The following commentary was posted on Facebook and re-published on WTVR.com with permission from the author.
AUSTIN, Texas — So get this. I’m out on a first date at one of my favorite Austin bars, drinking Prince-inspired cocktails, enjoying the warm Texas evening.
As we leave, a car pulls up and a masked man hops out with a handgun.
His black piece is shaking like a Polaroid picture as he yells for my wallet.
Talk about time dilation.
I had all the time in the world to process the scene.
I could feel the fear radiate from his stocky frame; I wondered if he really had the balls to do it; I pondered how and why these little death machines became so ubiquitous in America, a country with more guns than people.
Second Amendment, man, this is what we get. Hell, I even thought about Justice Scalia.
In the midst of contemplating this surreal encounter, a car approached, and the already spooked gunman retreated back to his car.
“Did I escape with all my stuff?” I wondered as he returned to his vehicle.
Nah, we wouldn’t be so lucky.
He doubled down as the car rolled by, shook the gun more violently, and we handed over our things.
Some first date, huh?
You know, I feel pretty zen about the whole thing. And I’m reminded that criminality is a function of poverty.
I imagine this guy is pretty desperate – for work, for food, for money.
Statistically speaking, there’s a strong chance he’s been a victim of either the War on Drugs, Mass Incarceration, or both.
There’s a strong chance that this guy, a Hispanic male, is a victim of the New Jim Crow, a criminal justice system that has perpetuated a second-class citizenry comprised of (mostly) black and brown men for 40+ years.
It’s not hard to imagine that he got caught dealing weed as a young man, got a record, and now can’t secure a job or safe housing. It’s a pretty stark reminder to me that I have a different set and setting as a white male than he does, and it impacts just about everything.
So what now?
Well, I could look at the world with trepidation and fear.
I could buy a gun and apply for a concealed weapon permit and stand my ground.
I could stop going to East Austin, a neighborhood that, in part, was shaped by racially motivated policies to segregate minorities from “White” Austin.
Or, I could continue to live on the other side of fear.
I could choose to recognize that some people have bad options, make bad decisions, and operate in an environment unlike the one in which I live.
I choose to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. I choose to see that poverty and inequality create rich soil for criminality.
I choose to be awake to the current reality of this country’s criminal justice system, and to my own complicity and apathy.
I choose love over fear.
Chris Jones interned at WTVR CBS 6 before studying law at Duke University. He lives in Austin, Texas.
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