They’d Be Dead If They Were Black

Pete Trumbore questions the inherent police bias against black US citizens. Professor Peter Trumbore blogs @ Observations / Research / Diversions.
They’d be dead if they were black(Updated)

NBC News photo

Does anybody really believe that if a gang of black men strolled into the middle of the protests in Ferguson, MO, wearing camo, body armor, and carrying high-powered semiautomatic rifles they’d be greeted by local law enforcement with the open arms and camaraderie that were extended to the Oath Keepers?

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Oath Keepers are an anti-government self-proclaimed citizen militia, a “Patriot” group founded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, an Army veteran and graduate of Yale Law School. The group is a …

… rapidly growing organization comprised mostly of active-duty police and military, as well as veterans, who fret about things like gun control and the much-feared “New World Order.” Members swear (a second time) to uphold their oath to the Constitution and not to obey orders they think conflict with that. Among those orders (10 “Orders We Will Not Obey” are listed on the Oath Keepers website): Imposing martial law or a state of emergency on a state, and forcing those who resist into detention camps.

As the Guardian newspaper reported, at the same time the Oath Keepers were openly displaying their paramilitary firepower:

a group of at least three black men who were standing by a car next to a hair salon on West Florissant Avenue were arrested after a phalanx of St Louis County police surged towards them, using pepper spray and batons. A spokesman for police department told the Guardian by email on Tuesday that officers had received information “that the occupants or folks near that vehicle were possibly armed with handguns”.
But the spokesman later confirmed that none of those arrested during the swoop were in possession of any weapons.

Call me naive, but if the Oath Keepers were black I doubt we would have seen them standing shoulder to shoulder with local police. We instead would have seen a firefight and a bloodbath on the streets of Ferguson.

And the cops would have been the first to pull the trigger.

Vox has an explainer up on the Oath Keepers, including a list of the 10 “Orders We Will Not Obey”:
  1. We will NOT obey orders to disarm the American people.
  2. We will NOT obey orders to conduct warrantless searches of the American people.
  3. We will NOT obey orders to detain American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” or to subject them to military tribunal.
  4. We will NOT obey orders to impose martial law or a “state of emergency” on a state.
  5. We will NOT obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty.
  6. We will NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.
  7. We will NOT obey any order to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext.
  8. We will NOT obey any orders to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on US soil against the American people to “keep the peace” or to “maintain control.”
  9. We will NOT obey any orders to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies.
  10. We will NOT obey any orders which infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.


  1. I dont think you have a case.Many Black Panther rallies where they carry giant rifles are/were untouched, even during the civil rights disturbances (In fact was it not Huey Newton that discovered the open carry loophole in law initially?).

    Do you see any issue with the Oath Keepers stated aims Peter? They hold Governments in the contempt they deserve. It seems to make people uncomfortable when old white men do it.

  2. Daithi, I disagree. First on the Panthers. During the 1960s the NRA was a strong advocate of gun control. And Ronald Reagan, while governor of California, in 1967 signed one of the country's most restrictive gun control policies, the Mulford Act, in direct response to the Panthers openly carrying firearms at rallies in his state.

    You can read about this history here:

    As for the stated aims of the Oath Keepers, yes, I do have real issues. They are one of a number of groups on the far right of the America political spectrum which can be defined as anti-government "patriot" groups, who believe that the US government is the enemy of the people. Follow the links in the piece to read up on them.

  3. Thanks Peter, I didn't claim they were welcomed, just that it hadn't resulted In the shoot out your logic claimed would occur, at a more tense time. I'm quite interested in the 'posse raised by a sheriff' model of law enforcement, given the routine unlawful practices of those tasked with upholding it presently. It becomes a community effort, with no standing paramilitary force to infringe on a persons liberty. The current enforcement model is another indicator that not all progress is by default positive.

  4. I will have to agree to disagree. I think in the political climate we have in the States today, it would have been suicidal for a group of African Americans to walk uninvited into a very tense confrontation with police armed the way the Oath Keepers were. If memory serves, the last time police in the U.S. were challenged by armed, politicized African Americans, it resulted in police dropping a bomb on a Philadelphia row house. Eleven people, including five children, were killed in the ensuing blaze, and 65 houses in the neighborhood were destroyed as fire crews stood by, having been given instructions to let the fire burn. That was 1985.

  5. No problemo Peter, its all hypothetical and judgement calls anyway. Just as an aside, I think styling the IRA as a patriotic Republican militia rather than some Government in exile is a sounder concept these days, and does not deligitimise what it sees as its purpose and function.(With the caveat this rebranding could only come from themselves.)

  6. Daithi,

    Looks like we may get a chance to see just how hypothetical this discussion really is. The Oath Keepers have plans to go back to Ferguson, and to arm 50 black residents with AR-15s for a protest march. I've written a piece on this for my blog:

  7. Ebony and ivory and AR-15s . It's how communities are meant to coexist.