OPINION: Public gun toting in black and white — and when blues see red

Trevan Young protesting in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Later, he was arrested for having a disassembled AR-15 in his backpack. Photo from Young’s lawyer, McCracken Poston.

Back in April 2014, George Chidi, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution alum who has gone on to politics and activism, put out a call for black gun owners to engage with him in a social experiment.

As he later explained it: “Let’s take two groups of guys with guns through a nondescript walk somewhere public. No flashy firearms — leave the ready-slung AR-15 at home — just men at the mall, or on the subway, legally carrying Glocks on their hip, or perhaps shotguns on their backs, as a test of the reaction of local law enforcement and the public.

“Now, let’s make the first group white guys and the second black guys. Dress one group in business casual, the second in Five Points formal. A week later, switch clothes and go again.”

Yes, he said, he was serious.

Chidi said the brainchild came to him after The Guardian, an English newspaper, asked him to write about Georgia's newly passed "Guns Everywhere Bill," which allowed Georgians to legally carry firearms in a wide range of places, including schools, bars, churches and government buildings.

The English news media have always been enamored about us colonists and our love for firepower, a fascination that goes back a couple of centuries.

But Chidi called off his grand experiment after seeing a number of shootings, including a black man killed by police in an Ohio Walmart while carrying a toy gun he grabbed from the shelf. The study was just too dangerous.

A month ago, he thought of resuscitating the idea after seeing white guys with big guns rallying at state capitols. Again, he was talked out of it.

Well, last week, the black-versus-white inequality of bearing a firearm in public played out in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Only this was no social experiment. It was real life.

On June 1, Army veteran Trevan Young, a 29-year-old computer analyst who is black, was carrying a sign and protesting in Chattanooga when a police officer approached, calling for him to stop. A video of the encounter shows Young backing up as the officer tugs on his arm while half a dozen other cops quickly pile on top of him, bringing him to the pavement as he screams, "I didn't do anything!"

According to court documents, police said someone saw a black man with an AR-15 heading to the protests. Police found a disassembled rifle in Young’s backpack and two loaded magazines.

"This arrest likely prevented what could have been a very tragic situation," Chattanooga police said in a news release.

He was charged with resisting arrest, unlawful possession of a weapon and disorderly conduct and was released on $8,000 bond.

Protesters in Chattanooga, Tennessee, were unnerved to spot a dude with a rifle staring down at them. Police photo

A couple of nights later, near the Chattanooga Choo Choo, protesters spotted a bearded guy armed with a semi-automatic weapon standing atop a building and peering down at them. Police arrived and found Kevin Leko, 35, with a bag with a gun sticking out of it. He was ordered to the ground and complied. Police found a loaded AK-47, two 9 mm pistols and a revolver, all loaded. Police say that he, too, was loaded.

Leko, who is white, was charged with possession of a firearm while under the influence and bonded out for a mere $3,000.

According to court records, he told police, “He got home and had some beers and was watching the news of the riots again, making him increasingly anxious and in fear.”


» COMPLETE COVERAGE: ATLANTA PROTESTS


McCracken Poston, a former Georgia legislator who is representing Young, said: “Chattanooga police have done a great job responding to the protests. But they botched this. His AR-15 was disassembled and in his backpack. I see people walk around with AR-15s all the time and nothing happens. If he wanted to shoot the place up, he could have. He didn’t.”

“It was a completely different reaction,” Poston added, referring to how the police treated Leko, the white suspect. “It’s an interesting disparity. His (Young’s) gun never got out of his backpack; it never got assembled — except when police took it out and assembled it for a photo op.”

Poston said police have searched Young’s home and impounded his car and some electronic equipment, apparently looking for ties to crazy or sinister people.

Chief David Roddy, who has spoken out harshly about the Minneapolis cop who killed George Floyd, said at a press conference that Chattanooga police "received a credible tip from a community member that we had an individual coming down into the demonstration armed with a rifle with an intent to possibly do harm to people attending that event," according to The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Who called in and what was their true level of fear? Who knows. I suppose any dude walking into a Taco Bell with an AR-15 slung around his shoulder could draw such calls. I mean, who can tell the good guy with an AR-15 from a bad guy with an AR-15 until the bullets start flying. They are good props in the war of public opinion.

Recent sightings of black guys — and a lady — with big guns at protests around Atlanta have caused a media stir, especially with the Brits. "Armed female Black Panther leads her comrades including a white recruit on a march through Georgia," the Daily Mail breathlessly reported.

And The Sun gushed, "BROTHERS IN ARMED | Gun-wielding female Black Panther leads protesters on march through Atlanta to 'protect Black Lives Matter rally.'"

The black-clad mysterious woman told the media she was from the New Black Panther Party, causing the New Black Panthers to have a conniption. She and her comrades apparently are not part of the group. I suppose they are the Even Newer and Improved Black Panther Party.

The NOT “New Black Panthers” toting their firepower at a recent protest in Decatur. Photo by RYON HORNE / AJC

"This little group she's leading (is) most likely for U.S government on the FBI payroll as a agent on agenda that looks and sounds crazy as hell," Hasim Nzinga, the real New Black Panther Party's leader, posted on Facebook. "We have no white membership and don't even think about it."

Actually, it seems Nzinga might be wrong. It’s even weirder. The unnamed “Panthers” are not FBI spies, it seems they may be actors — photogenic extras posing as revolutionaries, according to some Twitter sleuths.

Interestingly, original Black Panther Bobby Seale, who was unnerving white folks in the 1960s while carrying guns, has dismissed the New BPs as "nothing but some negative crap." The Southern Poverty Law Center goes further, calling them an extremist group.

During the 2018 governor's election, Nzinga and his group got some ink as they stood in public, armed and stumping for Democrat gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. The move drew a rebuke from another notable in the arms race — her Republican opponent, Brian "Shotgun" Kemp.

In 2018, the Atlanta chapter of the New Black Panther Party posted this picture on Facebook of members carrying weapons while campaigning for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. The Republican candidate, Brian Kemp, shared the photos on his social media accounts the next day. (Facebook)

In Other News