The Disarming of Black America

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While
taking in the sights of Moscow, during my student days in 1978,
I ran into an elderly couple from New Jersey. “What a wonderful
country!” the woman exclaimed. “There’s no crime. You can walk the
streets after dark without being afraid.”

No
crime? The irony of her statement was not lost on me. I knew that
the Soviets had murdered tens of millions of people (20 million,
according to Stephane Courtois’s Black
Book of Communism
; 60 million, according to Alexander Solzhenitsyn).
Surely this qualified as a “crime” of some sort. But I held my tongue
politely.

Arguing
would have seemed insensitive. I knew that, back home in New Jersey,
elderly people such as they were prime targets for muggers and burglars.
Who was I to begrudge them whatever small pleasure they might glean
from strolling Red Square unmolested, under the watchful gaze of
gray-uniformed militsionyeri?

Yet
I wondered how deep their admiration for Brezhnev’s police state
really went. Did those dreamy looks on their faces mean they actually
preferred Soviet dictatorship to our own system? I tried not to
think about it.

That
chance encounter in Moscow returned to haunt me later, when I stumbled
across two disheartening statistics. The first were nationwide poll
results showing that 83 percent of African Americans would support
a ban on all gun sales, except by special police permit. The second
came from a Department of Housing and Urban Development survey of
public housing residents, indicating that 68 percent believed that
allowing police to conduct random searches for guns, without warrants,
would improve safety in their projects.

Like
those elderly tourists in Moscow, black Americans are clearly fed
up with crime. And who can blame them? Fully 50 percent of all murder
victims in the U.S. are black. But, like those short-sighted tourists,
many African Americans appear dangerously willing to tolerate police-state
tactics, in exchange for safer streets.

An
authoritarian crackdown might well succeed in curbing crime. Did
not Mussolini get the trains running on time? But African Americans
would be nave to expect our government to continue working in their
best interests, once it has stripped them of their liberties.

The
Slippery Slope

The
Clinton Administration lured many black civil rights leaders into
supporting the anti-gun movement. But some have declined to jump
on the bandwagon.

Niger
Innis is one (first name pronounced Nigh-jer). Growing up in Harlem,
Innis lost two brothers to gun-wielding killers. But these tragedies
only deepened his conviction that an armed and vigilant citizenry
is the best curb on lawlessness.

“Not
every cop can be everywhere at all times,” says Innis, who is national
spokesman for the New York-based Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
“Decent men and women with families need to be able to defend themselves
and their property. It’s that simple.”

More
to the point, Innis sees gun control as a slippery slope toward
outright gun confiscation. Loss of Second Amendment rights, he says,
would leave both whites and blacks vulnerable to tyranny.

Disarmed
and Disenfranchised

“Traditionally,
when governments want to disenfranchise people, the first thing
they do is disarm them,” says Innis. “That was the case in Nazi
Germany, when the Jews were disarmed. That was the case in the American
South, after slavery.”

Innis
is correct, on both counts. On November 7, 1938, a 17-year-old Jewish
refugee named Herschel Grynszpan shot and killed a German diplomat
in Paris. The highly publicized shooting gave the Nazis the excuse
they needed for a major crackdown.

German
newspapers whipped up hysteria over the threat of Jewish terrorism.
Then, on November 11, the Nazi government ordered Jews to surrender
all firearms, clubs and knives. Without weapons, the Jews were easily
herded into concentration camps.

Southern
slaveowners also understood the need to keep their victims helpless
and unarmed, as gun-law expert Stephen P. Halbrook documents in
his book That
Every Man Be Armed
.

“No
slave shall go armed with a gun, or shall keep such weapons,” declared
an 1854 law of North Carolina. Violators received 39 lashes.

After
the Civil War, many white southerners feared that black freedmen
would take bloody vengeance on their former masters. Fears of a
black uprising were particularly intense in Alabama, Florida, Georgia,
Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina, where blacks outnumbered
whites.

White
southerners responded by creating a race-based caste system — a
U.S. version of apartheid. Gun control was crucial to making it
work. Southern whites tried to maintain their antebellum monopoly
over firearms. Many states barred African Americans from owning
guns.

Local
police, state militias and Ku Klux Klansmen rode from house to house,
demanding that blacks turn in their weapons. Once disarmed, they
were helpless against lynch mobs.

“Before
these midnight marauders made attacks upon peaceful citizens,” Representative
Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts informed the U.S. Congress in
1871, “there were many instances in the South where the sheriff
of the county had preceded them and taken away the arms of their
victims.”

On
the other hand, freedmen who kept their guns were able to fight
back. Representative Butler described an incident in which armed
blacks successfully resisted a Klan attack.

“The
colored men then fired on the Ku Klux, and killed their leader or
captain right there on the steps of the colored men’s house….
There he remained until morning when he was identified, and proved
to be ‘Pat Inman,’ a constable and deputy sheriff….”

Controlling
Blacks

According
to Halbrook, the Fourteenth Amendment temporarily stymied the gun-control
efforts of southern whites. It forbade the states from passing any
law that would deprive citizens of their constitutional rights,
including the right to keep and bear arms.

But
in the 1960s, fear of armed blacks soon got the ball rolling again.
Race riots spread from city to city. The Black Panther Party urged
African Americans to arm themselves for revolution.

The
response from white America was swift and predictable. As liberal
anti-gun crusader Robert Sherrill put it, in his 1973 book The
Saturday Night Special
, “The Gun Control Act of 1968 was
passed not to control guns but to control blacks….”

In
their fear of black unrest, white Americans had given birth to a
Frankenstein’s monster. The machinery of gun control set up in the
1960s is now being turned against its creators – a case of “the
chickens coming home to roost,” as Malcolm X would have put it.

Warrantless
Searches

A
glimpse of what may lie in store for white America can be seen in
some of the extreme measures that have already been used against
blacks.

In
the early ’90s, some cities experimented with “sweeps” of public
housing projects, in which police, without warrants, would systematically
enter and search every apartment for weapons. Bill Clinton praised
the program, urging its adoption nationwide.

Project
residents were divided in their opinions about the sweeps. Referring
to Chicago Housing Authority chairman Vince Lane, who spearheaded
the program in that city, one tenant told the Chicago Sun-Times:
“He’s using the Southern, Jim Crow, Ku Klux Klan method on his own
people.”

Other
residents declared themselves more than willing to give up their
rights, if it would bring peace. “Sometimes you got to sacrifice
your rights to save your life,” Daisy Bradford told the New York
Times. “As far as I’m concerned, the Constitution needs to be
changed. The innocent people are being violated by the criminals.”

A
federal judge struck down warrantless sweeps in 1995, calling them
a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. But in view of their
popularity among public-housing residents, it seems only a matter
of time before some pretext is found to bring them back.

The
Civil Right No One Talks About

Niger
Innis believes that blacks are being hoodwinked by their leaders.

“The
Jesse Jacksons and the NAACPs are mouthpieces of the liberal establishment
and the gun prohibitionist crowd, ” he charges. “They are not serving
their constituents within the black community. They’re serving their
masters within the liberal Democratic party.”

According
to Innis, the right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental freedom.
Yet, of all the major civil rights organizations, CORE is the only
one defending it.

“My
father [CORE national chairman Roy Innis] is a lifetime member and
a board member of the National Rifle Association,” says Innis. “We
and the NRA are kindred souls, when it comes to the Second Amendment.”

Good
Samaritan

In
1990, CORE defended Kenneth Mendoza, a 19-year-old Hispanic resident
of East Harlem hailed in the press as a “Good Samaritan.” Mendoza
had rescued his pregnant neighbor from a knife-wielding intruder.

The
woman called Mendoza her hero. But, after gunning down the assailant
with a .38 pistol, Mendoza was charged with murder and possession
of an unlicensed weapon. CORE general counsel Mel A. Sachs managed
to get both charges dismissed.

“No
other civil rights organizations have spoken in defense of Good
Samaritans,” Sachs laments. Yet, about 80 percent of Good Samaritans
are minorities, he observes. CORE routinely defends such cases in
court.

Shortly
after Mendoza’s arrest, the New York Times interviewed the
“Good Samaritan’s” neighbors, finding strong support for Mendoza’s
action. “There is a code of law we live by in this neighborhood:
people have to survive,” said Ralph Vello, 25. “He did the right
thing.”

An
Ancient Right

The
code to which Vello referred is not unique to East Harlem. It is
a timeless principle, enshrined in common law: the right to self-defense.

Since
ancient times, society has recognized the right of free men to arm
themselves, in defense of their lives, homes and families. Slaves,
however, were often denied this right. Under the laws of William
the Conqueror, the difference between free men and slaves was actually
defined by ownership – or non-ownership – of weapons.

“If
any person is willing to enfranchise his slave,” said the Norman
law code, “let him…deliver him free arms, to wit, a lance and
a sword; thereupon he is a free man.”

Innis
believes that black Americans have an intuitive grasp of the link
between guns and freedom, an understanding that will eventually
force them to part ways with the Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson crowd.

Referring
to public housing tenants such as Daisy Bradford, who have supported
warrantless sweeps, Innis remarks, “People in a housing project
that is under siege might not care about an esoteric right, like
the right not to be searched without a warrant.

“But
those individuals damn well know what the right of self-defense
is. And they know the power of having a gun on the premises.

“I’ll
bet if we were to go into that project right now, there would be
many law-abiding, decent citizens that have guns in their households,
and they are branded as criminals because of unfair gun laws. Those
people in that project have a desire to protect themselves more
than anybody else. And they’ll do it by any means necessary.”

History
Will Judge

Speaking
in defense of gun sweeps, back in 1994, Bill Clinton dismissed the
charge that warrantless searches violated people’s freedom. “The
most important freedom we have in this country is the freedom from
fear,” he declared before the tenants of a violence-plagued Chicago
housing project.

Clinton’s
words got a respectful hearing from those shell-shocked tenants.
But our founding fathers would have seen right through them.

“Those
who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary
safety deserve neither liberty nor safety,” chided Benjamin Franklin.

In
the end, history will judge whether our generation cared more about
saving its freedom or saving its skin. Should we manage to retain
any semblance of our constitutional liberties, it will be thanks
to the courage of men such as Roy and Niger Innis, who dared to
speak out when all around them were silent.

Tomorrow:
Guns and Feminism

November
5, 2003

Richard
Poe
[send him mail] is a New York
Times-bestselling author and cyberjournalist. His latest book is
The
Seven Myths of Gun Control
,
from which this article is excerpted and adapted.
He writes for NewsMax.com and runs his
own blog site
.

Richard
Poe Archives


        
        

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