It is a shame that in the week following Independence Day, in which we celebrate liberty and justice for all, America was exposed to shocking videos showing two innocent, law-abiding African Americans shot and killed by police officers. In the midst of mourning for Alton Sterling, a 37-year old black man who was killed for selling CDs outside of a convenience store, America was overwhelmed by a similar tragedy, when Philando Castile was shot in his car while reaching for his concealed carry permit. These events are inexcusable, but they also provide an opportunity for unification–a common understanding that injustice is categorically abhorrent, and that the multifaceted injustice shown in recent cases allows us to unify in our response.
I believe Philando Castile was shot for two reasons. First, he was shot, probably, because he was African American. Second, the stigma that Mr. Castile was a threat was exacerbated by the fact that he was a gun owner. Neither of these predispositions should justify murder, and that is exactly why they require action.
For gun rights advocates and those who support the Second Amendment, the injustice should be obvious: no one should be killed for owning a gun. The Second Amendment, as with the entire Constitution, is meant to apply to all citizens. And so, when a black man is shot for exercising his legal right to bear arms, it is not only unjust, it is illegal. Gun advocacy groups such as the NRA, in order to be organizations which legitimately protect all gun owners’ rights, must speak out against the shooting of Philando Castile.
And for those who identify with the Black Lives Matter movement, acknowledging black freedom requires support for the choices that African Americans make, especially when those decisions are made in order to protect themselves. From Harriet Tubman to Malcolm X, firearms have historically been indispensable in the fight for black liberation.
As well, the Black Lives Matter movement ought to recognize that Philando Castile was killed because of the color of his skin and because he had a gun. To fight against only one of these prejudiced grounds would be naive, which is why it is necessary for Black Lives Matter protestors to support Mr. Castile’s right to bear arms. More importantly, a fight for equal access to gun rights ensures racial equality at a legal level; to refuse to fight for African American gun rights is to ignore the fact that African Americans are more likely to be punished for owning a gun than caucasians, and ignore another ingrained form of oppression that blacks face.
Lastly, there should be a unification among political parties to recognize cruelty.
Republicans, and those who rightfully support our police force by and large, have an obligation to fight injustice no matter who carries it out. Being anti-police brutality is not the same as being anti-police. It is instead the opposite: if the inherent value behind our police force is upholding the rule of law, police officers should not be above it, especially when considering a heinous crime such as murder.
And Democrats, who are often more hesitant to support the police in all instances, should apply such skepticism in cases such as Philando’s, but refrain from denigrating the thousands of police officers who follow and uphold the law every day.
The killing of an innocent man, black or white, shouldn’t be a political issue unless it is one creating unity to fight against both systemic racism and an officer’s disregard of constitutional rights. This type of unity is what creates compromise and subsequently, change.
As the late Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor who knows oppression more than most, reminded us: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Black lives matter and so do their Second Amendment rights–let’s work together to protect them.