We ask men and women to slip on a bit of blue cloth and to leave all their history and culture and fear in the locker where their police uniforms hung a few moments ago. They have driven to work hearing radios full of reports of school shootings, gun smuggling across state lines, and the “re-branding” of AK-47’s as sporting rifles. Now those people are supposed to leave the station house without fear that all those guns will be aimed at them.
Excess violence by police officers is partly about the residual racism of white versus black. But that is not all it is about. It is also about firearms. We are awash in violence, and our society is being held captive to gun violence by the hysteria of those who would cherish an antiquated constitutional amendment right into an early grave. Every school shooting brings more anguish over our inability to control the use of firearms in our culture. But our calls for greater domestic control of firearms are met by a louder salvo from the NRA that gun control is somehow un-American. So far the NRA has been more effective. But just as we are captive to random and accidental death in our own homes from misused pistol fire, so blue on black violence is partly due to the presence of guns in our homes. We have to begin to recognize that aspect of the problem.
The men and women who wear blue and try to protect us are facing a society bristling with weapons. There is a pistol or rifle for every single man, woman and child in the United States. Those guns are in cars, homes, apartments, cabins and campers. The policeman’s fear that the person they are facing has a gun is not irrational. In fact the police are trained to expect the presence of weapons, and they would be foolish not to have that expectation. Guns are everywhere, and the police have to expect that every traffic stop or other interaction can result in gunfire. Do the math. If there are almost 1100 people living in an urban block in a major city, the police know that there are probably more than 400 weapons that can be deployed at them by the residents in that block alone. Is a policewoman alone in a stairwell of an apartment building to believe that all those guns are sporting rifles with which to hunt deer?
The fear of violence and the intolerance that some police show when they meet any resistance whatsoever is grounded in the officer’s fear of someone taking their lives. Every traffic stop is an occasion for violent death delivered by 17 cents worth of lead.
We have a black man in the White House and many in Congress. In the political forums of our nation we are actively discussing a woman presidential candidate. Black and brown people are increasingly present in our best schools and in middle class neighborhoods. Looking back at the road many of started to travel in 1965, those facts should be a source of great satisfaction. We have made progress. We still have a long way to go in perceptions of people and in being color blind in the treatment of non-whites of all types. We are making progress towards a blended society in which browns, yellows, blacks and whites all share in the benefits of our economy. We must continue to finish the work already started, and the remainder of that road will be long and tortuous.
To get there we have to deal with other social issues as a matter of urgency. Legislative pandering to the gun lobby exacerbates racism and makes possible some of its worst excesses. We are way overdue in starting to deal with the avalanche of weapons in our homes. Until we affirmatively address gun prevalence, there will be men and women marching in the streets chanting “Marcus” the way they once chanted “Martin.”