Cautionary Tales for Black Gun Owners
Jemel Roberson was only 26 when on a November night in 2018 a police officer from south suburban Midlothian mistook Roberson, who was working as an armed security guard, for a criminal, and shot him four times in the back, killing him.
Marcus Allen Weldon was the same age when police in Detroit arrested him and he was charged with six felonies, after exchanging gunfire with two men who were threatening and then began assaulting Weldon, who was protecting a female co-worker from unwanted sexual advances from the men.
Philando Castile was 32 when a police officer in suburban Minneapolis shot and killed him as he reached to present his driver’s license to the officer who pulled him over, incorrectly thinking he was an armed robbery suspect.
Tamir Rice, 12, was playing with a toy gun on a public playground when a Cleveland officer shot him dead.
What do all of these sad cases have in common? They are all cases of Black males who were doing nothing illegal at the time they were shot. They were working, protecting vulnerable citizens and themselves, driving a car and playing on a playground when their lives were either taken from them or turned completely upsidedown.
“From the seventeenth century, when it was encoded into law that the enslaved could not own, carry, or use a firearm whatsoever, until today, with measures to expand and curtail gun ownership aimed disproportionately at the African American population, the right to bear arms has been consistently used as a weapon to keep African Americans powerless—revealing that armed or unarmed, Blackness, it would seem, is the threat that must be neutralized and punished,” writes Emory University Professor Carol Anderson, author of “The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America,” which will be released on June 1.
As the numbers across the country clearly show, Black Americans not only have a growing interest in purchasing firearms, but they are doing so in record numbers.
With so many new gun owners coming into the market, it is important for those who are owning and carrying guns for personal protection to understand that for Black people, there is an extra inherent risk that comes with the responsibility of ownership; you will not be given the benefit of the doubt by police, prosecutors, a jury or the public if a firearm is carried, displayed or used in a self-defense situation.
“Throughout American history to the twenty-first century, regardless of the laws, court decisions, and changing political environment, the ‘Second’ has consistently meant this: That the second a Black person exercises this right, the second they pick up a gun to protect themselves (or the second that they don’t), their life—as surely as Philando Castile’s, Tamir Rice’s, Alton Sterling’s—may be snatched away in that single, fatal second,” Anderson writes.
In the case of Weldon, he was dressed in a Santa Claus suit after leaving a Christmas event with female co-worker Erica Johnson. When her car got a flat tire, the two were in a gas station when Johnson started being harassed, presumably because she is an attractive woman and was also dressed in a Santa Claus suit.
When Weldon attempted to intervene and get the men to leave Johnson alone, one of the men got into a fight with Weldon before returning to a vehicle to retrieve a gun. When the man of Middle Eastern descent pointed the gun in the direction of Weldon, he [Weldon] fired several shots, striking the man in the chest, and a man who was with him, in the hand.
Johnson and Weldon began running to escape the men, who survived their wounds, when undercover police officers who were nearby and heard the shots cornered Weldon and took him into custody. His explanation to the officers as to what had just taken place fell on deaf ears.
“I want to warn people what can happen to you if you legally use your firearm to protect yourself,” Weldon told the Crusader. “When you get caught up in the system, even if you were in the right, it’s a nightmare.”
In Weldon’s case, it meant he spent over $50,000 to clear his name, spent time in jail and on a home monitoring device, and was fired from his job. He lost countless people he considered friends because his case made national news when he was dubbed by the media as “The Santa Claus Shooter,” and he was the victim of an overzealous Black female prosecutor, Kym Worthy, who would not drop the charges against Weldon, even after the two men he shot fled to Yemen and never returned. Further, there was a videotape that showed Weldon was not the aggressor and that he fired only after one of the men pointed a gun at him.
It was only at a chance meeting between Weldon and one of the officers who was on the scene that night, that Weldon even learned the videotape existed because police and prosecutors withheld the information from his defense team.
Ironically, Weldon became a firearm owner at the suggestion of then-Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who in January of 2014 publicly encouraged all citizens to arm themselves because crime in the city had gotten to a point where police resources were not enough.
Weldon took the message to heart. He purchased and trained with his firearm just in case, not knowing that four days before Christmas he would have to use it. And even after a jury found him not guilty on all charges, it took months for Weldon to get the gun he used to defend himself back from police.
This left him vulnerable to being attacked again and explains why many self-defense experts advise people to own multiple weapons. Weldon wrote about his experience in his book: “The Santa Shooter: Guilty Until Proven Innocent.”
Kourtney Redmond served eight years in the United States Marines and is a certified concealed carry instructor in Illinois. He currently serves as the president of the 761st Gun Club, a group of primarily 150 African American gun owners in the Chicago area. The group focuses on gun education, safety and use of weapons tactics for members.
“There is no real education coming forth on Illinois firearm laws and I think lawmakers here, especially in Black communities, want to keep it that way as much as possible,” Redmond said. “But the truth is Black people are starting to exercise their right to own, carry and use firearms as a means to protect themselves whether politicians like it or not. More people are starting to see through the b.s. lies we have been told about guns.”
Redmond said it is sad that Black people have to be even more careful than their fellow white citizens when they own and are carrying a gun, or they could end up like Weldon or, worse, Castile.
He said in his class, he teaches students how to maintain situational awareness, but to understand as a gun owner, they have a greater responsibility and will be scrutinized for every action, so they must dot their “I’s” and cross their “T’s”.
“I’m so angry about what happened to Philando Castile and others, and the lack of support they got from the NRA and others who are supposed to protect gun owners,” Redmond said.
“We started our group in 2016, and we are part of the Chicago chapter of the National African American Gun Owners Association because we saw a void in firearm education. This is a lifestyle change, so a person must constantly be training and educating themselves because the gun laws vary from state to state and are always changing.
“And for Black people that could come with deadly consequences if you make a mistake or are caught up in a bad situation because ignorance of the law is not an excuse to keep prosecutors and police from coming after you.”
In the case of Roberson, there are varying accounts of what took place. What is known for sure is that a patron at Manny’s Blue Room Lounge in Robbins pulled out a gun and began shooting. Roberson and other security guards responded, and Roberson took the assailant down in the parking lot and was holding him at gunpoint when police arrived.
Witnesses and other security guards reportedly told arriving officers that Roberson was a security guard. The Illinois State Police, which conducted the investigation into the shooting, said the officer gave multiple commands to Roberson to drop his weapon and that he was wearing an all-black outfit that had no identifying markings of him as a member of law enforcement or security. The ISP also took into account the lighting conditions at the time.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s decision to not file criminal charges against Officer Ian Covey, after a nearly two-year investigation, was yet another stark example for legal Black gun owners that the justice system might not work on their behalf.
“I don’t think my son is at peace, because I’m not at peace,” said Roberson’s mother, Beatrice Roberson, last October after it was announced that no charges would be filed against Covey.
Foxx’s office has defended its decision.
“The death of Jemel Roberson is tragically heartbreaking, and while it might feel to some people like justice was not served here, I have both an ethical and legal obligation to make charging decisions based on the law and the evidence,” said Foxx via a press release which angered many, who said she should have had the decency to address the decision at a face-to-face press conference.
In the case of Castile, experts differed on whether the now former officer, Jeronimo Yanez, should have been on the force in the first place.
Yanez broke several basic police standards for a car stop: he never checked the trunk of the Oldsmobile when approaching by placing his hand on it to ensure it was secure, he then stuck his head inside the driver’s side window for reasons still not known and he did not give clear commands to Castile on what he wanted him to do and seemed panicked when Castile told him he was a legal firearm owner and was armed.
Within seconds of receiving that information from a calm Castile, with his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter in the vehicle, Yanez fired seven shots into Castile, killing him.
“The truth of the matter is we have people on the police force who shouldn’t be on the police force,” said the author of “Black Man with a Gun” and former federal officer Kenn Blanchard, who now has his own podcast educating the public about guns.
“If you have a firearm or you scare the wrong people, you’re going to get shot. You’re going to get killed. The perception of the scary Black man still exists in the minds of too many untrained, uninformed or racist officers.”
Despite the possible perils of gun ownership, those who are pro-2nd Amendment said African Americans have to understand those perils but be brave enough to exercise their rights, which far outweigh the possible negative consequences that come with being the victim of a crime.
“It can be dangerous for Black men and women to own guns in this policing environment, and it shouldn’t be, considering that gun ownership is a constitutional right,” said Philip Smith, president and founder of the National African American Gun Association.
“But I see everyday more and more Black citizens willing to exercise this constitutional right because they are fed up with what is going on in their communities and in the society as a whole.”
For Redmond, he said he tries to lead by example when people ask him why he carries a gun with the inherent dangers that might come with it.
Redmond replies that he does not want to see his community living in fear, and he is angry that criminals have taken over many parts of Chicago simply because people are not willing to stand up and protect themselves at the behest of some Black clergy and politicians.
“You can’t keep living in fear,” he said. “I’m mean, I’m a Marine. I’m not scared of anything.”
(Published in the Chicago Crusader Newspaper May 29, 2021)