They call themselves the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, named after the co-founder of the Black Panther Party For Self Defense. Like the defunct organization which called for reform of community policing, demanding that police come from the neighborhoods they serve, the Huey P. Newton Gun Club says they are marching “to promote self-defense and community policing” in response to the recent high profile stories about police shooting unarmed African Americans across the country.
To the protesters, “community policing” is more than just a word. Communities should be protected by members of the community, and held accountable. Ironically this was the original vision for community policing, articulated in 1812 by Sir Robert Peel. That’s right, it may surprise many to discover that our communities have only had police as we know them for a little over 200 years. Even then, it took a little while for Peel’s concept of police forces to make its way to the United States. Since then it has become a norm that many cannot imagine a time before.
In Texas, the Huey P. Newton Gun Club are following in the footsteps of Newton, who was a law major, striving to stay within the bounds of legality. Though the historical Black Panthers had a notable slip-up which led to then Governor Ronald Reagan signing the Mulford Act which prohibited carrying loaded guns in public space. The goal of the Panthers, as they explained it, was to assert the rights of the people to defend themselves against corrupt police, within the bounds of the law. The Huey P. Newton Gun Club says that’s exactly what they are doing today with their open carry protests.
Police have kept a close eye on the protesters, while also trying to keep their distance. One officer we talked to said “there’s really nothing we can do about it. Open carry protests are not against the law.”
Others refused to comment.
As the open carry protesters marched down MLK Boulevard and Malcolm X Boulevard chanting “justice for Michael Brown,” the unarmed African American teenager shot and killed by police in suburban St. Louis town of Ferguson, police looked uneasy.
Since that first protest, the Huey P. Newton Gun Club has hit the streets again. They say “black open carry is here to stay.”
Far from being focused only by the Mike Brown shooting, the Huey P. Newton Gun Club says that their goal is “to shed light on local shootings by police.”
“We think that all black people have the right to self-defense and self-determination,” said Huey Freeman, the organizer of one of this Fall’s marches. “We believe that we can police ourselves and bring security to our own communities.”
Freeman said Wednesday’s marchers planned to patronize several South Dallas businesses to keep their money in the community and teach their neighbors about their “right to self-defense.” The group says that they are here to educate people about their rights, and to defend against illegal violence perpetrated by rogue officers or even drug dealers.
Many passers-by honked and waved in support. Most were African American, but many were Caucasian and Latino.
“We need to arm ourselves, not to attack anybody, but in self-defense,” an open carry protester said. “We can’t let people just come into our community, whether they are law enforcement or not, and just gun our people down and there is no accountability.”
Dallas police officers appeared to follow the demonstrators in unmarked police cars. Toward the beginning of the 90-minute demonstration, a couple of police cars temporarily blocked off MLK Boulevard so the protesters could safely cross the street.
Christina Smith, acting commander of the Police Department’s strategic deployment bureau, explained “it is standard protocol for non-uniformed officers to be present at all scheduled protests/rallys in order to protect the rights of the demonstrators as well as other citizens.”
Protester Charles Goodson, said “I would rather them not be here because there are many issues going on here with regards to police brutality. But, at the same time, if it helps the community by seeing the police here or makes people more comfortable, then that’s fine.”
“The end goal is to establish the situation where all black people in every community are armed,” Darren Ecks, an open carry protester with the group said. “They’re ready to do self-defense, not just against the police department, but against drug dealers or against anybody that would bring harm to the communities.”
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