Editor’s note: This article contains social media posts that some may find offensive.
On Aug. 1, three police officers arrived at Korryn Gaines' Baltimore County apartment to arrest both Gaines and her boyfriend, Kareem Courtney, 39. Courtney was wanted on an assault warrant. Gaines was wanted on a failure-to-appear warrant that started over traffic tickets.
Police say they could hear people in the apartment, although no one answered the door. An officer gained a key to the apartment and opened the door, and Gaines reportedly pointed a shotgun at him. A tactical team was called. A seven-hour standoff ensued. Courtney grabbed a 1-year-old child and made a break for it. He was arrested and taken into custody. Gaines and her 5-year-old son stayed in the apartment. It all ended when police stormed the residence and shot and killed the 23-year-old mother and wounded her 5-year-old son.
Korryn Gaines' death is a tragedy. Full stop.
But I don't believe she's a victim.
Before we go on, let me be clear: I am no police apologist. I believe that too many times in this country, racist police resort to aggressive tactics when policing black folk. I also believe that there is a systemic blue wall of brotherhood that looks a lot like the Ku Klux Klan. I still believe that N.W.A's "F—k tha Police" is the most important political doctrine ever written because it captures the true essence of being othered in a heightened police state.
F—k the police
Coming straight from the underground
A young n—ga got it bad cause I'm brown.
And not the other color so police think
they have the authority to kill a minority.
Since Gaines' death, countless theories and videos have emerged like bread crumbs on an endless trail to make sense of what feels like a senseless death. I don’t feel any closer to understanding this tragedy even as more information becomes available. But I can say this: Gaines' death has me completely conflicted about everything.
As a firm supporter of the Movement for Black Lives, I don't know how an armed Gaines being gunned down by police fits into the unarmed narrative of senseless black death. Yes, her death feels like an avoidable tragedy (because it was), but it was also one that Gaines could have de-escalated. Am I upset that Gaines' son was shot in the melee? Absolutely! But I'm equally upset that Gaines put her son's life at risk.
I don’t think that Gaines needs to be a perfect victim in order to grieve the tragedy of her death, but I do wonder what recourse the police had. She was armed. A seven-hour standoff netted them nothing. She didn't answer the door and refused to give up her weapon.
We know that she had a gun because she posted a video of herself loading a Mossberg 12-gauge pistol-grip pump shotgun while police were at her door.
In fact, I don't know of another statement that encapsulates N.W.A's seminal classic more than the last few lines of her social media post, which read: "Thought i was gon have to take out a [n—ga] nd [sic] realized i had a bigger problem. [F—k] it Let's dance, i got some rhythm."
That doesn't sound like the words of someone who was afraid of what was to come.
During a May 2016 police stop, Gaines was clear, telling the officer, "If you put your hands on me, you're going to have to murder me."
Let's be clear about this: Gaines was not a victim of overaggressive policing; she was a young woman who declared that she was tired of being harassed by police she believed were targeting her. So she took up arms and stood her ground.
I do not advocate this form of rebellious citizenship, and we have to be clear about where we stand when we talk about policing our community. When we advocate for vigilante justice, we do a disservice to a nonviolent movement. When we champion vigilantism over structured government, we are headed toward chaos.
I know that these facts are indisputable: Gaines said during a nonconfrontational police stop that she would have to be killed if police touched her. During the Aug. 1 police encounter, Gaines refused to answer the door or leave the apartment as police instructed. Gaines stayed in the apartment during a seven-hour negotiation with a loaded weapon and her 5-year-old son.
I've heard the Cliven Bundy comparisons, and let me remind people of a few things: #YallQaeda took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. It wasn't a hostage situation. And, in the end, one person was killed and another was wounded during a shootout with police. People did die, and they didn't have to, either.
In truth, making Gaines a victim takes away her agency. It makes her helpless when she was anything but. She was a soldier who was willing to die for what she believed, even if the war was skewed.
Is there a war between black people and police? At times, it can feel like it. But there is a thin line between protesting for equal rights under the law and taking up arms. This was a militia-style fight, and I don't think Gaines would want to be remembered as a helpless person. She fought for that freedom she believed in to her core.
As tragic as her death may be, I urge caution in taking up her fight. She was no Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille. She was not Sandra Bland or Rekia Boyd, and she doesn't need to be. Maybe it's the deaths of those unarmed people that pushed Gaines over the edge; that pushed her to take up arms and take up a fight she believed was just.
To act as if her fight was lost demeans her legacy. Even if I don't agree with Gaines' aggressive action, I know that she was tired, and I know what tired looks like.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is a senior editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.