Black men licensed to carry guns say they are seeking racial justice in forming their group MN FF.
Before he drove to the grocery store parking lot, Romeal Taylor did the same thing he’s done every day this summer — he holstered his 9-millimeter handgun to the waistband of his gym shorts until he could feel it hug his right hip.
When he arrived at the store in north Minneapolis he spotted six other Black men, some in tactical gear, armed with Glock 23s and Smith & Wesson M&Ps. One of them beamed when he spotted Taylor and hugged him.
“Bro, good to see you,” Taylor said, muffled through a face mask.
They had come together for a meet-and-greet to introduce themselves to the community, marking one of the first public gatherings of the Minnesota Freedom Fighters.-
The ad hoc group of about two dozen men — including a retired firefighter, a healthcare worker and a veteran — formed in the days after George Floyd’s killing in response to the local NAACP chapter putting out a call for residents in predominantly Black north Minneapolis to protect small businesses from destruction as fires and unrest engulfed the city.
Heeding the call, the men — who would meet at a local cafe — stood watch outside small businesses for several nights in late May and early June. More recently, they have patrolled neighborhoods, offering security to protesters, and have been in regular communication with city officials about protests they plan to attend.
Cotton said the Freedom Fighters have also met with Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who is Black, and they’re in touch with precinct commanders.
A spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Department declined repeated requests for comment. At a summer Freedom Fighters event, a patrol officer stopped and posed for selfies with members of the group during a 30-minute visit.
Leslie Redmond, president of the Minneapolis National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said she is happy the men are armed and wants them to grow as community leaders.
“These brothers were there in the beginning, when threats were being made by white supremacists,” she said. “There is no doubt they stepped up for the community.”
Taylor and other members view the group as a way to provide safety for peaceful protesters. But they also understand that Black men armed with legally registered guns are viewed differently by many in law enforcement and other parts of society than, say, white militia members who stormed state capitols waving their firearms without repercussions in recent months.
Nonetheless, he said, “We are like any other American…. We have the right to bear arms.”
Members of the Freedom Fighters say their objective is to avoid confrontations by working hand in hand with authorities and making clear that they are prepared to defend their community. They also say they aim to de-escalate situations so that police do not get involved, because calling the police has sometimes led to encounters in which unarmed Black men have been killed.
Because of its cooperation with city officials, the group is not fearful the police will attack them. In their view, they are an added layer of security in the community.
The Freedom Fighters’ mission statement reads: “Our objective is not to be the police, but the bridge to link the police and the community together.”
In addition to marching in the streets of their hometown, some have traveled to Louisville, Ky., in support of protesters demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black woman who was shot to death inside her apartment in March by police carrying out a no-knock warrant.
Amid calls for justice and an end to systemic racism, dozens of armed Black groups have sprung up across the nation. Such groups have marched through city streets in Atlanta and Detroit and have gathered at Stone Mountain in Georgia.
After Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, was shot to death after being confronted by white men while out for a jog in a Georgia neighborhood in February, members of a Black militia group called NFAC — the full name of the coalition uses an expletive to explain that they’re not messing around — showed up with long guns and tactical vests in Brunswick, Ga. Weeks later, some 1,500 members went toStone Mountain, calling for the removal of Confederate monuments there and elsewhere. The group, along with other protesters, engaged in a peaceful march.
While armed Black groups hark back to the 1960s Black Panther movement and its armed citizen patrols, the modern iterations by and large do not share the same policing-the-police viewpoint.
The fate of the Black Panthers serves as a case study for the long-standing risks felt by Black men who legally carry firearms. Local and federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, ceaselessly surveilled the group and wound up shooting to death some of its leaders, including Fred Hampton in Chicago.
Outrage by white society to the Panthers carrying weapons, which they had lawfully purchased to conduct armed patrols of predominantly Black Oakland neighborhoods, was such that then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan signed a gun control measure known as the Mulford Act that prohibited Californians from carrying loaded firearms to protests.
At this point, 36% of white people nationwide own a gun, according to the Pew Research Center, compared with 24% of Black people.
Fears concerning Black gun ownership are nonetheless a raw reality for many people in Minneapolis.
For Romeal Taylor, 28, who works as an overnight security guard at a local hotel, owning a gun has always been about personal protection. For the last six years, he’s carried a firearm with him anytime he goes out in public. He understands he can be viewed as a threat, but he’s also a trained and proud gun owner.
“There is a lot going on out here in the world,” he said. “I would rather have a gun and not need it than need it and not have it.”