Back in November of 2008, I discussed the self defense shooting of 19 year old armed robber Hakeem Birch by his victim, a barber shop owner in Philadelphia, PA. Recently, relatives of that deceased robber have come to this website and left a variety of comments- including personal attacks, legal threats, and demands that I remove that article. Most interesting, Diante Pryer seemed to suggested that Hakeem Birch’s decision to engage in the violent crime of armed robbery was not Hakeem’s fault – that Hakeem was himself a victim of being an African American. As a law abiding African American, I take great exception to that attempt at shirking personal responsibility by blaming one’s skin color. Furthermore, given the way that racial issues have been at the center of gun-related issues for hundreds of years, I feel particularly compelled to address this situation in its own article. Background information on the self defense shooting of Hakeem Birch, Diante Pryer’s comments, and my responses are below.
The self defense shooting of Hakeem Birch
Hakeen Birch reportedly entered a barber shop while pretending to be a new client, only to pull out a gun and demand money. After the barber handed over all of the money he had, Birch is said to have been unsatisfied, at which point he threatened to harm the barber’s 9 year old son. Birch reportedly left the barber shop for a brief moment before returning, at which point the barber drew his own gun and fired in self defense, striking Birch and ending the violent attack. The barber was found to have acted in self defense, the barber’s son was unharmed, and Birch died of his wounds.
The comments left in response to my article about this self defense gun use
The full comments left in response to my article addressing the self defense shooting of Hakeem Birch can be seen here. However, I would like to focus on a particular series of comments, left by Diante Pryer, which brings Hakeem Birch’s ethnicity (he was an African American) into issue:
I believe his ethnicity matters because the majority of african americans in America struggle. And you do not know what circumstances my brother may have been under, nor was[sic] you there at the time, so what make[sic] your accusation so valid? Who knows what could have happened between him and that barber. And you want to fire back at me like that? This is not an argrument[sic], and since you think you have the authority to boast what happened with my brother on this website, I will take every legal action I can to remove this article, so I can help pass on the real legacy my brother. . . Your doing an injustice to you[sic] people. Your[sic] part of a select few of blacks, who get to enjoy that lifestyle, therefore that makes you umsympathetic[sic] towards impoverished blacks. You need to read some of the prolific writer Langston Hughes poetry. Your[sic] some rich man, who basically is ignorant of his own race. . .
My response to Diante Pryer’s comments
I would like to start by noting that gun control was rooted in racism. The first gun control laws after the civil war expressly denied African Americans the right to own a gun, disarming those recently freely slaves and leaving them at the mercy of groups such as the KKK. After these laws were found to be unconstitutional once the 14th Amendment was ratified, news laws were passed that didn’t mention race on their face, but that banned inexpensive guns (which were the only ones most African Americans could afford). Flash forward to today, and gun control laws continue to primarily disadvantage minorities. Making matters worse, gun control advocates often try to use untrue stereotypes in their efforts to deny law abiding citizens of every race the right to have a gun for self defense (including self defense against racist attackers). In sum, racism and gun control are tightly linked. With that out of the way, I’ll now address Diante Pryer’s comments.
Firstly, Diante Pryer suggests that Hakeem Birch’s decision to commit a violent armed robbery was a “mistake.” Nothing could be further from the truth. A mistake is defined as “an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc; a misunderstanding or misconception.” When a person forgets their cell phone at home, it is mistake. When a person typos a word on the computer, it is a mistake. When a person misjudges the distance between their car and the drive-through window, and dings their side mirror, it is a mistake. Planning and then carrying out a violent armed robbery, during which the lives of multiple people are placed in peril, is not a mistake – not by a long shot. Instead, it is an intentional and violent criminal act, which tears at the fabric of our society.
Armed self defense, on the other hand, is legally and morally correct. More and more states have passed laws to enable armed self defense, and society gets a bit safer each time a violent robber is shot by their would-be victim. It is for that reason that I support armed self defense and do everything in my power to spread the word about real-life self defense examples, such as the self defense shooting of Hakeem Birch. If I can encourage just one person to arm and train themselves for self defense, and they end up saving themselves from a murder, domestic violence, rape, home invasion, robbery, kidnapping, stabbing, or other crime, then all the effort will be worth it to me.
Next, Mr. Pryer states that Hakeem Birch’s ethnicity somehow excuses or mitigates his criminal actions. Again, this is not the case. Speaking as an African American, let me assure each and every reader that the color of a person’s skin doesn’t predispose that person to criminality. Am I saying that there is no racism these days? Of course not. I have experienced plenty of racism in my life, from police officers, teachers, peers, and random people on the street. My first interaction with a police officer was when I was 5 years old, and the officer falsely accused my parents of shoplifting the (very used) baby carrier that my younger sister was sitting in. In more recent years, I’ve been pulled over by the police many times without cause. I’ve had people cross the street to avoid me at night time, and have had racial epithets said to my face and behind my back. However, that racism has never forced me to pick up a gun and go rob someone. All people, of all races, have choices when it comes to how their life turns out. They can choose to be a robber who gets shot dead by his victim, or they can become an upstanding pillar of the community. They can even be President of the United States. Playing the race card to try and justify or mitigate Mr. Birch’s decision to commit an armed robbery (against another African American, I would note, given Mr. Pryer’s fixation on race) is unreasonable – and simply brings us all down.
Related to the above racial issues, Diante Pryer also states that I am some “rich man” who is “basically is ignorant of his own race” and is “doing an injustice” my fellow African American. I would laugh at that remark if it weren’t so sad that Mr. Pryer was stooping so low in that personal attack. For the record, I am not a rich and aloof individual who is disconnected from the real world. I have worked since I was 16 years old (and before that too, cutting lawns and shoveling snow). I worked while in college, and managed to keep my GPA high enough so that I could get a partial law school scholarship. I then worked may way through law school, receiving no money other than what I earned at work and what I received from my partial scholarship, borrowing the rest through student loans. I began working full time immediately after law school, and have done so ever since. I’m happy to say that I make a decent salary as an attorney, but I can’t say I consider myself wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. What I can say is that I’ve worked for what I have, and the same is true for other members of my family (who include doctors, attorneys, PhDs, etc.)
Finally, Diante Pryer also made a the standard personal attacks and legal threats that tend to accompany articles about self defense gun uses. I’ve already addressed those issues here and here – for the sake of brevity won’t do so again in this article. Mr. Pryer still has my sympathy for the death of his brother. I suppose he and his relatives are also victims of Hakeem Birch’s decision to engage in criminality, and I hope that they are able to learn from Hakeem’s mistake and go on to have long, happy, productive lives. However, I will not remove that or any other self defense example from this website because a relative of the deceased criminal doesn’t like the facts. Doing so would undermine my goal of raising awareness of the fact that armed self defense can and does save crime victims, and would be the sort of historical revisionism that no one should practice.