African Americans are presumed guilty until proven innocent

(NNPA) – The story is nothing short of remarkable. In one instant it told us more about the United States than any number of documentaries. Sherry McLain, a 67-year-old White woman from Tennessee, was loading her car in a Walmart parking lot. James Crutchfield, a 52-year-old Black man, approached her seeking a light for a cigarette. McLain pulled a gun on Crutchfield allegedly fearing for her life. She later stated that she had never been more afraid.

Crutchfield is quite lucky to be alive. McLain was, interestingly enough, arrested, though she protested that this was unfair and that Crutchfield was the problem.

In reading about the case, I found myself thinking about the manner in which it illustrated so much about the reinforcement of racism. Cameras that filmed the incident apparently indicated no evidence of aggression on the part of Crutchfield, yet McLain felt that she was well within her rights to pull a weapon on an unarmed man.

The McLain incident reminds us that in the United States, the presumption of guilt always hangs over the head of those of us of the darker persuasion. About a year ago I was driving through South Carolina on my way to a conference in Myrtle Beach. I said to my wife that there were certain places along the route where I would fear breaking down, not because they were cell phone dead zones, but because they were White areas and that I would fear for my life knocking on the door of some resident in order to seek help. While some would consider this paranoia, you only have to remember the tragic killing of Renisha McBride in Michigan for doing just that. Her car apparently broke down and she knocked on the door of a White man for help, only to receive a bullet as a reply.

It is not just that incidents such as the McLain vs. Crutchfield run-in, or the killing of McBride are unjust and tragic. These incidents flow from the deeply held view among so many Whites that Black people are dangerous, volatile and prone to violence. It is a notion that is rooted in slavery and the fear that the White population held that the slave might someday revolt and bring violent revenge upon Whites for the oppression we have suffered. This fear has existed wherever there has been slavery and/or colonialism. The fear of the Black; the fear of the Native American; the fear of the Asian; the fear of the Latino. In each case we are portrayed as unscrupulous and as wild as the worst animal, ready to pounce upon a White at a moment’s notice.

This is what is truly at the core of the gun debate. It has little to do with the Second Amendment. It has to do with the gun as a definition of Whiteness; a symbol of authority over, first the African and Native American, and later the Latino and Asian. It appears that McLain was following in this very sick and tragic legacy, and doing her best to reinforce it.

Bill Fletcher Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at


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