Why Did a Black Man Get Shot and Killed by Police in Walmart for Carrying an Unloaded Air Rifle in an Open Carry State?
On Wednesday, prosecutors released security footage from the Beavercreek, Ohio, Walmart where 22-year-old John Crawford III was fatally shot by police on August 5. Also on Wednesday, a grand jury decided not to bring charges against Sean Williams, the officer who killed Crawford. This all seems depressingly normal: A black man is dead for little or no reason, everyone agrees it’s a very, very sad thing, and you can’t help but think that he wouldn’t be dead if he were white.
The August 5 incident began when Crawford picked up an air rifle in the store and aimlessly fiddled with it as he spoke on a cell phone to his girlfriend. Unbeknownst to him, police officers Sean Williams David M. Darkow were on the scene after responding to a call from a man named Ronald Ritchie, who told 9-1-1 a black man was waving a gun and pointing it at children. The full surveillance footage does not match up with that account, and Ritchie has now changed his story. The final two minutes of footage show Crawford being seemingly unaware that police were there, as he chats on his phone. And police in turn gave him no time at all to drop the rifle before shooting. Crawford’s last words—heard over the phone by his girlfriend—were “It’s not real!”
Currently, Crawford’s death is being treated as a tragedy by the authorities, but a mostly unavoidable one. According to the grand jury the cops responded appropriately considering what they heard from dispatch—who, Williams’s report says, told them that Crawford was waving around a real gun. Even if Crawford failed to obey their “repeated commands” to drop the weapon, however, the surveillance footage shows that he didn’t have any time to do so before the cops opened up.
Above: Seriously, fuck these guys. Photo via Rex USA
By now, you’ve probably already heard that the Senate voted down a gun control proposal yesterday—actually, they voted down a lot of different proposals, but the one that got the most attention was an amendment, proposed by Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, and Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, that would have essentially mandated background checks for everyone who buys a gun.
The argument for the Toomey–Manchin amendment was pretty easy to explain, even to a child: “Well, Timmy, guns might be tools for hunting, they might be collected and handled safely by millions of hobbyists and enthusiasts, but it’s also really, really easy to kill people if you have a gun—it would be a good idea to make sure that the people who were buying guns weren’t crazy or criminals.” [tousles Timmy’s hair playfully] The arguments against the amendment were mostly that criminals wouldn’t obey the law anyway, that background checks wouldn’t have stopped the Newtown massacre, and that the amendment was actuallytoo pro-gun—all of which would seem to indicate that we need more restrictions on gun ownership, not fewer. As many as 91 percent of Americans supported expanded background checks at one point; if anything had a chance to pass through the world’s greatest deliberative body, it was that piece of mild, mostly symbolic legislation.
That it didn’t pass isn’t an example of cowardice on the part of senators who didn’t vote for it, or some fatal flaw on behalf of its sponsors. It’s just another case of the Senate being cripplingly, pathetically gridlockedand unable to do anything for anyone.
It should be pointed out, repeatedly, that most senators voted for the Toomey–Manchin amendment—54 out of 100—but you need 60 votes to pass anything, and the reasons why are much harder to explain to a child than the reasons for the amendment itself: “You see, Timmy, although the Founding Fathers stipulated that bills could pass either house of Congress by a simple majority, they also put this thing in there that let any senator stall a vote by making a speech, and uhhhh, thanks to a series of procedural reforms enacted over the years, now a senator can just stop a bill by saying no once, and it takes 60 votes to overrule that no. This is good because, um. Fuck you, that’s why. Go play your Xbox.”
Are Anti-Gun Murder Squads Killing Pro-Gun Campaigners? Of Course Not, but That Hasn’t Stopped These Conspiracy Theorists
On January 3, the producer of popular gun-loving YouTube channel “FPS Russia" was found dead in Georgia at his business. Keith Ratliff, 32, was discovered with a single bullet in the back of his head. Scattered around him were various weapons, some of which he’d modified himself. Some early articles also suggested Ratliff had been tied to a chair at some point before he was murdered and then found on a rural road, but those reports now seem to be false.
So far, the motive behind this execution is unclear. The police recently ruled out a burglary gone wrong, due to the fact that nothing was stolen from the scene, but—of course—with Ratliff’s line of work, there are now a few far-flung theories sending gun forums into a frenzy, and whispers that this was an arms deal that turned sour.
An example of the insane weapons and dodgy Russian accents on FPS Russia.
As the producer and business partner at FPS Russia, Ratliff reportedly provided the channel’s host (the guy with the corny fake Russian accent) with most of the rare, powerful weapons and explosives they demonstrate to their 500 million viewers. Getting hold of weapons like the Golden Desert Eagle, an AA-12 automatic shotgun, and a 40mm machine gun is something Ratliff prided himself on. Kitty Wandel, a manager at FPS Russia, commented on this a few days ago, saying: “Keith Ratliff has been with the FPS Russia channel for quite some time now, helping us […] to find almost impossible weapons to use in videos.” Ratliff managed to get most of these “almost impossible weapons” using his Federal Firearms License (FFL).
Now, if we look at various videos on the FPS Russia channel—the firing of an explosive crossbow; theassembly of a DRD Paratus-18, which is an assassin-type “suitcase machine gun;” and even the unloading of a rocket launcher—it’s fair to presume that Ratliff obtained these weapons with his “type 10” FFL connections. This type 10 license allows the owner to “manufacture firearms, ammunition, ammunition components, destructive devices, ammunition for destructive devices, and armor piercing ammunition.” It also permits the owner to deal in all the aforementioned items. The money to be made with one of these licenses is incredible if you have the right kind of connections—someone with a type 11 license, for example.
David W Dyson.
I spoke to David W Dyson, firearms consultant and barrister, about the type 11 FFL and FPS Russia’s extensive arsenal of weapons. He told me:
“Regarding the way in which FPS Russia got hold of the weapons, we know that someone with a type 11 FFL could import them.”
The type 11 allows the import of almost any weapon in the US. With these two connections combined, you can effectively set yourself up as an arms dealer who can import a weapon once and then reproduce or modify it to sell on a large scale. Modifying and designing guns was one of Ratliff’s specialities.
“If someone with a type 11 FFL imported the items [FPS Russia’s guns], and if Ratliff had a type 10 FFL, he could simply buy them from the importer,” says Dyson. “Any supplier trading with the US could be a potential source of the weapons. There seems to be quite a few guns that could have originated in the former Soviet Union, but I think a lot could be US produced.”
There is no specific evidence that Keith Ratliff or FPS Russia are involved in any kind of arms dealing—something I did try to contact them about—but considering the way Keith was killed and his very public connection to guns, it’s a clear possibility that can’t be ignored.
Ratliff was also unhappy about the amount of paperwork you have to get through to own a military assault weapon in America. Speaking on a YouTube video titled “Obama Vows to Ban All Magazine Fed Weapons,” he rants on about how it should be illegal for some people to have guns and not others.
Last week, VICE Style found this hoodie with a built-in holster that the NRA was selling on its website. It’s an item that seems to only appeal to the most insanely paranoid gun-fetishists in America, people who might claim that Trayvon Martin would still be alive if he had been wearing one that fateful night. Or he and George Zimmerman would both be dead. Same difference, right? But that’s only the beginning of the fun, bizarre gun accessories the NRA store has to offer.
Here are a few totally reasonable things you can buy that help you protect yourself (or kill people):
NRA Total Concealment Holster
This holster manages to kill two birds with one phallus-shaped projectile. Because it allows the gun-toter to conceal a pistol right above their junk, it offers a much needed beefing-up of the bulge. And, according to the product description, “It even works on shirtless summer days!” Now, you can finally pack heat poolside! You’ll never lose Marco Polo again.
Tactical Pen (pictured above)
You never know when the time will come for you to stand your ground, which is why it is important to be able to turn a seemingly innocuous object into a serious weapon at a moment’s notice. The Tactical Pen is perfect for everyday writing, but when the shit hits the fan, like when you’re signing a check for a case of beer or putting down your John Hancock on a petition to ban gay marriage, you can turn this writing utensil into a deadly weapon. It is finally true that the pen is mightier than the sword! (The NRA also sells swords.)
Concealed Carry Day Planner
“Oh, hello there, Mr. Threat To My Person. You want to assault me? Let me check my schedule—BLAM! You’re dead now, because I had a gun in my day planner! And my wife said that this thing was a waste of 40 bucks! I can’t wait to see the expression on her face while she cleans the blood off my shoes!”
Leatherette Wrapped Flask
Let’s say you’re drinking out of your flask in the usual places—the movie theater, car, your nephew’s bar mitzvah, wherever—you probably don’t want to get hassled by some uppity usher/state patrolman/rabbi, right? You want to own a flask that says not only are you getting drunk in public, you also might have a gun on you, possibly in your day planner.
An Interview with Rep. Dennis Baxley, the Legislator Responsible for Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law
It’s pretty funny that Rep. Dennis Baxley, the guy who helped push Florida’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law (or Make My Day as its affectionately referred to in other states), is also the owner of several funeral homes across the Sunshine State. Although violent crime has decreased in Florida since Baxter egineered the legislation, that doesn’t necessarily mean less people are getting shot or maimed unlawfully. One of the biggest problems with Stand Your Ground laws and their offshoots, according to some law experts, is that they can deter police from charging assailants in iffy situations, because the law grants immunity to citizens who act in “self defense.” This unfortunate circumstance, coupled with the highly discussed probability of racial prejudice, is one of the reasons George Zimmerman (a guy people keep telling me is Hispanic, even though he has the same last name as Bob Dylan) has yet to be arrested.
However, the Stand Your Ground immunity makes Martin’s case different from those older or lesser-known incidents of unarmed shootings. Justice is being averted here not because the shooter belongs to a the club that is also tasked with solving the crime, but because of this application or misapplication of Stand Your Ground.
Stand Your Ground extends from the Castle Doctrine, which is common law that grants citizens the right to defend their homes with force. The Florida Statutes of Justifiable Force broadens this right outside of the home to apply to altercations anywhere the invidiual in question is rightfully inhabiting at any given time. It also removes the “duty to retreat,” which has always been a caveat to the right of self defense. So, the gist of Stand Your Ground is that, if you feel threatened, as 28-year-old Zimmerman claims he was from the 80 pound-lighter Trayvon, you can “stand your ground” and respond with bullets, regardless of the severity of the threat posed. What you can’t do is go around pursuing people and then shooting them, which is what it appears that Zimmerman did from the evidence circulating in the media. If you want to live in a western staring some asshole who thinks he’s Clint Eastwood, move to Texas please. Then maybe the rest of the country can be at peace, knowing that every piece of garbage with a gun will be shooting other pieces of garbage with guns thus making the world a better place.
Anyhow, I discussed the curious law with Baxley, its legislative, over the phone yesterday and today. I have to say that I was surprised he was so willing to talk. He was genial to me, remorseful for Trayvon and his family, and extremely proud of this work. But is that enough? I’ll let you decide.
How does Stand Your Ground apply to the Trayvon Martin shooting? Well, first of all I want to extend my sympathy to Trayvon’s family. The problem here is not with the right to defend yourself in the Castle Doctrine. What’s happened is not something that is authorized by that statute. The Castle Doctrine itself, I think is a sound principal.