Three days later, I’m still thinking about the lady with the gun.
The thing happened on June 26, as I was embedded with the protest group known as the Three, who spent most of the afternoon shutting down Friendly Center in Greensboro with marches, street takeovers and other acts of disruption in service to Black Lives Matter.
We’ve been covering these protests for a while now, and each has moments that stick with us, small points on the narrative arc that grab us, pull us along.
That day I saw retail workers come out of their shops, fists raised in solidarity. I saw a young, Black organizer interact with an older woman stuck in her car in a moment so affecting it ended in cathartic tears. I saw Harris Teeter set out water for 40 or so occupying protesters, and allow their employees to take part. I saw a car muscle through a line of bicycle protesters near Ben & Jerry’s, where the #BLM crew had just gotten free ice cream.
I saw cops in riot gear and weaponized bicycles, as well as the LRAD sonic disruption device — a non-chemical form of crowd control — mounted atop a police vehicle and pointed right at us. I saw so much anger and passion on the faces of protestors, rage and fear all around.
Rage and fear.
I never saw the gun. This was when the group had taken over the intersection at Northline Avenue just outside the Green Valley Road entrance, that incorporates the West Wendover exit. Traffic had backed up about a dozen cars or so on the ramp, and some of the protestors marched down to Wendover, past the growing line of cars, chanting and taunting as they went.
Then one of the organizers shouted, “We got a gun!”
It was a white woman, just a couple clicks up the generational ladder from me. According to an organizer, she took out a pistol and placed it on the seat next to her, making sure that everyone who passed her car saw it.
The protestors seemed surprised. “We don’t got no guns,” one shouted. But they went their way and, eventually, the lady with the gun went hers. It was just a footnote, really, one of a thousand such brushstrokes that make the picture, and ultimately inconsequential to the story.
So why do I keep thinking about the lady with the gun, what she thought was going to happen, what she would have done if it did?
I read an article in the Washington Post in 2014 referencing a study about relationships between white people and Black people, and also a quote from Chris Rock:
“All my black friends have a bunch of white friends. And all my white friends have one black friend.”
But it’s a bit worse than Rock’s anecdotal evidence implies.
This study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that more than 75 percent of US white people don’t have any Black friends — nor any Asian or Latinx people in their friend circles.
Astonishing. But revealing.
Maybe the lady with the gun doesn’t know any Black people? Maybe all she’s seen are looting videos? Maybe she was unable to discern between emphatic political protesters and a roving gang of marauders set on dragging ladies from their cars?
And maybe I shouldn’t be making excuses for her.
Because, when faced with an energetic group of young people using their time to bend the arc of justice, her first instinct was not to reflect on the injustices they may have experienced and witnessed, or listen to their message, or even drop it into Park and turn on the radio.
Instead she reached for her gun.
And the protest went on, undaunted.