Never Argue with a Man with a Gun

By Mosley, Walter | Newsweek, April 18, 2012 | Go to article overview

Never Argue with a Man with a Gun


Mosley, Walter, Newsweek


Byline: Walter Mosley

To call a man a 'white man' is racist terminology in itself.

Pretty far back in the 20th century, when the American government was waging an immoral war on Vietnam and conducting illegal campaigns against Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers, along with supporting unfair practices against everyone from Native Americans to women to migrant farm workers--back then I used to get stopped by the police on a regular basis.

I remember one time I was walking down this lonely road with a white friend. We both had long hair and were feeling no pain. It was nighttime, and the desert air felt good to us. A police cruiser pulled up out of nowhere, it seemed. A big policeman got out and pointed his pistol at my groin. He said, "Why did you break into that building over there?"

What was I supposed to say? My father always told me, "Never argue with a man with a gun." Never argue with a policeman, for that matter.

I claimed innocence while imagining explosive castration.

My friend calmly said that he attended the nearby college and that we had been together all night. He didn't show any ID nor did he say what we had been doing. But he was white and that was that. The police left us alone, and I, still feeling pretty good, continued on my walk with my friend.

That was 42 years ago. It wasn't the last time I was stopped. It wasn't the last time I had a gun pulled on me. I have never carried a gun.

It seems like a lot has changed since way back then.

Back then the case of a young black man getting gunned down on the streets of America would not, as a rule, have made the national news. This, I suppose, is a hopeful sign, an indication that even a young so-called black man can be considered to have rights, and might, in some rare moments, take the role of victim in the eyes of the omnipresent (but not omniscient) media.

Back then the governor of a Southern state would not have talked about seeking justice for some nonwhite teenager walking the streets of a gated community. This too, on the surface, seems like the kind of social change one would expect in a nation that has so recently elected its first nonwhite president.

Back then freedom marchers had to go to the site of the crime or injustice to march in front of the homes and businesses of the people who denied the rights of others. Today you can march in New York or California to show your feelings to the peoples of Florida. This demonstrates how the media can allow everyday citizens a platform to express their outrage and even influence decisions made by high-flying officials and their executors.

Back then people believed in the concepts of racial inferiority, the weaker sex, and that ownership increased the moral and political value of the owner. The Trayvon Martin case shows us, at least on the surface of things, that justice can be called for by anyone with some hope of a reply.

Things seem better, but there are serious cracks in the veneer of our progress. Injustices such as the one committed against Trayvon Martin have reared their ugly heads since before Emmett Till's murder in 1955. We have to remember that the recognition of an injustice and public outrage will change nothing until we understand, completely, the issues that bring about these events.

In order to achieve this understanding, we have to deal with exactly whom and what we are calling racist. Most news outlets identify the accused killer, George Zimmerman, as, interchangeably, white, half-white and half-Hispanic, or Hispanic. All these terms have their roots drenched in the lifeblood of racism.

What does the word "Hispanic" mean? Does it mean that a Peruvian (which some sources say is the home of origin of George Zimmerman's mother) cannot be white? Are people born in Spain not white? Are Peruvians and Puerto Ricans the same race? …

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