Tag Archives: Black Panthers

Black History Month:Gun Rights

It is important to know that MLK’s ideology of non-violence was only one aspect, one wing, of the civil rights movement, and it didn’t really work everywhere. It mostly worked on television. Down South and in person, especially in places like Lowndes County Alabama, what worked was guns.

MLK and the SCLC were for the most part a PR organization. They literally marched through town, took a literal beating, and got it broadcast on television worldwide. It helped build political will nationally and created a public outcry against injustice.democratrooster

At the same time SNCC had a different job. SNCC would come and set up shop in various jurisdictions long term. They were there to organize political participation among the local Black population and it was dangerous work. This sort of activity regularly, not sometimes, but reg-u-lar-ly resulted in a Black person being killed. One SNCC worker explained that when one of them would come to stay with a local family, that home would immediately come under fire. Actual gun fire. These homeowners could not call the police, because they were among those doing the shooting. The only thing that stopped the gunfire was when those inside the home started shooting back. This was not how it happened once but rather this is how it would go every time. So naturally, armed self-defense became a regular part of political organization among the Black people in Lowndes County. In 1964 the place had zero Black people registered to vote. By 1968 there were 2,500. It worked.

Due to high illiteracy rates all political parties were required to have a symbol. This allowed those who couldn’t read, the ability to identify the party for whom they wished to vote. The Democrat’s symbol was a white rooster and the words “White Supremacy For The Right”. The local Black population formed the Lowndes County Freedom Organization as their new political party. They intended to run candidates, register voters, and challenge the Democrats. They needed to declare a symbol and one member joked that they needed something that would eat that chicken- so they decided they would use a black panther.

Word got out that the Black people were serious so the Klan threatened to summon all of its members statewide to stop the formation of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. Come election day, the local authorities, and the Klan who had all been warned by the FBI that a bunch of young thugs from out of town were on the way to cause trouble at the polls, were all shocked when hundreds of old Black people carrying loaded weapons, showed up to vote.

The press went wild talking about this new Black Panther party and their guns. They left out the fact that the average age of the party was 55. One Black leader also pointed out that if the Alabama Freedom Organization was going to be referred to as the Black Panther Party in the news, the right thing would be to also call the Democrats the White Cocks. This request was not granted.NRA

The success of those humble Black farmers with guns gave a sense of excited hope to Black people nationwide. In Oakland CA, frustrated by violent policing, Black Panthers took their loaded guns to Sacramento and occupied the capital building. This completely freaked white America out and that same year California governor Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford Act banning the carrying of loaded weapons in public. Reagan was quoted as saying he saw “no reason why on the street today, a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons”.

That was 1967, one year before MLK was killed.IMG_1989.JPG

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Black History Month: which, and whose, civil rights are you advocating for exactly?

History can be a funny thing. Once those who lived it are gone, we can tell the story in whichever way we wish, in order to serve our own circumstances. It seems that we ignore living figures regarding them as old fashioned and outdated until they die. Then we revere or demonize them in whichever light we choose. Opinions are never historical because they are always current.

Like I said, history is a funny thing.IMG_1989

One of the greatest achievements of the civil rights movement was not MLK’s speech, or the signing of the civil rights bill (though those things were great), but rather the convincing of black folks, who were just trying to survive, to walk out into the face of danger in the name of rights… and not defend themselves.

You see, there was a time, a long time, when Black Americans didn’t have any rights let alone the one in the second amendment. They may not have had rights but they had some sense, and when you live in a world where vigilantes regularly come and haul you away at night, sense means you keep a gun in the house.

What a miracle that people could be moved to put down those guns, intentionally, and walk to the polls, or walk across a bridge, or to a lunch counter, or to Ol Miss, when you knew full well that those against you had guns… and especially at Ol Miss, they also had badges.

But they had to leave the guns at home so the press could see more obviously what was going on. They had to leave the guns at home so no one could argue about who shot who or how “they” were dangerous. And it worked- kind of.NRA

It worked in that it got laws passed, but passing laws has never been the same as people following laws.

So eventually these Black folks, who had put away the guns, who had already got laws passed, got tired of still getting beat down. The laws passed but they still didn’t get actual rights.

So a lot of them got the guns back out.

And wouldn’t ya know that is when “the law” got real worried about who owned and carried guns. The law came and took the guns away. That is when the people getting their guns taken away crafted the argument that the constitution protected their right to bear arms. They were Americans in a regulated militia fighting against actual tyranny. America took their guns.

But that was history.

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Bang! and Reason Joins Civility Six Feet Under

I do not recall the first time I shot a gun. It was that long ago. I was that young. Shooting was always just part of my life. We were mostly, but not exclusively, a black powder family.20130110-111405.jpg

I recall two muzzle loaders kept in sleeves in the back of Dad’s closet, I’m guessing the 30.06 was back there too. There was also a child’s sized rifle kept under their bed. This was the one I remember best. Not because it fit my shoulder better but because its dark cherry stalk was beautiful. It also had a tendency to just go to half-cock rather than firing when you pulled the trigger. It exposed me as a horrible flincher. For a while there was a flint-lock pistol that lived in the gun chest, the chest filled with led balls, canisters of powder, and ripped up cotton patches. I hated the sulfur smell when we sat in the kitchen swabbing out barrels and wiping them down with oil. I fancied myself a good shot.20130110-111415.jpg

I can still hear Dad’s humorless voice ordering me to keep my finger away from the trigger unless I plan to fire, never under any circumstances point the barrel towards another person, and don’t dry-fire, even if you have already inspected the chamber. Always set up the range toward the side of a hill, inspect it for metal or other rick-o-shay hazards, and wear ear protection. These were all non-negotiable. Guns are tools not toys.

Venison was our winter staple. The family got three “tags” every season. Dad got a buck permit for the regular hunt, then grandma and mom each got a doe permit for the black powder hunt. Dad used all three, the doe permits were to make sure we would have something to eat, the buck permit was in hopes of getting the “big one.” Sitting still in the snow with my father is where and when I learned you don’t always have to talk. It is okay to just sit there. It is also the first time I threw a rock at a bull moose in hopes it would go away.marksman

The guys and I used to drive out to the west desert on Saturdays. Most all of them carried semi-auto .22s, except Trevor and I. I used a .22/.20 over under shotgun, Trevor brought a Mak10. That thing never hit a rabbit but it was very fun to fire. I’m pretty sure that out of the ten of us who went out regularly, I was the only one to ever hit anything. A rabbit would pop out and make a break for it, and despite all the noise, it would just zig zag off into the distance. I remember walking next to Mitch. As he was emptying his magazine I calmly lifted the shotgun to my shoulder and and squoze. “I think it was me who got that one,” he would say time after time. I would just nod and pump the empty out of the chamber.

The first time I heard a bullet in flight. Jimmy Cowley was about thirty yards to my left, my dad about thirty yards to my right, and the rabbit popped out of the sage about thirty yards to my front. Jimmy had a semi-automatic .22 with a forty round clip and he opened fire on the mangy jack rabbit. Rather than running away, it ran right for me. Jimmy was not looking at me, he was looking down the barrel toward the rabbit. He kept pulling the trigger as the rabbit ran between us and by the time he and I realized what had just happened, my father’s barrel was pointing at Jimmy. We were both about 12.

The second time I heard a bullet in flight was while riding a bike in Atlanta. My missionary companion and I were pedaling down the street when I heard a whiz then a slap against the wall behind me. The two of us froze in place while people scattered in all directions. A teenage girl ran by with her coat pulled up over her head.  I saw a man crouched behind a half wall with a silver revolver in hand. From somewhere else I heard the “pop—-pop–pop.pop.pop” of return fire. We turned the corner and just kept going.

Most all of us “inner-city” missionaries had tape recordings of machine gun fire made on the fourth of July. I never knew people fired guns on the fourth till my downstairs neighbors made it obvious. His was obviously a shotgun.

We were already married before my wife ever fired a gun. Under close supervision she shot a beautiful Smith & Wesson chrome revolver at a dirt clod. She pulled the trigger, handed me the pistol, and walked away shaking. She says she was unprepared for how violent it was. She has no desire to ever fire one again.

We don’t keep a gun in our house. I would love too. I miss that part of my life but not enough to make my wife uncomfortable in her own home. I suppose she could learn to get comfortable but that isn’t on her to-do list. I guess there is some irony in that I lived in a house full of guns in one of the safest neighborhoods in America, but lack firearms now that I live in one of the most dangerous. Maybe it is ironic, but it is exactly this situation that has taught me a few things.

Safety and rights are relative.

One of the major hurdles Martin Luther King Jr., SNCC, and other non-violent civil rights organizers faced was convincing the general Black population to put away their guns. For Black people in the rural south the danger of a lynch party showing up on your doorstep, often led by local authorities, was very real. Most every home had a shotgun behind the door as a Black family’s only possible defense. The courts and local laws would not help them. Non-violence was not only a public relations victory, but a daily life miracle of self restraint on the part of an oppressed people.

The net result of these people’s 2nd amendment restraint was the passing of civil rights legislation and the assassination of MLK.NRA

On the other side of the country, and the tactical spectrum, other Black people took the opposite tact and began carrying guns out in the open. The White establishment would have none of this. The self destruction and implosion of the Black Panther Party has made most of us forget that these were not just a bunch of leather clad fools. The Panthers not only organized a militia and bore arms but crafted a constitutional argument defending their right to do so. The idea that the only thing that would stop a bad guy with a gun was a good guy with a gun, was preached by the Panthers. They also happened to believe that a large majority of the bad guys were wearing badges and the good guys were wearing black berets. And really, if one looks at things through the historical lens of a Black American… they had a lot of evidence to prove their point. The Panther’s guns were confiscated. The NRA did not defend them.1streetmemorial

Skipping forward to today, most of the Black people I know want guns gone. Gone from the streets, gone from their homes, just gone. I sit in church and listen as month after month someone from the congregation will stand up and tell of someone they love who has been shot, or about when they themselves were hit by flying bullets. I have yet to hear one of these people stand up and pray for more firepower.girlmemorial

My Facebook feed is alive with memes and sound bites taking this position or that on gun control. The newspaper and radio give arguments for restricting guns or arming more citizens. I have seen dozens of stories praising gun owners who have shot intruders in the act of invading their homes. I have also followed a story of man licensed to carry a concealed gun who shot and killed an unarmed kid who was walking home from the convenience store. Where I grew up Elementary school teachers are being taught how to use guns to defend their classroom. Where I live now, a police task force is going to trial for running its own citywide drug ring. A couple of years ago a cop in my neighborhood got drunk, got angry at some noisy kids, went inside to get his gun and killed someone.irishflagmemorial

I hear and read a lot of arguments, not normally about what to do, but about how the other side is stupid. I talk to people on both sides but I get the feeling they don’t really talk to each other. How does this help? Every kid I know in the city can get their hands on a gun if they want one. Many see guns even when they are trying not too. Would more guns really make these kids safer?

Do I think I have a right to own a gun? Yes I do.

Do I want everyone to own a gun? No I do not. I know plenty of people that would terrify me if they were armed. I know other perfectly law abiding people that I would not trust with a gun in a million years.streetmemorial

I’ll tell every bad guy out there right now, odds are, if you break into my home I will not shoot you.

I do not care how bad you are, I do not think my TV is worth your life.

If my wife were to ever relent and let me keep a gun in the house, it would be unloaded and locked away some place making it impossible to be of any use in the event some burglar comes a prowling. This is because I know I can only control certain things in my life and will do everything in my power to make sure no one accidentally, or intentionally, kills someone with a gun I own. But I can only control so much.

I can’t control others who may wish me harm, just like I can’t control an out of control car coming my way.

But I can do my best. I register my car. I get my car inspected for safety every year and get my picture taken at the DMV. I can keep my home gun free to keep my wife happy but mostly because there are no deer or rabbits anywhere near my door.shootingdalyn

Lets go ahead and disagree. If you can show me where I am wrong, please help me out. If I think you are wrong maybe I should try to find a way to effectively communicate why. But please, lets do so in hopes of making things better, not in the name of proving a point. Comparing your apples to another person’s oranges does not make things better. Claiming to know what the other side “really” means or what their ulterior motives are is equally unproductive. Realize that for many people, mostly for the victims of violence, this is not a philosophical discussion. It is real life. It is too often real death.

One of my favorite memories from youth, one I fall back too when I’m feeling old and nostalgic, was the day Jake and I spent at the gun club. It was just the two of us, a .12 gauge, and about ten dozen clay pigeons. I don’t remember any real conversation, and I may have separated my shoulder, but I know I was happy that day. It was a good day, but not the only way to have one.

How do we ensure more good days for everyone?

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Paintings in Progress: A Study in Inertia

I had a commission due during my holiday.

I dusted off my brushes, brushed the dust off some canvas, and got to work.paintson desk

Large format individual portraits for a family of five, seven including the grown ups. crewinprogress

I finished them on time, mailed them in the nick of time, and they arrived about  four hours too late.

Then what? Looking around the office at all this paint and extra empty canvasses I felt a flood of ideas. No matter I already have a laundry list of pre-planned paintings, I started new ones.NRAin progress

I’m back to the day job.

Christmas break equals ten paintings. Christmas break equals minus ten hours of sleep. My inertia is being acted upon by an outside crushing need for rest. Just in time for work.kinardprogress

stokelysandpanthers

Images will be available on Dalynart.com soon.

 

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