Vigilante Justice and the Second Amendment
On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer Darren Wilson. A year later, the Ferguson community commemorated the first anniversary of the incident. Most did so of peacefully. But by dusk looting and a pitched gun battle ensued. Less than 24 hours later a militia of men in bulletproof vests and camouflage gear, armed with semi automatic assault rifles descended upon the city. They moved as if in a war zone, adding even more drama to an already volatile scene, compelling the community to endure the uninvited presence of the Oath Keepers. See www.msnbc.com/msnbc/oath-keepers-armed-guns-roam-streets-ferguson.
Founded in 2004 by Stewart Rhodes, a former U.S. Army paratrooper, Yale Law School graduate and fierce libertarian, Oath Keepers is composed of former military personnel, police and first responders. Claiming to have more than 30,000 members the group bills itself as defenders of the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
However, the Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Oath Keepers as a “fiercely anti-government, militaristic group”. Following the deadly attack on a naval reserve center in Chattanooga, Tennessee the founder issued a blistering critique of the Pentagon for failing to allow armed servicemen at recruitment centers. In response he told his members to “take up station where they could; to “go armed, at all times, as free men and women, and be ready to do sudden battle, anywhere, anytime, and with utter recklessness. That is the price of freedom”, he concluded.
Earlier this year Stewart said that “Senator John McCain should be tried for treason and hung by the neck until dead for going along with the program of the destruction of this country” and he once referred to Hillary Clinton as “Hitlery”. See http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/michael-brown-shooting/oath-keepers-turn-michael-brown-protests-ferguson-missouri-n407696.
Several Ferguson protesters took exception to the presence of the militia complaining of white privilege and asking why the group was allowed to openly carry weapons. “I’m happy that we’re able to defend ourselves. It’s been our right for a long time” one Keeper replied. See http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/michael-brown-shooting/oath-keepers-turn-michael-brown-protests-ferguson-missouri-n407696. Perhaps!
But it is important to note that if Oath Keepers were in danger, it was only because they voluntarily and unilaterally placed themselves in harm’s way. It was not invited to the City of Ferguson and none were residents of the community. They owned no property there, were not acting under color of law and had no legal authority to act as law enforcement for a community that was not their own.
Nor were they needed. Local law enforcement had the situation well in hand. As St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar rightfully surmised, their presence was “both unnecessary and inflammatory.”
And this was not their first time in Ferguson. In November of 2014, when a St. Louis grand jury refused to indict Officer Wilson, the group perched atop rooftops in the Old Ferguson business district, their military assault weapons locked and loaded.
The Oath Keepers as well as any one else has the fundamental right to bear arms, travel where they wish or peacefully assemble. Nonetheless, as we have noted in the past, no constitutional right is absolute.
None are permitted flame throwers, guided missiles or land mines under the rubric of the Second Amendment. Hence, the State can impose reasonable time, manner and place restrictions on the right to bear arms, especially where there is a declared state of emergency.
This is therefore not a matter of self-defense or the good faith exercise of a constitutional right. Rather, this is an example of vigilante justice under the guise of the 2nd Amendment. This is the intimidation of the Ferguson community as well as local law enforcement via the blatant display of military grade firepower and the willingness to use it. Worse, it is a sad but indelible part of American history.
During the white race riots of the mid 1800’s to the mid 1900’s, most notably the destruction of the Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, armed vigilantes also roamed the streets of African-American communities. They too perched atop rooftops, within darkened alleys and waited in ambush. And there too law enforcement did not confiscate the firearms of the vigilantes. They instead disarmed community residents leaving them defenseless against their tormentors. See “A Report by the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921”: http://www.okhistory.org/research/forms/freport.pdf.
We do not argue that there were no legitimate security concerns in Ferguson. There were. And but for the looting and violence neither the police, Oath Keepers nor any other military force would have had a reason or pretense to be there in the first place. This is a lesson the African-American community must learn.
We also wish that race was not involved here. But it is what it is. A white male Ferguson protestor said it best when he yelled, “only a white man can get away with this. Can you imagine if a black man came looking like this, walking this way? What do you think would happen to him? He wouldn’t be left alone like you are.” See www.msnbc.com/msnbc/oath-keepers-armed-guns-roam-streets-ferguson.
In conclusion, for some, possession of a firearm is believed to be the legitimate exercise of a constitutional right. Even when said right is abused, it is presumed to be evidence of a mental illness rather than evil intent.
But for others, possession of a firearm is cause for alarm. Minorities in particular are viewed as armed and dangerous thugs/criminals (blacks), illegal aliens (Hispanics) and/or terrorist (Muslims). And as to these groups, the majority is not satisfied with the constitutional right defense.
There is a real and material difference as to how society interprets the right to bear arms. This difference depends in large part on who is holding the gun.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum