Race, Personal Responsibility, and Self Defense: A Follow-Up Discussion about the Self Defense Shooting of Hakeem Birch

Published by the LearnAboutGuns.com Author on May 17, 2010 at 12:01 am
LearnAboutGuns.com > Pro Gun Rights Articles > Race, Personal Responsibility, and Self Defense: A Follow-Up Discussion about the Self Defense Shooting of Hakeem Birch

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • Diante Pryer

    I have to admitt your an interesting author. You have a bad habit, to make false accustions, and invalid conclusions. You took this to another level, and now you are including my name on this website? You twisted my words, and misunderstood me entirely. And you stooped to an even lower level by putting my name on this "baseless" website. Your closed-minded. You do not have a clue about the real world. You shown me that, but how quickly you reply to me, and your actually arguing with me. You say you've been working for over 16 years? Well how does it feel to argue with a kid whose still in high school. You personally attacked me when you put my brother of this ineffective website, and you personally attacked me when you sat there and dissected my comments. I am only try to convince you to remove this post, and you addressed me as if I were trying to do something else. You know nothing about African American History. As I once said before, I based my claims on ethnicity on facts. Since you have time to write these meaningless posts. Try to do some research. I was not saying my brother had an excuse to do what he did because he was black? How obsurd does that sound? My brother was a great person. He was the best brother anyone could have. But you continue to reffer to him as a criminal. That is more than personally attacking me, it is basically crushing my morale, but I won't let it anymore. I understand there are some people in the world who are careless, and only care for the benefit of themselves. You have shown me that, by keeping the other post, making a new one, and saying irrelevant things about this situation. Hakeem was a neighborhood star. He was very intelligent, and excelled in sports. He was always there for me. You do not anything about him. You get your sources from newspapers? Who knows how valid they are? So basically, you do not do any actual research. You just sit there, and think about what family will I attack next. You really are an interesting character.

  • Diante Pryer

    "Furthermore, since robbers tend to commit that crime many times over their lives, it is also likely that Hakeem Birch would have gone on to rob and harm other people – but for Mr. Cross putting a stop to this robber."

    These are quotes from you about my brother. You digust me. You think it is a good thing for my brother to have been killed? Hakeem had never been in any robberies cases before. He never harmed anybody, so where did you get that from? You wanted to just dramaticize your post? You are really a horrible person, for advocating that it is a good thing to shoot a robber in the head, and kill him. Especially a teenager with as much potential as my brother. He was only 19. Young People make "mistakes." You have no heart, and you do not have the authority to jugde my brother. It was not likely for my brother to harm or rob anybody. This was a big mistake. Any readers of this post, I hope you can empathize with me. This author should not do an injustice to any family, just to prove a point. There is more to life than your own benefical success, sometimes you have to take in account of other people's feelings.

    • hicusdicus

      To Hakim birch's brother. If some drunk of any age come into my home unannounced and surprised me He would not have been asked to leave, he would have had his face shredded with 5 rounds from my judge and then I would have proceeded to file suit against his family for damage to my premises and my nervous system. Its your kind of dismantled, bigoted thinking process that makes gun ownership so important to our countries well being.

      • http://Mzlilspen@myspace.com Symone-Marie

        You again?! Mr.'Horse Hockey', you should just but out because no one cares about what you would've done; This is about what Hakim's [ and Joel's] killers should of done instead of pulling a gun out. Also, if everyone believes that guns will solve everything, than in my great big book of "Idiot Americans", You all are considered terrorists!

        • hicusdicus

          I think as do a lot of other people whom have learned how to read and write that what happened to the 19 year old mentally unstable and violent armed robber was the best thing that could have happened to a degenerate misfit. As I assume you are related to him are you also of the same genetic disposition and some day will become a danger to society. You sound like you might have a good start in that direction. You are certainly doing a good job of showing every body your lack of understanding of how the society you live in works.

          • Daniel

            Hicusdicus you and I are in agreement on some points, butyou do no one any service suggesting that dying "was the best thing that could have happened" to him, calling him a degenerate misfit, and suggesting the family member could be the same. Diante and others may be misguided but there's no reason for such mean things to be said.

            Diante, I've been following your posts, and I hope you've read Gary Smith's reply to your post on the other page. It is well said. As for me, I can't tell you that "I'm black too so I understand" because I'm not and I don't. I'm just about as white as they come but I would like to try to provide another perspective and you can take it or leave it. I too have an older brother with two beautiful daughters, and I have a younger sister who is about Hakeem's age. My heart aches for you and your loss, as my family is everthing to me and I cannot even pretend to understand what you are going through. But my respect for your sadness does not change the facts, or the tragic choices that he made. Please know that none of us take any death, such as the shooting death of your brother, lightly. It's not a hobby, sport, or passtime. We research and discuss these matters in an effort to understand what is really happening and educate others to the truth that there is a dangerous criminal element in society that we must protect against. Hakeem made no small mistake by getting in on the wrong side of that fight, threatening the lives of people in their place of business, including a child. As good of a brother as I am sure he was, and regardless of his personal struggles, there was no room for these considerations when he was threatening violence against others. The cold hard truth is that he deliberately posed an imminent lethal threat to those people, and that threat had to be stopped immediately to avoid unnecessary suffering and death. He paid dearly for his actions, bringing not only an end to his own life, but pain to his (clearly) loving family. I don't have the words to express my sympathy. The hope of myself and others who read and participate on this website and other forums is that less people, as a result of our efforts, will have to endure your pain. Eric, the administrator of this website, has made it clear previously that neither impotent legal threats nor pleas from those wishing to stifle conversation are going to motivate him to remove his posts or stop writing about true life self-defense cases. I, for one, am thankful for the forum and his well written articles and the various perspectives shared in the comments, including yours. You remind us that these cases more than just statistics to be flippantly quoted or news articles to be clipped and questioned. They are real people who have had real impact on the lives of those around them. It is these people we are trying to ultimately protect — people like you. You remind us of the purpose for why we do what we do. Thank you for that, and I personally will be praying for you in your time of grief.

          • http://Mzlilspen@myspace.com Symone-Marie

            Even though me and Joel were close and referred to one another as family we are not biological and this I don't know this Hakim person at, I just don't think guns solve everything. Furthermore, I am not on my way to be any danger of/to society trust me, I'm simply a 14 and a half year old girl who lost a very important person, and who is only angry with you because you were [and still are] being very insensitive and it hurts and makes me even angrier but you probably don't care , so this my point: I know Joel had been drinking but I don't need you or anyone else justifying what happened to him because he made a bad decision and applaud the man that killed him and saying such mean things about him and his family. It's muy cruel and God puts people in Hell for being that way. So, I suggest you change your way, sir.

  • http://www.learnaboutguns.com The LearnAboutGuns.c


    Between this article, the underlying self defense example article, and the comments therein, I have already addressed much of what you rehash in your latest comment. However, there are a couple of your statements to which I will respond:

    Regarding your age: Whether you are 16 or 60 years old, you are free to come to this website and leave comments. I am, in turn, free to respond to those comments. I'm not going to treat you any differently due to your age, and would suggest that you not try to use your age (or Hakeem ethnicity) as a crutch – doing so only diminishes you.

    Also, you seem confused as to what constitutes a "personal attack." A personal attack is where one departs from the substantive discussion and delves into an attack upon the person on the other side of the debate. When I disagree with your statements about self defense and explain why I disagree, that is not a personal attack (even though you may dislike what I am saying). However, when you engage in name-calling, that is a personal attack.

    Furthermore, you may wish to take a look at this rather insightful comment, left by another African American (again, since you seem so race-fixated): http://www.learnaboutguns.com/2008/11/17/barber-s

    Finally, I will again note that you are the one who came to this website of your own volition, and you are the one who chooses to continue coming back and replying. If, as your comments continue to suggest, you believe yourself to be emotionally unable to continue the discussion, that is your choice.

  • Diante Pryer

    And stop judging me from the comments I post. I am not here to express what I have researched, I am here to express what I feel in my heart. And that is that my brother have been done a misdeed, and you are a very heartless character. You advocate that people use deadly force to kill robbers. You need to rethink this point of this website, and try to do it in a way that doesn't do an injustice to people like me. Thanks.

  • Diante Pryer

    Your close minded. You misunderstand everything I say. I am not here to debate, and go back and forth. If you do not understand why I want my brother off this page by now, then you are stubborn and inconsiderate. I just wanted to state my age, and you came up with your own invalid interpretation. I could care less about the people who take your side, and agree using guns with deadly force as a usual source of protection. I am baffled and disrespected by the irrevalant comment made about what that person would have done if he were in the barber’s situation. This is why I want this post off, because of people like that. This is my family’s personal situation, and you use this site so people can make a mockery of it. I’m done for now. But I will be back be later. Call me what you want, I am just here to stick up for my brother, and let people know who he really was. My brother was not mentally unstable, he was a regular teenager. 15 minutes or however the so called robbery was, does not constitute as an accurate display of my brother personality. All readers of this post, please keep your negative comments to yourself, this is between me and this author, and to those people who can relate to me, and understand I am just here for get my brother off this page, Thanks.

    • http://www.learnaboutguns.com The LearnAboutGuns.c


      If you don't wish to debate, then you're in the wrong place. This website is all about debating and exchanging ideas. When you post a comment here, you are inviting a response – as I have told you already. I am a firm believer in the Marketplace of Ideas.

      As far as your statements about robbery not justifying self defense with deadly force, it seems that you are missing the point that robbery is primarily a crime against the victim's body (rather than money). More on that here: http://www.learnaboutguns.com/2009/07/13/robbery-

  • Hicus Dicus

    To Daniel, A pair of degenerate Hakim types robbed me shot me three times and left me for dead. It took me two years and an immense amount of money to recover after being pronounced DOA. I have no sympathies for these kind of criminals and heartily think that killing is what they need and would gladly participate in killing them if given the chance. I give a big thumbs up to the shooter.

    • Daniel

      Sounds like you've had your own hardships. We all have. I'm glad you survived. Your experience may help explain, but does not excuse your bitterness or the hateful things you've said. It does not excuse your hatred any more than Diante or anyone else's pain excuses their verbal attacks on people discussing the facts of a news story. I'm happy for the shooter that he survived but I do not envy what he and other victims of this crime (including the criminal's family) have had to go through. There's no defense for your statement that you would gladly kill if given the chance. I hope you never are in that position and have to eat those words, and in the meantime I wish you would refrain from such statements which do a disservice to Diante and others who may have gotten an impression of gun owners from your regrettable statements.

      • hicusdicus

        Daniel, Don't lecture me, you are obviously still wet behind the ears and I do not care what you are glad of or not glad of. Your immature thought processing is of no interest to me. I don't need to defend anything I say and I am not interested in what anti gun people think. I will also say what I think and I don't need a gun to back it up. People like you are basically victims waiting to happen. How all this boo hoo drivel got started about some degenerate criminal is beyond me. I guess this what brought on the castle laws. To stop a bunch of sniveling relatives from suing some body who took the life of a violent criminal in defense of their life. Wake up Daniel! this world is full of violent morons. Go read the FBI statistics of what your chances are of running into one before you go meet Jesus or Allah or what ever nonsense you follow. By the way I might ad that you might want to pray to your favorite imaginary being that when it goes down they don't buckwheat you.

        • Daniel

          I believe I've made my stand clear and I do not intend to argue back and forth with you. You can think what you want about me but I know what I'm talking about. I cannot fix your bitterness, and I do not expect you to stop speaking your mind. I only hope people won't view your hardened attitude as representative of the rest of us who actually don't want people to die. Beyond that, I hope you and I can agree to disagree and just get along. I hope you have a nice day.

  • Cory

    Diante, your "heart' has closed your "mind." What you "feel in [your] heart" means nothing when it has to face up to facts and logic. Your brother committed a crime, threatened a child, and died for it. These are facts. It is also a fact that LearnAboutGuns has the right of fair-use to publish these facts and his interpretation of them. Your anger does not grant you the authority to order anyone to do anything. Furthermore, you insult the author about his "invalid conclusions." What would those be. You sound like you just want to vent at someone, and since you cannot be mad at your brother, who is deserving of your anger, you attack a website moderator. "But you continue to refer to him as a criminal" well Diante, no matter how much anger you put down on this website, your brother was a criminal. You cannot rage at us and make that go away. Facts are very stubborn things.

  • hicusdicus

    Daniel you are definitely a victim in progress. Your reading comprehension is somewhere between a stuffed toy and an earth worm. I did not say I wanted people to die. I said that I wanted violent dangerous criminals to die and the sooner the better. Bitter? you really need to ramp up your vocabulary and go back and hit the books. Quit trying to play the intellectual, stick to what you do best, running your hemorrhoidial mouth on the internet.

    • Daniel

      You may think you're hurting my feelings with your laughable verbal attacks. However, I've successfully done exactly what I set out to do. I've called you out on your meanspiritedness and diverted your anger from the unfortunate 16-year-old who just lost his brother and doesn't understand why. Keep going after me. It's OK. I can handle it. Peace.

      • hicusdicus

        Daniel I am not trying to do anything with you. Your just a blathering text message to mess with. Do you really believe all this nonsense you have been reading from so called little brother and sister. Do you really believe they actually exist. It is laughable how naive you are. The internet is just a bunch of anonymous shut ins with nothing else to do but run a scam on people who are wet behind the ears. I have been on dozens of forums listening to mutton heads spout their sanctimonious beliefs and all the while actually believe that someone actually gives a crap.I have been everything from a sixteen year old girl a 50 year old women going through the change to a sweet lovable Jesus person to an annoying old curmudgeon. Irritating morons is a lot more fun than shooting them. I bet you voted for Obama cause he said he was going to change things, and that he has certainly done. lol.

        • Daniel

          Wow and I even got you to admit that you're nothing more than an internet troll. Now we can all happily ignore your ugly comments and know better than to take you seriously. Thanks.

          • Clemorswhomp

            Anybody who takes anything they read on the internet seriously is a marginal dimwit. Remember what God said and you heard him. If you can't lie to someone why should you talk to them.

  • Diante Pryer

    I do not like you, or your website, I did not come here to learn about it. I just came here to argue for my brother. You do not understand, and can not relate to someone like me. So whatever.

    • Robert

      You grieve for your brother, that is understandable However your brother is the one who caused his own death.

      He chose to commit armed robbery.

      He chose to threaten to harm a 9 year old child to try to get more money.

      And he chose to return to the sceane of the crime after makeing his escape.

      Your brother was old enough to know that what he was doing would only end with his imprisonment or death.

      • Clemorswhomp

        Dude, these people don't care. Forget trying to teach them any morals or ethics it is hopeless. If he had killed the man and his son they would most likely be hiding him from justice and blaming it all on the evil non afro American people in charge.

  • JD W

    Robert is right. He chose his destiny by taking from society rather than contributing to it by earning his own way. He was the perpetrator and the barber and child were the victims. To blame it on skin color is lame. I promise you the barber did what any other person would have done in those circumstances while facing an armed threat. The author of this site is fully within his rights by describing to all the merits of self defense as well as showing the readers by example an unlawful act and the possible consequences it most times leads too. I feel your pain & I know your shame but it is not in your hands to change any of this. Best thing Diante is to leave this site forever & use your brothers death as a catalyst for you own life to achieve and forgive. God be with you and you are in my prayers.

  • Lloyd Booth

    Never to argue with idiots, they drag you down to their level then beat you with experience. (Bumper Sticker)