more likely to stop an African-American who is in a car than they will a white.
Even if it turns out that the officers had a defensible reason to shoot Scott, it’s painfully obvious that they had no reason to show an interest in him in the first place. Remember that many concluded the same thing about the Ferguson shooting: that the police officer really didn’t have a reason to stop Michael Brown.
Except for the fact that he was a black man.
This focus on the initial stop doesn’t even take into consideration that the officers manifested two traits common among American local police: One, their aim is so bad that they only kill and can never just disable. Two, once they start shooting they can’t seem to stop.
That two police officers would believe that open carry does not apply to blacks makes a certain twisted sense considering the history of gun laws. Most people don’t remember that during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when crime, violence and terrorists acts were at their height in the United States, many gun control and gun safety laws passed in states and municipalities. Their major impetus was fear that African-Americans would follow the drum beat of the violent wing of the Black Panthers and take up their right to bear arms. Unlike Donald Trump, Richard Nixon made gun control a major part of his “law and order” campaigns for the presidency and a dog whistle for keeping guns out of the hands of African-Americans.
Once the National Rifle Association saw the trend of fewer households owning guns play out year after year, decade after decade, it started what has now been a 35-year campaign to loosen gun laws. The NRA mostly has used fear to sell the idea of ending gun control even as violent crime has continued to drop, but gun fatalities and injuries have not. The result among other new bad laws has been the preponderance of recent open carry laws passed by right-wing state legislatures, including the new law in Texas that allows 18-year-old students, away from home for the first time and still not in control of their emotions, to bring guns onto university campuses.
Open carry laws endanger the entire public, but they place those African-Americans who want to exercise the same right as whites and carry a firearm openly in particular danger. I would say that every time an African-American male carries a gun in public legally he is risking his life. Given the current police attitudes and statistics about civilian deaths at the hands of police, this non-lawyer wonders if the open carry laws are in effect a novel form of Jim Crow: give whites a dangerous and unsafe right that an African-American with any common sense will not take for fear of being labeled a predator and therefore subject to open fire by the police.
The NRA, Donald Trump, and to a lesser extent most other Republicans, have painted a grim world in which we must fear for our lives because of rampant crime and ceaseless acts of terrorism.
The statistics, so often ignored by the news media in favor of bloody stories, currying favor with the right or creating false equivalencies between a competent, experienced presidential candidate and a high-strung, neurotic ignoramus, paint an entirely different picture: a nation that has made incredible strides in controlling crime and fighting terrorism, but still suffers an uncommonly large number of violent non-criminal gun acts and too many acts of police violence aimed primarily at minorities.
Violent crime, murder, acts of terrorism and deaths from terrorism are all down substantially from the 1960s and the 1970s, with every decade, and almost every year, showing declines in all these areas except for deaths from terrorists in the freak year of 2001.
Deaths of police officers in the line of duty are also way down, from 576 a year under Reagan to 314 a year under Obama, even as the overall population has increased by more than a third over that timeframe. Today, in the United States, you have a greater chance of being killed on the job as a landscaper, mechanic, taxi driver, farmer, garbage collector and roofer than as a police officer.
Thus, the streets are safer. We have fewer acts of terrorism. Fewer people are murdered. Fewer bombs exploded in public places. The police are much safer. It looks as if the system is working.
Unless you’re a minority who encounters police officers.
For obvious reasons, data about deaths of citizens at the hands of police are hard to come by and sketchy. Few in government until now have ever cared how many people the police kill each year. But all reports suggest that even as violent crime, killings of police and acts of terrorism are down, police shootings and other violent acts by police against civilians are up. FBI reports set police killings of civilians at their highest in 40 years in the latest available year. Some sources dispute the FBI’s statistics, saying they underestimate the true number of people killed by police officers by as much as 72% (or roughly three times the FBI).
In short, it is safer to be alive now for every American than at virtually any other time since World War II. Unless you’re a black male.