Reactions To Alton Sterling And Philando Castile’s Deaths Expose The Racial Hypocrisy Of Many Gun Advocates

The killings of Alton Sterling on Tuesday and Philando Castile on Wednesday have rightfully sparked outrage among many as they were the 114th and 115th black men to be killed by police in the year 2016 alone, according to Mic. But predictably enough, some people found ripe excuses to justify the officers’ violence: Sterling and Castile were both allegedly armed with guns. The attempts, in some cases by supporters of open and concealed-carry policies, to use this as a rationalization for the murders of Sterling and Castile, reflect many gun advocates’ racist hypocrisy.

Twitter users have been quick to call out the racial double standard, with one user, @JenniDigital, pointing out how many gun advocates responded to the Orlando shooting by upholding everyone’s right to carry a gun, but responded to police officers killing Sterling in front of a convenience store by saying Sterling shouldn’t have had a gun. Twitter user @Blxckgirlbeauty tweeted how this “logic” sends the message that “the right to bear arms rhetoric … only [applies] to white skin.” Mic’s Jessica Eggbert wrote Wednesday: “Conservatives seem to want people to carry guns, but when the carriers are black, gun possession is often used to justify killing them.”

(Of course, none of this justifies the killing of five police officers during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas Thursday night, but it’s still important to talk about the ways different races are treated when in possession of guns.)

Police arrived at the Baton Rouge convenience store which Sterling was selling CD’s in front of after receiving an anonymous call that he had a gun. Police later claimed to have found a gun on Sterling’s body. However, in video footage captured by witnesses, it never appears that Sterling takes out the gun or threatens police with a gun, and at any rate, police shot him multiple times when he was already pinned to the ground defenseless, completely invalidating the rationale that police only acted in self-defense.

In the state of Louisiana, open-carry is “generally permitted without a license,” but as ATTN:’s Kyle Jaeger pointed out, “there’s a lingering legal question” of “whether Sterling had a concealed carry permit,” but at any rate, Sterling never appeared to have threatened police officers with a gun. Regardless of any legal technicalities regarding the gun in question, he seemed to pose no threat to the officers who shot him while pinned to the ground after being thoroughly beaten.

Just one day after the murder of Sterling, Castile was shot in front of his girlfriend and her young daughter during a routine traffic stop when he reached in his pocket for his wallet. Castile was licensed to carry a firearm and even told the officer who shot him this. In video footage captured after the shooting by his girlfriend, Castile doesn’t appear to have a gun out.

alton sterling
CREDIT: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has since responded by attributing the incident at least in part to racism, saying in a speech on Thursday, “Would this have happened if those passengers, the driver, the passenger, were white? I don’t think it would have.” The sad reality is that he’s probably not wrong.

But where is the outrage from gun advocates? They unfailingly emerge every time a white man goes on a mass shooting spree to preach that the solution is for everyone to carry a gun because we’d all be safer for it. This rhetoric, and the “good guy with a gun” theory clearly exclude one demographic.

Long before Sterling and Castile, in November 2014 there was Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African American boy shot by police for carrying a B.B. gun they believed to be a real gun, despite open carry being legal in Ohio. In December 2014, John Crawford, another young black man, was shot by police for carrying a pellet air rifle around Walmart’s sporting goods section.

While giving police the slightest reason to believe they have a gun is punishable by death for black men, white men can shoot and kill handfuls of people using very real, very visible guns, and still be arrested, taken alive by police. There’s no shortage of examples of this.

James Holmes in 2012 killed 12 and injured roughly 70 when he shot up a movie theater in Aurora, before being taken alive by police; at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting in November 2015, Robert Dear killed 3 before being taken alive by police; the Bundy brothers literally occupied federal wildlife refuge headquarters in Oregon through armed seizure, and of the 27 militants involved, only one ended up getting shot by police.

But at the end of the day, references to Sterling and Castile’s possession of guns to justify police actions aren’t just indicators of racist double standards regarding gun rights. They’re also part of an overarching trend of excusing police brutality toward people of color by dehumanizing or even outright demonizing victims, by highlighting and emphasizing character flaws that are ultimately irrelevant to their murders. Some pointed out how Michael Brown allegedly robbed a convenient store before being shot; others smeared Sandra Bland for having marijuana in her system.

In all cases of racially charged injustice, there is always some infuriating rationalization that shifts the blame over to the victimized, or strips them of their humanity to hide the injustice. It’s sad and frankly infuriating, but at this point, unfortunately, it’s pretty much to be expected.

In an essay by The Atlantic that’s certainly worth a read, black men are identified as “the second amendment’s second-class citizens.” Momentarily putting the very troubling issue of police brutality aside, if gun rights advocates want a single leg to stand on, especially in the wake of so much tragedy as a result of violence from legally purchased guns, they’ll start fighting for not only white men’s right to bear arms, but black men’s rights to own a gun and not be killed by police for this.