Why Is Our Kneejerk Reaction to Blame Black Men With Guns?

Over the course of about 24 hours, two officer-involved incidents have made waves in the news cycle, once again bringing our attention back to the issue of law enforcement and their interactions with black men.

The first incident is not new. The police brutality against U.S. Army second lieutenant Caron Nazario actually took place back in December, but one of the officers involved in the incident was fired, bringing the story back to the forefront. The second incident, the shooting death of Daunte Wright, took place on Sunday just outside of Minneapolis. Though it has since been called an accidental shooting, after the incident, daytime protests and nighttime riots have resumed in the city currently trying to recover from the death of George Floyd (and the ongoing trial of former officer Derek Chauvin).

The tragedies surrounding both men could have been avoided. The policing involved simply does not look good. And while high-pressure situations are never easy to judge in the moment and all too easy to judge in hindsight, there are things we know about both cases that lead us to believe these incidents shouldn’t have happened.

We now know that Nazario was behind the wheel, hands in the air, when he was pepper-sprayed, pulled from the car, and mistreated. Badly. We also know that Wright was killed when an officer mistook her gun for her taser and fired the weapon. And yet, despite knowing both of these things, the real problem, according to some in the conservative movement, is to find a reason to blame the victims.

Political personality and former NYPD officer John Cardillo wants you to know that Wright was a scary black man with a gun.

Both pictures are of the same man, a man who is dead because an officer did not know the difference between their taser and their gun. He should not be dead. He did not do anything deserving of being dead. But Cardillo, like so many others, wants you to buy into the idea of the scary black man with a gun in order to deflect away from what was more obviously bad policing.

What do you see in the second picture? Do you see a crime being committed? Do you see someone who doesn’t deserve Second Amendment rights? That’s the thing about rights, you know — everyone is guaranteed them, whether they are black or white. But that is not the belief of people like Cardillo — or, that’s the belief he is making people think he has, whether he intends to or not. He is acting as though Wright was much too scary a person with a gun, so police were justified in shooting him, despite the fact that he did not have the gun in his hand when he was stopped.

Similarly, the mere presence of a gun in the vehicle is all it took for Newsmax’s Greg Kelly to declare that Nazario deserved the treatment he got.

What makes this claim pretty bizarre is that the police never once use the gun as justification for how they treated Nazario. And, Virginia is an open-carry state.

It’s really weird seeing otherwise pro-gun conservatives attack the rights of black men who are pulled over and then mistreated or killed by police. They owned a gun. So what? Nothing in either bodycam footage shows the gun was used to threaten the officers at either scene.

There is also the idea that getting upset about black men being shot and killed by police is strange when there are so many more white men who are killed by police.

This, too, is odd. We should be striving for as few deaths as possible during altercations with the police. We shouldn’t dismiss some of them because they don’t happen as often as others. It should all be unacceptable.

It seems very strange that we are framing arguments so that they can best support the police when the entire idea of conservatism is to limit the size and scope of government, and that includes its law enforcement arms. Police do have tough jobs, and they are at times in very dangerous situations that require tough judgment calls. But, more and more, we’re seeing some of those calls are the wrong ones, and we have got to do a better job of keeping the police as the police, and not as judge, jury, and executioner.