We started a campaign with a fundamental message that we thought was largely uncontroversial. This campaign was conjured up way before the widespread unrest following the killing of George Floyd.
We wanted to spread awareness about a simple reality - the police have no legal duty to protect you.
Many will emotionally jump at this statement, but the fact is - while we can all have a relativist conversation about how the government and police have a moral duty to protect you, according to US Courts, they absolutely have no legal duty to do the same. This has been ruled and confirmed in the US Supreme and District courts. The two most prominent cases are:
Given this legal reality, we embarked on a month-long process to seek a billboard company that would advertise our message to educate the public. Our message was targeted to minorities in urban communities because NJ firearm permitting policy makes it especially easy for urban police departments to hamstring potential applicants. We could not get a single billboard operator to advertise our message. They all balked.
This is the billboard we tried to advertise. If you had to guess what the number one objection to it was - what would it be?
Is it the overt call-to-action to obtain a firearm? No.
Is it the racial undertones of saying "your life matters" spooking corporatists? Nope.
The most cited reason (before the Floyd protests) was something along the lines of "we can't print that the police have no duty to protect you because we think that's an opinion, and we don't want problems with law enforcement."
The one thing on the billboard that isn't an opinion or a call-to-action, that is actually a legal reality of this country, is the part they refuse to print. And herein lies the problem.
We think you should know the companies that explicitly censored our message. Think deeply as to why these enormous corporations have a problem with citing judicial cases and helping minority communities having equal access to protection. Having equal ability to protect their communities, their families, and themselves. Why do these companies gallivant around pretending to care about "Black Lives Matter" but refuse to support a dialogue about protecting sacred black lives?
Corporations that hate the idea of black Americans being armed:
While not the most evil, this might certainly be one of the dumbest companies out there.
We spoke to the Lamar representative twice - once when we were going to push this campaign through another group, and a second time on behalf of Blue Star Union when we picked up the campaign and decided to fund it.
In the initial conversation - the Lamar employee saw our copy and said we would have to put a "Paid By" disclaimer on the ad - we had no issue with that. However, they also demanded that we remove entirely the line that read "Police have no legal duty to protect you." We had provided the court cases that back up the line, making it clear this is not an opinion, but settled American case law. Here is the soulless, factually incorrect response from Lamar's employee:
--------- LAMAR: "Corporate has told us that we cannot approve any alternative words for that statement. They don't think any variation is 100% true and say that they do have a duty to protect if they are aware." --------- Some might say "Lamar needs to hire better lawyers - the case law is abundantly clear." However, we know the real reason - they don't want to engage in a dialogue discussing black citizens being armed while acknowledging the lack of government responsibility to protect individuals. To take away the most critical, factual line underscores the entire reason why Americans have reason to be armed, and to remove it is to butcher the intended message. Lamar as a company is afraid of law enforcement and afraid to discuss black gun ownership. Guess what they aren't afraid to pander to you with though?
Of course Lamar proudly accepts money from anti-gun customers and advertises them on their official twitter account. Hypocrisy at it's finest. However, they won't entertain paying customers trying to highlight the difficulty of legal gun ownership in the black community, and how our laws disproportionately impact the most underprivileged communities.
More loathsome than anything is their pathetic attempt to channel Martin Luther King. This might be the most deliberately offensive example of virtue-signaling by this soulless company. Martin Luther King faced derision and death threats throughout his life. In 1956, he applied for a concealed carry permit and was famously denied by his local police department. The laws in Alabama were what is called "May Issue", where the authority in question has the liberty to make discretionary decisions on who gets to have permits to carry weapons. You will learn shortly, that for most of the black community, especially in states like New Jersey, the same tyrannical behavior continues. King knew the value of self-protection and had multiple armed guards march with him, even though he himself was a proponent of non-violence. It's disgusting to see a company censor a legitimate message with established case law citing a simple fact: the government does not have to protect you, but they do get arbitrary power over deciding whether you protect yourself. This hurts the black community more than anyone. More on that later.
This company takes the prize for being the most intentionally obtuse. While Lamar may be shamelessly virtue-signaling, Interstate takes the cake for being cowards.
We sent our billboard copy along with the cited court cases backing up our statement like we did with the rest of the companies. Unlike others who directly told us "we won't print X line", Interstate repeatedly and insultingly kept telling us they couldn't print our copy, but also could not tell us why, or what, was the part they had issue with. It's something that can only be understood when completely written out - here are excerpts from our contact with the Interstate representative after they told us they could print this billboard campaign as is:
--------- INTERSTATE: "...The notes I received were that substantial changes would have to be made to the original to be approved. Would you be willing to remove some of the copy and resubmit?"
BLUE STAR UNION: "It depends what they are asking to change and why. The statement about the police is 100% settled American law. Your legal department can look at Castle Rock v. Gonzalez in 2005, Supreme court or Warren v DC, 1981, district court"
INTERSTATE: "...would you like to make changes to the copy? I would be happy to resubmit."
BLUE STAR UNION: "...rather than me blindly making random changes, why can't you tell me exactly what your legal has an issue with? Seems like a backwards way of approaching it? If you tell me what the issue is I can decide whether it's something we can do."
INTERSTATE: "Sorry, I do not. If you would like to change the message, I will be happy to resubmit for approval."
BLUE STAR UNION: "Yes...I am asking what they told you is the unacceptable part of the copy so i can change it for you. I have no clue what they are having a problem with. Can you tell me which part is the issue?"
INTERSTATE: "The best advice I have to offer is to try to make hte copy as "PG Rated" as possible. Sorry, that's all i have..."
BLUE STAR UNION: "I don't understand. There is nothing vulgar or offensive on it. It would be helpful if you could just tell me what they are saying is the problem. There's no cursing, nudity, etc. I am not sure what "PG" means in this context - we are citing a concept based on a Supreme Court case."
INTERSTATE: "This is the only direction I have. Happy to resubmit revised copy if you wish."
BLUE STAR UNION: "This is kind of insulting, man, we are intentionally talking in cricles to pretend we both don't know what's going on here. There's nothing vulgar on the sign. There are no curse words. There's no pornography. There's nothing bloody or gratuitous. There are just words discussing a civil right's issue and a picture of a dad and son. There is nothing that could possibly be considered inappropriate or illegal. I provided you the cited court cases that back up the statement on the copy. Buying guns is legal. We think all lives matter. I have no clue what your legal thinks is not "PG" rated unless you tell me. If they think something is not "PG" then they must have an opinion about the content. Why can't you just tell me what they have a problem with, so i can edit it and give you some business? ---------
Needless to say, the representative stopped talking to us. We have never seen such cowardice - why can't these corporations just admit they don't want to talk about black people and guns? They clearly don't value protecting people's lives with legal, constitutionally-protected behavior. And discussing settled case law is not "PG" rated to them. It's so obvious they have a discomfort with the underlying subject matter but are too cowardly to come out and say it. But like the rest - they love pandering to the black community while they refuse to support protecting them:
Translation: Interstate Outdoor is happy to placate you with meaningless corporate platitudes - but we are terrified of acknowledging a civil rights travesty in our country, and we will NEVER talk about blacks being lawfully armed. Another vapid company that could care less if you live or die.
Similar to Lamar, Outfront Media refused to print the sign due to the phrase "Police have no legal duty to protect you". They were at least less deceitful and more honest about their concerns, unlike others.
We attempted to secure a billboard in Newark, NJ serviced by Outfront. When we asserted the case law to the representative, he was at least honest about their position - but it was still telling:
--------- OUTFRONT: "...on our end as a company, it's not so much that it might be "legal" to say, it's what we're allowed and able to approve to be posted on our boards. We work very closely with city officials and the landlords who own the properties of where our billboards stand, including the one you're interested in. So we make sure to work with them on all of our postings, which is where the copy approval process we've spoken about comes into play. It's a collaborative effort, and allows Outfront to reserve the right to not post ads regarding special interest campaigns." ---------
Shortly after this back and forth, the contact stopped talking to us. Let's break this down:
-The government has no legal duty to protect individuals -The government owns property where private companies sell advertising spaces -The government therefore dictates to the advertising companies that a paying customer cannot publicly state that the government has no duty to protect individuals
Isn't that an interesting circle? Who cares about black lives protecting themselves - we can't risk offending the government by stating established American case law. But more pressingly - does Outfront pander to the black community with meaningless, corporatist images?
Yes. Yes they do - they didn't miss their chance to post their woke "black square". Not to mention, they sponsor several "special interest campaigns" even though they claim they reserve the right to censor them. Feel free to tweet them at us and Outfront and ask why they choose to censor campaigns about empowering and protecting the black community.
This one might be the most shamelessly hypocritical of them all.
Since we had difficulty reaching out to individual companies, we decided to try a broker in the industry who could connect us with many outlets as a one-stop-shop. We found Inspiria Outdoor and proceeded to speak to a representative who instructed us to send our copy over to them.
Within exactly six minutes of our email being sent, we received an immediate response from the President and CEO of Inspiria with the following message:
--------- INSPIRIA: "...Thank you for your time on the phone with (redacted). Unfortunately, this isn't the type of message we can work with as we are media buyers and don't get involved with these types of ads. We wish you the best of luck. Thanks! ---------
Like all the others, we cited the court cases and established that this is simply a board about a legal reality in our country. The President of the company began to obfuscate by pretending to imply that we were misunderstanding what their role is as a broker. They distracted us by citing that they are not the ones that approve the copy and that is not what they do - we clearly knew they weren't the ones who would approve the copy. They are a broker, and it is their job to pitch the content to billboard companies on our behalf. Apparently they thought we would be stupid enough to be confused by this rhetoric and go away, but we persisted. We pushed away those attempts to blur the issue and made them clarify whether they were outright refusing to pitch the content to their industry partners, or if they were somehow implying that within six minutes of me sending them our copy, they miraculously received unilateral rejection from every single business partner of theirs.
They responded again with an intentionally misleading excuse intended to confuse that they were the ones to refusing to engage in the message:
--------- INSPIRIA: "...we do not get involved by trying to get art approved period. Regardless of feelings about an issue, this is an issue related campaign and is not what we do as an agency." ---------
Helping customers get copy approved by billboard companies is PRECISELY what a broker is supposed to do. That's the entire point of their existence. If they don't help get copy approved, they never get paid by the customers they help connect with said billboard operators. This spineless company did not want to be part of the message, and tried to obfuscate by implying they don't get involved in copy approvals. Considering they responded within six minutes of our initial email, it's physically impossible that they had forwarded our content to all of their partners, and they all replied back instantly saying the copy was not approved. This is was just a pathetic excuse to hide the fact that this company did not want to be involved with a message about arming black Americans. However, this is not even the most hypocritical wrinkle in the story
We contacted Inspiria precisely because they had a section of their website clearly labeled "Non Profits and Advocacy" under a heading labeled "Top Industries". They publicly advertise that advocacy work is an entire silo they target as customers - so they cater specifically to special-interest groups. Just not ones that want to talk about protection for black Americans and the legal realities of our government:
Just a few more examples of "special interest" campaigns that Inspiria claims they "don't involved" in, even though the are blatantly advertised on their website. Shame on this hypocritical company.
How the Government Keeps Blacks Disarmed
Many statist jurisdictions make it intolerably difficult for individuals to legally acquire firearms. New Jersey is notoriously one of the worst. You may be someone who is averse to guns, and we can have that discussion, but you should never be averse to equality under the law. New Jersey has three types of firearm permits - a Permit to Carry, and a Firearms Purchaser Identification Card, and a Handgun Purchase Permit.
The Permit to Carry is almost never issued to anyone who isn't highly connected to judges or politicians. In a state of 9 million people, NJ is estimated to have about 1900 active carry permits in circulation. We know people who have them. The majority have jobs where a handgun is required (think armored car services) but many are just politicians, judges, and celebrities. To get this permit, there are certain parameters you have to fulfill, but ultimately it must be signed off and approved by your local police chief. The initial power and discretion to decide whether you, a non-criminal citizen, has the right to protect themselves outside your home or business, is whimsically up to one person. If they reject you, you can appeal to a superior court judge. If they approve you, you STILL have to convince a superior court judge. What is the point of this arbitrary hurtle? To discourage you from applying, and to discourage you from appealing. Over 40 other states have carry privileges for citizens, but not New Jersey. Who does this hurt the most? Who lives in the most crime-ridden areas? Minorities. Plain and simple.
Some might say "OK - I can understand having a gun in your home, but carrying a gun publicly is dangerous!" Again - let's have that discussion. But unfortunately, the discrimination doesn't begin and end with carry permits. Firearm Purchaser Identification Cards (or FID's) are required before a citizen can buy any legal gun of any kind in New Jersey. Once again, there is a background check and some prerequisites done by the state via the New Jersey State Police, but who ultimately issues the FID's? Your local police department.
Guess what urban police departments do? They tell applicants to go away and come back other days. They create illegal, extra requirements not outlined by state law to make it more difficult to get the FID card (we have heard it all - doctor's notes, multiple choice tests, notarized forms, business references, additional forms of ID, bank statements, approval letters from landlords, etc, etc etc) These are all reminiscent of Jim Crow "poll tests" that were used to prevent the vast majority of blacks from voting. Moreover, urban police departments will often not allow you to come by to get your permit or ask questions whenever you like - they usually limit you to a very short time window on a specific day of the week. If you work a normal work week, and the firearm "window" is 3-4pm on Tuesdays, how are you supposed to comply legally with this ridiculous restriction? You have to lose money and take a day off work, and if you're lucky, they will be there to help you if they feel like it. Urban residents tend to be poorer, and are the least inclined to miss work, especially if they get sandbagged on an appointment 2-3 times prior. Urban residents are the most likely to give up in this process and abandon their pursuit of the FID, yet they are exposed to the most danger and violence in our society.
This is our problem. No other state does this. In any other state, anyone can go to a gun shop, run a federal background check (called NICS check), and be approved for the firearm if they are cleared. New Jersey creates a litigious experience where every single resident has a uniquely different experience trying to ask permission to exercise a fundamental right. More often than not, the more urban your city is, the harder and longer it is to get that permit.
Realizing the politicians were already backing laws that fundamentally hurt the most underprivileged from exercising their rights, we decided to do outreach to black civil rights groups to see if there was interest in sharing our message and standing with us. We contacted the NJ NAACP chapter and had a fantastic phone call. I want to stipulate clearly that the individual we dialogued with, who I will not name out of mutual respect, was beyond courteous and receptive to this very important message. We had a wonderful dialogue and resolved to meet personally sometime in the future, but that the decision for the NAACP to support this message would have to go to their board. Blue Star Union only wanted to raise awareness to the following message: informing the public of their rights as ruled by the courts, and encouraging minorities to learn about getting firearms to protect themselves legally. Unfortunately, I received a regrettable message back that stated they would not agree to stand with us:
--------- "...we ended up deferring to the National office to gain some more clarity. Long story short, the National NAACP does not feel this is something we should get involved with at this time." ---------
We want to make it abundantly clear that the local chapter and their representative was beyond friendly, and we understand this decision did not come locally. Nevertheless, we find it shocking that a national organization that takes in tens of millions of dollars in donations has no interest in correcting a fundamental civil rights travesty. The "vision statement" of the NAACP is: "...to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race."
Why wouldn't a group, whose entire purpose is to ensure civic equity, be interested in this fundamental platform of self-autonomy and protection? Do they think minorities are too stupid to have firearms? Or are they really not as interested in their community's well-being as they pretend to imply? Their splash page on their website features the cheeky hash-tag "#WeAreDoneDying". One way to prevent your community from harm is to give them sovereignty over themselves - and that begins with legal firearm ownership. Fundamentally, it's important for the public to realize these political realities - sometimes the groups AND legislators that purport to speak on your behalf only do so when it's politically expedient. We were upset to hear this response - especially because we connected so well with the local chapter. To our friend who we spoke to on the phone - our offer always stands, and you and any other colleagues are welcome to join us in friendship. But to the national NAACP chapter - shame on you. Shame on you for accepting donations under your vision statement but not standing up for your community to defend themselves. They need protection now more than ever.
Every life is sacred. The killing of George Floyd deserves a serious civic discussion. We simply want to inform the public of how the state simultaneously hampers one's ability to get a firearm while also having no legal duty to protect individuals. We can have many hypothetical conversations about what the optimal way of protecting residents in urban cities looks like - but it's kind of hard to oppress anyone when a community is well-armed. Why do the power-brokers and politicians in this state that purport to "care" about minorities keep them legally defenseless and vulnerable? Why are they silent on this paramount issue?
BLUE STAR UNION is a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Corporation - All donations are fully tax-deductible. ---------------------------------- Mission Statement: To educate the public about how to exercise their civil rights, engage with public officials, and build strong communities through media campaigns, publicly-accessible programming, and community events.