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Race matters in Ersland case

One of the least talked about, but most important undercurrents in this saga

Tyler Branson May 31st, 2011

Oklahoma City pharmacist Jerome Ersland was convicted of first-degree murder last week for fatally shooting a robber two years ago.

The arrest and trial sparked a national debate on the limits of self defense, dividing many in the state. 

However, one of the least talked about, but most important undercurrents in this saga has been the pervasive influence of race. When read in the context of a history of racial inequality and a persistent stream of negative images of black men in American culture, we can see the Ersland case, and the public reaction to it, in a new light.  Ersland’s story offers less about gun control and more of a sobering reflection of the current state of race relations in Oklahoma.

One of the ways race matters here is the characterization of Antwun Parker, the 16-year-old killed that day inside the pharmacy. For instance, a website in support of Ersland alleges that the incident was an “intricate … gang related robbery.” Allegations that Parker was a gang member, however, are not supported by evidence or testimony, and instead reveal presuppositions about Parker based upon his race.  

Also, many of the comments of “outrage” on the Internet are thick with racial subtext  A Facebook page in support of Ersland has the profile picture with the caption “Self-Defense Is Not a Crime,” but a quick review of the comments shows more of an outrage toward the undesirable influence of minorities.

One commenter says Ersland was “thrown under the bus” to “placate a bunch of criminal savages.” Another calls Parker “street trash” and a “thug.” Other comments similarly decry the actions of “thugs” and “gang members” while championing the actions of a “veteran” and “hero,” each characterization invoking particular racial imagery.

Ersland himself told a family member that his trial was “political,” that DA David Prater was prosecuting him only in an effort to “get the black vote,” and that Prater’s decision to prosecute Ersland was only at the urging of the NAACP. 

The outrage, it seems, is not solely in the conviction of a man merely defending himself against attempted burglars, but in the prosecution of a white man for the murder of a black criminal. Why do the rights of a black man, let alone a black criminal, matter at all?

Ersland seemed surprised about this more than anyone. The fact that the DA actually investigated his recollection of the incident — scrutinizing the security video to see how many shots were fired, how many of the burglars actually were armed, whether or not Parker was still a threat when Ersland shot him several more times, or even that Parker’s death was seen as a murder at all — all seemed to perplex the man.

Ersland’s own nonchalance about his actions and the subsequent public outrage indicate a sustained sense of entitlement, or rather, white privilege, that clouds any attempt to treat Parker with compassion in this case. Part of the public outrage stems from the fact that a young, black, troubled teen is looked upon as a victim, while the decisions of an older white veteran are scrutinized to such extent that he is charged with murder.

Sadly, the outrage is not that a black criminal’s rights were valued over Ersland’s, but that a black criminal’s rights were valued at all.  

Branson, a University of Oklahoma graduate and lifelong Oklahoma resident, is a doctoral student in rhetoric and composition at Texas Christian University.
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05.31.2011 at 01:31 Reply


John White (a black man) left the safety of his home to shoot with an unregistered gun (illegal in NY) an unarmed white man who was on the sidewalk in front of his home shouting obcenities. White did not call the police before taking matters into his own hands, the man was of no immediately danger to him, wasn't even on his property.... After shooting him White called his lawyer before calling the police or an ambulance. He was pardoned by Gov. David Patterson. The NAACP and Sharpton expresed support for this desicion. Kill a Jewish scholar in a hate crime if you are black and get a free pass. Kill an unarmed white man who poses no danger to you and get a free pass. Kill a black criminal who was threatening your life and get life in prison.
The author of this essay suggests it is racist for us not to be overly concerned about the rights of a black criminal who threatened to kill someone.  Why isn't he concerned about the rights of an innocent Jewish man who was killed in a hate crime by African Americans?  Why isn't he demanding the killer of Daniel Cicciaro be punished?


05.31.2011 at 01:32 Reply

When Lemrick Nelson (black) stabbed a Jewish scholar to death while screaming "kill the kike" he was found not guilty by a predominately black jury although he admitted doing it. Al Sharpton and David Dinkins (the black mayor at the time) agreed with the verdict. (continued bellow


06.02.2011 at 05:08 Reply

Seriously? Do you want to rehash cases of racial injustice? Because I've got a list going back about 250 years and it's mostly white on black crime. Judge this case on its on merits, not on past cases. He is not suggesting that it is racist to no care about the rights of a black criminal. He is suggesting that, as many white southern men have for years, Ersland did not expect to be challenged for the murder - and no matter how you spin it, it is murder - of a black man. Did he have the right to shoot criminals who were robbing him? Absolutely. Did he have the right to then go back and get a different gun and shoot the man another 5 times? No, not after shooting the man in the head and obviously incompacitating him. If the robber were white, we wouldn't be having this conversation.


06.02.2011 at 07:11 Reply

There is a general misunderstanding about the use of firearms in such a situation.  Having taken my fair share of firearms classes for the purpose of carrying a weapon for employment while still remaining a civilian, I can assure you there are minute instances where the use of that weapon becomes legal.


Perhaps TV and movies are to blame.  I really hate to make that proclamation, but having had the aforementioned training, I often find myself lambasting gun use in the media as being totally illegal in real life.  I’m not talking about over the top Matrix style gun play, I’m talking about your CSI’s and Law and Order type shows, or movies where the gun is almost a point of comedy.  The bottom line is that a civilian can only bring deadly force to bear when faced with either an IMMEDIATE threat to their own life or to others.  This “immediate threat” does not exist when a suspect is in retreat, or when a suspect is unconscious.


Knowing what I’d just told you, Ersland’s return fire ceased to be self defense the moment he ran out of the pharmacy and discharged his weapon at the fleeing felon.  This is a situation which might not have even been excusable if a police officer had done it.  By doing this, Ersland endangered pedestrians with the use of his weapon, and his armed pursuit might have given rise to an increased likelihood of return fire which would have further endangered pedestrians.


Then obviously returning to the store and killing Parker was the most boneheaded things anyone could have done.  I don’t doubt for a moment that Ersland knew the consequences of what he was doing, but I also think that in the heat of the moment, one’s perspective of right and wrong can quickly go awry.  That’s no justification for his action.  The gun owning public needs to know that just because you have a right to carry a firearm, you do not always have a right to use a firearm. 


Things to consider; pointing a firearm at anyone(even if it’s unloaded), can be a crime.  Keep it holstered unless there is immediate threat to self or another.  Also be aware that discharge of a firearm within city limits is illegal.  I’m not sure what the exact rule is here in Oklahoma, but in the state I trained in (Arizona), you cannot legally discharge a firearm unless you are 2500 feet from any occupiable structure (this includes automobiles).


As for Ersland, I think speculating on whether race played a role in this murder is kind of moot at this point.  The fact of the matter is that a man is dead who might have otherwise lived.  You can’t undo the loss of a life.  Regardless of whether we perceive the killing as just, that doesn’t determine if it was just.  The law has ruled, and effectively so.  I do not believe the outcome would have been different for Ersland regardless of whether he’d done the same thing to a white person.


06.02.2011 at 09:50 Reply

i'm probably just a dumb okie but here's my two cents.

why does everybody profess to know what was in ersland's heart and mind during his heat-of-moment situation? only ersland knows what was in head and heart. he felt a threat and ended it by whatever necessary means.

a thought: if i'm ever in an ersland-type of situation, i'm inclined to take my lumps (or possible death) 'cause i run a high risk of being prosecuted for protecting myself (maybe others nearby, too). ersland's situation set a bad precedent. it's saying that the bad guys have more rights than the good guys.

you know why ersland was put in his situation? 'cause some bad guys chose to rob ersland. shame on those darn bad guys.........