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Considering the current state of play

Walter A. Jean-Jacques | 6/29/2017, 10:08 a.m.
Last week we dealt with the news that once again an African-American man was killed by the actions of the ...
Shooting scene where Philando Castile was killed by police Harry Colbert/Insight News

Last week we dealt with the news that once again an African-American man was killed by the actions of the police and will not receive any justice. Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minn., and the officer who shot him was acquitted of all charges. Although this outcome may seem surprising to many, the death of Black men by police officers has become normalized for Blacks such as myself.

This killing is just a recent example of sanctioned violence by the state, where African-American men do not have the legal ability to defend themselves against police officers with loaded firearms.

However, there was a time when African-Americans did have the right to carry loaded guns and protect themselves and their respective communities. Beginning in the late 1960s, these actions were seen among members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in California, but received criticism by the government, causing the creation of the Mulford Act.

It is important to highlight the history of policies such as the Mulford Act to understand its impact on the epidemic of police brutality on African-American men.

The Black Panthers and the Mulford Act

The Black Panthers were the voices of persecuted African-Americans during the 1960s and 1970s in the Oakland, Calif., area. During this time, the injustices of Blacks influenced the teaching of state laws and community policing. These initiatives of the Black Panthers incited fear in the minds of the lawmakers in California.

The Blacks Panthers openly carried loaded guns to police their respective communities. Governor Ronald Reagan and the California Legislature were not pleased by these actions and created the Mulford Act.

When the NRA supported gun control

Gun control is a policy issue that tends to receive support from a liberal legislature. However, such was not the case when it came to the Mulford Act, which was backed by the NRA, written by California Republican Assemblyman Don Mulford, and signed into law by then California Governor Reagan.

This support is not surprising, because the events of the Watts Riots of 1966 and rise of the Black Panthers influenced the shift of the legislature to promote gun control for California citizens. These actions caused many to believe that the Mulford Act was created to stop Blacks from openly carrying loaded guns.

However, the Panthers were indeed following the law of California before the creation of the Mulford Act. The gun laws of California stated that you could carry a loaded gun out on the street so long it was registered, not concealed and not pointed in a threatening manner. Yet, the California Legislature perceived these actions of the Black Panthers as being intimidating, when they were seen carrying guns, and changed the law to maintain their safety and restrict their actions.

The Mulford Act and our current political climate

The negation of African-Americans within the Mulford Act demonstrates the ability of the state to decide who takes part in the decision-making process when it comes to the creation of laws. These actions are evident within the federal government today. Recently, the Department of Justice reported that it will not look into police accountability measures in communities plagued by police brutality, such as Baltimore and Baton Rouge. Yet, police accountability actions were called upon by members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Once again, it is not surprising that state-sanctioned violence is occurring today in the form of police brutality toward African-American men and others. This violence is indeed sanctioned by an arm of the state, the police department. In the current political climate in which we are living, it would not be a surprise if the federal government created a policy that is equivalent to the Mulford Act. Potentially, maybe the future bill will limit the power of movements such as Black Lives Matter. Let us not forget that the Mulford Act was signed into law by President Reagan, when he was governor in California. Like Reagan, President Trump called himself, “the candidate of law and order.”

Walter A. Jean-Jacques is a graduate student at University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice. He is an incoming law student at the University of Notre Dame Law School in Notre Dame. Contact him at walter.jeanjacques@gmail.com.