The past week has been a tense one in the U.S., and questions around race, guns, and state power have been asked repeatedly, every night, as the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, continues to develop. But these issues aren’t exclusive to that part of the country, and they take many forms.
One form they’ve taken in Houston recently is the ongoing discussion of whether it’s appropriate for members of the local chapter of Open Carry Texas to march through the Fifth Ward as part of their demonstrations of their support for the rights guaranteed to them by the U.S. and Texas constitutions to openly carry their long-arm rifles.
The Fifth Ward is an historically African-American part of northeast of downtown Houston, and the leadership of Open Carry Texas’ Houston chapter is primarily white. When an initial rally in June, planned on Juneteenth Weekend, was postponed after public outcry, members of the group decided to wait until they’d met with community leaders in the Fifth Ward to hold their demonstration.
Those talks became publicly unproductive last week, as community activist Quannell X met with Open Carry Texas’ David Amad.
Amad pointed out that the group has held demonstrations in numerous parts of the state, in communities with a variety of different demographics, and said that the motivation for visiting the Fifth Ward was no different from the motivation for entering any other neighborhood. He told Click2Houston.com that he’s not blind to the racism that Fifth Ward residents face, either:
“We’ve done 2,000 of these walks that haven’t been in Fifth Ward. It’s not like we just decided, ‘Hey, let’s wave guns around and go to a black neighborhood and do it,'” said Amad.
Amad said the group’s message is simply to educate all Americans about gun rights. He also said he’s seen African-Americans treated differently than whites during similar events where people openly carry weapons in support of the Second Amendment.
“I don’t need a brick to fall out of the sky to tell me that there’s some kind of racism involved, and I don’t like racism,” said Amad.
“The black community has got its butt kicked for quite some time. We’re going there to help with that, to help put a stop to that. Why in the world wouldn’t he want us to come?” said Amad.
That rhetoric doesn’t seem to have sat well with Quannell X, who responded that “If this is about gun rights, we can educate our own people about gun rights.”
Indeed, the fact that Quannell X and his supporters in the New Black Panther Party seem as comfortable with weapons has become another part of the discussion: On social media, Open Carry Texas has decried press coverage that failed to point out that, at the meeting between Amad and Quannell X, the Fifth Ward residents brought semiautomatic weapons, while the Open Carry members were unarmed. If arguments made by Open Carry members in previous demonstrations is to be believed, being in the presence of law-abiding citizens with weapons during the heated debate probably didn’t make them nervous—in fact, should have made them feel safer in the event that a criminal showed up. Regardless, the point from Quannell X that the community there is already familiar with their rights as they relate to firearms is hard to argue.
Still, things have gotten progressively uglier since the rally was postponed: Open Carry’s Facebook page is full of accusations of “race-baiting” and claims that the “real racists” are their critics, with photos highlighting a number of unarmed black men shaking hands and posing with the armed, mostly-white members of Open Carry. (And, as seen above, more than just white people have participated in Open Carry demonstrations.) The organization says that it’s since met with “real community leaders” and will reschedule.
There are, of course, a few ways to consider all of this. Photographs of unarmed black men shaking hands with white men carrying semiautomatic weapons can be illustrations of the fact that enthusiasm for gun rights is extensive and colorblind. Or they could just be images cherry-picked by Open Carry leaders and not necessarily a representative snapshot, so to speak. The fact that Open Carry continues to seek out leaders in the Fifth Ward who might support a rally could be proof that Quannell X and president of Fifth Ward Super Neighborhood No.55, Kathy Blueford-Daniels (who told the group, “Let me just say for the record, we don’t want you here,” according to Click2Houston), have hijacked the conversation for media attention. Or it could be an example of the group shopping around for people in the community who might be more sympathetic to their cause.
In any case, the words “indefinite postponement” might sound like “not gonna happen,” but it really just means that the march is currently unscheduled—Amad tells the Houston Press that they’re figuring out when the rally should take place:
A meeting last week in the Fifth Ward rapidly deteriorated into verbal scrapping while a bevvy of reporters looked on. After that members of the state branch of Open Carry Texas voted to cancel the Fifth Ward rally so they can sit down with some different Fifth Ward leaders to talk things out and see if there’s a better way to handle the whole thing. “We haven’t canceled anything. It’s just been postponed,” Amad insists. “The Fifth Ward leaders recommended that we meet with them in private, away from all the cameras, and then talk about this and see what we can do.”