What Could Possibly Go Wrong
When self selected vigilantes assaulting armed strangers in public spaces?
Consider this incident:
According to the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office, [African-American] 62-year-old Clarence Daniels was entering Walmart with his legally concealed firearm to buy coffee creamer on Tuesday when he was spotted by 43-year-old vigilante Michael Foster.
Foster, who is white, had observed Daniels conceal the weapon under his coat before he came into the store. When Daniels crossed the threshold, Foster tackled him and placed him in a chokehold…
Florida, Jake…but at least the worst outcomes were avoided:
He’s got a gun!” Foster reportedly exclaimed.
“I have a permit!” Daniels repeatedly shouted back.
After a struggle, the men were separated. Deputies later arrived and Foster was charged with battery.
So: no one died. Good.
A couple of thoughts, though: (a) what kind of asshole do you have to be to decide that you want to walk around looking for folks to bash based on whether they look hinky to you? B) if it’s really all about guns, then what’s going to keep you from going all George Zimmerman at any point in the drama? That this ended with neither the victim nor the self-appointed asshole on a gurney is just a signal that FSM was dangling its noodly appendage down Hillsborough way that day, nothing more.
The most obvious take away is, of course, that this couldn’t possibly be about race because (nods to Charlie Pierce) it’s never about race. Except…
Again, I see it as a near miracle that the legal gun owner who happened to be black is still alive right now. The white vigilante is lucky too, certainly — jumping a guy with a gun is not a long-term health strategy — but we’ve seen too much lately of what even the merest hint that an African American man or kid! might be armed does to their odds.
But I want to point out the essential current here, the unifying thread that runs through all of these incidents, the tragedies and the bathetic ones alike. That’s fear, brought on by the worship of the gun. How on earth is vigilante-ism even a thing in 2015 America? It’s because the toxic combination of racial and class politics and unlimited arsenals produce terror and rage in equal and toxic admixture.
Worst of all is then how normal this all seems to those in the midst of it. Consider this advice:
“The Sheriff’s Office recommends that vigilante-inclined citizens refrain from taking matters into their own hands, especially when an incident is gun-related,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.
McKinnon said that vigilantes should “make sure there’s a good reason” before tackling gun owners.
In the end the fact that actual bad guys do not in fact carry neon signs to identify them (no Poor Impulse Control tattoos yet) means that, well, it’s a target rich environment.
“Unfortunately he tackled a guy that was a law-abiding citizen,” McKinnon noted. “We understand it’s alarming for people to see other people with guns, but Florida has a large population of concealed weapons permit holders.”
In other words: be careful out there. Someone, soon, is going to get killed in one of these stunts. And once again the tree of liberty will be watered with the blood of someone just going about their business, or a kid who happens to be in the next aisle when the stray shot comes home or…
Not to mention, except I will, again: the racial element here. White guys chasing black guys they fear is an old trope in American life. It’s with us still. Video at eleven.
PS: I’m totally with Bryant Gumbel here.
Image: F. Balbi, The head of a man composed of writhing nude figures, poss. 1868.