Victims of the gun culture


When I was a kid, my older sister, my little brother and I called 911 one evening after my mom failed to return home on time from her teaching job in Greeley, Colo., about a two-hour drive from where we lived in a mostly black suburb of Denver. (Apparently you can’t file a missing-persons report for a grownup who’s a few hours late coming home, even if you are a scared kid.)

What we learned, when she finally did get home, after 11 that night, is that my mother had been in a one-car accident. It was dark out, and some large debris from a flatbed truck in front of her had flown into the front of her car, causing it to catch on fire. She managed to get out, and began walking down the road, shaken and looking for help.

Luckily, another car drove by, and the driver offered her a ride. These were the days before cell phones were commonplace, so it was a matter of going to a police station, from where a tow truck could be called. She later told us that her biggest fear that night — besides the burning car — was getting into a car with a stranger. In those days we worried about kidnappers, who picked up unwise hitchhikers and disappeared into the night. Luckily, this particular stranger was, in fact, a Godsend.

If the same thing happened today, I might worry about my mother, or a friend, or myself, in the same situation, wandering into an unfamiliar neighborhood, and having to worry not about getting into a stranger’s car, but rather, knocking on a stranger’s door.

Because if you choose the wrong door, and the person behind that door is armed, seeking aid could be a very deadly proposition indeed.

On Nov. 2, Renisha McBride, a 19-year-old Detroit woman on her way home to her mother’s house, had a minor car accident. Her cellphone battery was dead, and so she found herself wandering through the residential neighborhood of Dearborn Heights, in the wee hours of the morning, dazed and seeking help.

Unfortunately, she chose the wrong door. The person behind it, a 54-year-old man, who is white, has told police he feared the young African-American woman was trying to break in. But he wasn’t fearful enough to not open the door, or simply call 911. He opened his front door, shotgun in hand, and shot Renisha in the face.

So far, no charges have been filed.

Had the man who killed Renisha called police, perhaps the outcome would have been different.

Or perhaps not.

In North Carolina in September, former Florida A&M football player Jonathan Ferrell got into a single-car accident. He wandered out of his car, dazed and confused. He went to a nearby door, and knocked, seeking help. The homeowner did call police, but when the officer arrived, he responded by shooting Ferrell 10 times, until he was dead.

For many African Americans, what these two stories have in common, besides the obvious (black victims, shot to death after seeking help in neighborhoods where there aren’t many black people), and the basic inhumanity, is the chilling sense that they represent a new normal.

In the new normal, the fear of black people that has persisted in this country since the days of slavery is now backed by the law of the gun. The NRA has been wildly successful at breaking down not just the will of national lawmakers to lift a finger to prevent gun violence — which has been rewritten, from the one-off shooting to the school massacre, as simply the price of gun owners’ freedom — but also, apparently, the psychological barrier against proactively pulling out your gun and firing. By excising all liability, they have created, particularly in “Stand Your Ground” states like Michigan and Florida, a kind of mental permission for gun owners to act on their fears. Because if you do, and someone dies, the gun laws the NRA has erected have your back.

So if you’re a black teenager, walking home at night and a stranger follows you, you should assume they’re armed, and run like hell.

And if you’re in a car accident, in an unfamiliar neighborhood in the wee hours, you might want to think twice about knocking on a stranger’s door or running toward a police officer.

And if you’re wandering down a dark road, having left your broken car behind, it could be equally dangerous to get into a stranger’s car, as to encounter one on their porch.

Because in the new normal, the gun is king. And there may be few consequences if a gun owner “feels threatened” and decides to shoot first, and ask questions later.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

Tony Lesesne


    Tony Lesesne: Overkill, and an apology

    Yes, it happens in South Florida, too — and it shouldn’t. Black men pulled over, needlessly hassled by police officers who give the rest of their colleagues a bad name, who make no distinction when a suspect has no other description than ‘black male,’ who harass residents because they can. A North Miami Beach officer pulls over a black man in a suit and tie — and behind the wheel of an Audi that simply had to be stolen, right? In another Miami-Dade city, an officer demands that an African-American man installing a vegetable garden justify why he has a shovel and seedlings. Detained for possession of cilantro? Here are five South Floridians who tell of their experiences in this community and beyond, years ago, and all too recently.

Delrish Moss


    Delrish Moss: Out after dark

    “I was walking up Seventh Avenue, just shy of 14th street. I was about 17 and going home from my job. I worked at Biscayne Federal Bank after school. The bank had a kitchen, and I washed the dishes. A police officer gets out of his car. He didn’t say anything. He came up and pushed me against a wall, frisked me, then asked what I was doing walking over here after dark. Then he got into his car and left. I never got a chance to respond. I remember standing there feeling like my dignity had been taken with no explanation. I would have felt better about that incident had I gotten some sort of dialogue. I had not had any encounters with police.


    Bill Diggs: Hurt officer’s feelings

    “I’m the first generation in my family to go to college, and if I wanted to do nothing else, I wanted to make my mom happy. I was living for my parents, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to go to work and not have to put on steel-toe boots. And here I am in Atlanta, I have finally grown to a particular level of affluence. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was a college kid, wearing a suit, driving a nice BMW going to work everyday. Can’t beat that. I would leave my house, drive up Highway 78, the Stone Mountain area, grab some coffee, go to work. So on this particular morning, there’s a cop who’s rustling up this homeless guy outside the gas station where I was filling up. I’m shaking my head, the cop looks at me. This homeless guy is there every morning. I get in my car and on to the expressway. The police officer comes shooting up behind me. I doing 65, 70. He gets up behind me, I notice he’s following me. I get in one lane, he gets in the lane, I get in another lane, he gets in that lane. He finally flips his lights on, he comes up to the car. I’ve been pulled over for speeding before, I know the drill. Got my hands up here, don’t want to get shot, and I think he’s going to say what I’ve heard before: ‘License and registration, please.’ He says ‘Get out of the car!’ and he reaches in and grabs me by my shirt. He says, ‘So you’re a smart ass, huh?’ Finally he says, ‘License and registration.’ I tell him it’s in the car. He says, ‘Get it for me!’ He goes back to his car, comes back and asks, ‘So where did you get the car from?’ I say ‘It’s a friend of mine’s.” He says, ‘Is it stolen? What are you doing driving your friend’s car?’ I finally asked, ‘Is there a reason you stopped me? You followed me, what’s up, man?’ He says, ‘I’m going to let you go with a warning, but if you see me doing what I’ve got to do for my job, don’t you ever f---ing worry about it.”

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category