Attending a Black Guns Matter event

Maj Toure, center, shows one of the attendants how to hold a pistol, with a finger straight and off the trigger, during the Chicago event on Oct. 8. (Photo: Jeannine Cook)

Maj Toure, center, shows one of the attendants how to hold a pistol, with a finger straight and off the trigger, during the Chicago event on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. (Photo: Jeannine Cook)

When a misunderstanding between police and people of color quickly turn deadly, the question about whether or not it’s worth it for them to exercise their right to bear arms presents itself.

A 32-year-old black Minnesota man presented such an example in July after being shot by a police officer during a traffic stop shortly after telling the officer that he had a gun in his car. The man held a concealed carry permit. That story made headlines not because he was killed, but because his girlfriend, who was driving the car, livestreamed the aftermath of the shooting.

“Stay with me. We got pulled over for a busted taillight in the back. And the police — he’s just — he’s covered — he killed my boyfriend. He’s licensed — he’s carry — he’s licensed to carry. He was trying to get out his ID and his wallet out his pocket,” she said, as the entire world watched Philando Castile struggle through his final moments.

In the video, Castile held his torso as blood pushed out his wound and soaked into his shirt, his head rolled back as he suffered, and as life slowly left his body, the policeman kept his gun trained on him as he yelled orders.

Castile’s story was a theme at the Black Guns Matter event in Chicago this month. The group’s founder, Maj Toure, presented his analysis of the incident to an audience of about 30 people. The event was part of a tour to spread a pro-gun message to communities in cities often plagued by crime and violence.

Black Guns Matter has been making headlines not just because of its provocative title that, at first glance, seems to counter the national movement Black Lives Matter, an emphatic group that protests normalizing extrajudicial killings of black youths. On the contrary, the group has ideas that align with that movement but also promoting a pro-gun lifestyle as a means to protect oneself from violence in inner city communities. Their plan? Explain the basics of firearms and gun safety.

Minista Jones, right, discussed firearm safety during the presentation with Maj Toure in Chicago on Oct. 8. (Photo: Jeannine Cook)

Minista Jones, right, discussed firearm safety during the presentation with Maj Toure in Chicago on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. (Photo: Jeannine Cook)

The group hosted the Chicago event at a massive Salvation Army-sponsored recreational facility, the Kroc Center. As kids played on slides and splashed in pools, rec teams played against one another on basketball courts routinely sponsored by the city’s beloved Bulls.

Halfway down the hall toward the church, along the polished wooden floors, Toure and his colleague Minista Jones delivered their presentation on guns.

Toure opened by providing an interpretation of the Second Amendment shared by many pro-gun advocates giving more weight to the operative clause than the prefatory. While objective in tone, interjections were permissive of gun ownership but stopped short of declaring it a necessity.

“You are responsible for your protection,” Toure said, summarizing his theme to an audience likely already receptive to the message.

While their intended lesson — to cover the basics of firearms and safety protocols — was clearly displayed on the projection screen, the conversation transformed into a philosophical forum about guns that touched on topics ranging from practical to, well, something else.

Question: “Should I announce that I own a gun?”

Answer: “Be discreet.”

Q: “Should I open carry?”

A: “If you’re comfortable with it (and your state permits it).”

Q: “Do women lack the strength to rack a slide?”

A: “Whoever told you that is a chauvinist.”

But Castile’s story and hypothetical scenarios like it drove portions of the message. Toure calls himself a walking contradiction because as a 20-something black man from Philadelphia he doesn’t fit the demographics known for subscribing to pro-gun ideology and filling the ranks of its advocacy efforts. Personal demographics aside, he’s one of the few to venture into minority communities to sincerely address issues of crime and violence — issues his organization says are often discussed but largely ignored by the political class.

“Now I wasn’t in that car — I wasn’t — but in my mind, if (Castile) made a furtive move and that officer is jumpy — they are jumpy — I want to go home. I’d rather be right and alive. We got to make sure we’re also tying that within the cultural context, too,” Toure said. “That part is very important. It ensures the officer has perception of control over the situation because your actions actually have control over it.”

He called the “perception of control” a critical component for police interactions. “By me asking the question and letting this officer give me the directive, that puts him at ease,” Toure said, adding, “It’s an extra step, but it eases everybody.”

But there’s a flip side, as Jones would elaborate. Her role in the forum, as she would describe it, was deescalation and conflict resolution.

“We can do everything in our power, but we still cannot dictate what’s going on in that (other) person’s mind,” she said. “So an additional step to that is ‘yes’ you wanna make sure that in our control we’re doing everything that we can, but there are actually implicit biases that are happening that we are very aware of.”

She added, “We (as a community) want to make sure that we’re doing the work that needs to be done in order to change and support that proper training is happening on the other side as well.”

They advised avoiding conflicts by learning legal requirements for declaring possession of a firearm to law enforcement, when necessary. Building on the “perception of control” concept, they said understanding the rules would ensure confidence and steer an engagement toward a safe outcome.

“Let me be very clear about this. I have a lot of friends that are law enforcement. … They deserve to make it home to their family. I am going to make it home to my family,” Toure said. “Because you’re the officer and you decided to break the code of conduct of professionalism and those things does not give you the right to try to kill me. If it’s between you and me and I’m maintaining a standard, I am going home. Period. I am going home.”

What each audience member walked away with after the two-and-a-half hours of instruction is unclear. Most of the 30 or so people in attendance were receptive to the ideas and many already seemed to subscribe to the ideology. Of the entire group, two admitted through a show of hands of being pure novices on the topic of guns.

By the end, one of the novices, Aldeshun Wilson, who lives on Chicago’s south side, still had questions, but overall seemed satisfied with having participated in the dialogue.

“I wanted to learn about guns — how to hold them, shoot them — because I didn’t even know you’re not supposed to put your finger on the trigger, so — I mean, I would’ve killed somebody right there,” he said, referring to a moment during the presentation when Toure handed him a blue plastic training pistol.

Yet, Wilson said attending the event really hadn’t changed his perspective. “I wasn’t naive. I know what’s going on in the world. I just wanted to learn how to shoot a gun,” he said, adding he would like to take the necessary steps to get a concealed carry permit.

“Will I carry a gun around? Maybe sometimes. I’m not too sure. But I want to get comfortable with it because right now I’m not really comfortable with it,” he said.

For more information on Black Guns Matter, check out the group’s website or Facebook page. The next event on the tour will take place in Atlanta on Nov. 11.

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