To a police officer who raced to the scene at last week’s shopping mall shooting in Hoover, Al., the black man with the gun was “a suspect brandishing a pistol,” according to a police account. The officer fired, and Emantic Bradford Jr., died. As it turned out, Bradford was not the gunman. On Thursday, police arrested Erron Brown, 20, and charged him with attempting to murder an 18-year-old man during the melee, the New York Times reports. Police initially identified Bradford as the culprit, only to change their story a day later. Two competing versions of what Bradford did — try to protect those in danger or pose a threat by wielding a gun during a moment of chaos — are at the center of a controversy over race, gun rights and bias that has erupted in the predominantly white suburb of Birmingham.
The incident calls into question a popular slogan among Second Amendment enthusiasts: “The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Black people trying to protect themselves or others with a gun may not get the benefit of the doubt in heat-of-the-moment situations. This month, police fatally shot a black security guard who had pulled his gun to break up a shooting in a suburban Chicago bar. A Portland State University policeman fatally shot a black Navy veteran who had been trying to break up a fight near a bar when his firearm fell to the ground. In Alabama, Bradford’s family members and activists have accused the officer of being too quick to assume that because Bradford was a black man with a gun, he was a threat rather than a good Samaritan.