But there’s another frightening election scenario I dread as a Black man — and that few people seem to be talking about.
It’s what happens if an armed Black person clashes with an armed White person at a protest and bullets start flying.
Images of such a confrontation could upend the presidential race, hobble Black Lives Matter and undo much of the White support for racial justice that surged during the George Floyd protests this summer.
Such a scenario may seem implausible, but it’s only a camera click away because of two trends.
What happens if these two movements collide?
Why more Black people are buying guns
One of their members grabbed a megaphone and called for a showdown with White vigilante groups.
The leader of the NFAC did not respond to an interview request from CNN.
Not all of these Black groups are challenging White vigilante groups. Many say they formed for a variety of reasons: to protect protesters, to assert their Second Amendment rights and to guard their communities against corrupt police officers as well as White supremacists.
One member said that Black people “can’t just sit there when your family gets murdered or people get murdered.”
Michael “Killer Mike” Render, a hip-hop artist and activist, captured some of this mounting anxiety in the Black community when he recently urged Blacks to embrace their Second Amendment rights. Render released a statement addressed to Black people in which he said, “the only person you can count on to protect yourself and your family is you.”
“I put this statement out because the police cannot always get to you on time, and the world is not a just place,” Render said. “We cannot assume that everyone who wears a police uniform is just and fair.”
I’ve heard similar attitudes in conversations with friends and family members. A Black pastor shocked me when he told me he was thinking of getting a gun because of rising racism, and so were many of his fellow pastors. A friend recently told me he’s stocked up on guns because he’s seen more White, self-styled paramilitary groups in public.
“I ain’t going back to slavery,” he said during a phone call.
The Black right to bear arms
Black people turning to guns amid rising racial tensions is nothing new. Black newspapers in the late 19th century encouraged Black gun ownership to protect their readers against White vigilantes. Black leaders such as Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells armed themselves.
“I do worry that the movement will be derailed by the wrong image,” she said, “an image that many people are quite frankly waiting to see so they can say, ‘I know we shouldn’t have supported this.'”
Others could use a similar image to swing a presidential race. It’s happened before.
The ad implied that Bush’s opponent, Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, was soft on crime. Bush won in a landslide.
One image of violence could wipe out years of racial progress
But one powerful image of a Black person wielding a gun could wipe out much of those gains. Just as the George Floyd video sparked a movement, the wrong video could grind it to a halt.
And the context of such a video may not matter. Many Black people only have to consider some notorious recent cases of police violence to conclude the Second Amendment doesn’t apply to them.
Philando Castile, a Black man, was legally carrying a concealed weapon when he was shot to death by police during a traffic stop in 2016 near Minneapolis. Atatiana Jefferson, a Black woman in Fort Worth, Texas, was shot to death by police in her home last year after she pulled a gun from her purse one night after hearing a noise in her backyard.
And Breonna Taylor was killed by police in Louisville after her boyfriend, who was legally armed, shot at officers after they forced their way into her apartment one night with a no-knock warrant. Taylor’s boyfriend said he didn’t know they were police because they didn’t identify themselves, though police maintain they did.
“We’ve tried to practice our Second Amendment rights, but we see that we can’t do what they can do,” said Richardson, author of “Bearing Witness,” referring to White gun owners.
This double standard is why I dread what could happen if a Black man did what a White teenager is accused of doing in August in Kenosha, Wisconsin: shooting three White demonstrators, two of them fatally, at a public protest.
I suspect the reaction would be different if that teenager was a young Black man.
The backlash could be even worse now
The recent shooting in Compton, California, could have a similar impact. On September 12 an unknown person ambushed and seriously wounded two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies as they sat in their patrol car. Surveillance video caught images of the shooting, but the race of the shooter is unclear.
Several relatives and friends called me afterwards, expressing the same sentiment I hear after every high-profile shooting: “God, I hope he ain’t Black.”
Today, the backlash could be even worse. President Trump has used racist language to mobilize his base. Drivers are plowing into crowds of peaceful protesters. Some now warn the country is “spiraling toward political violence” that threatens democracy itself.
I’m not asking that responsible Black gunowners disarm.
Cottrol, the historian, says Black people shouldn’t abandon their Second Amendment rights over concerns about how some White people may react. He asks, “Are you going to make your right to stay alive contingent on the perception of others?”
I’m apprehensive about another question:
What happens if a Black vigilante group issues a challenge, but this time there’s a White vigilante group that’s willing to accept?