“I wasn’t reaching for it.” The last words of Mr. Philando Castile were to his defense. He wasn’t doing anything wrong and according to him, he wasn’t going to. Still, he was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer in front of his distraught girlfriend, Diamond and her four year old daughter.
Dead after a traffic stop. Pulled over for a broken tail light on July 6, 2016 and I cannot get the images and sounds of his tragic death out of my head. Reynolds live- streamed the exchange on Facebook Live and cameras don’t lie. But, for some, they do.
The testimony of officers often believed over that of African American women and men, perhaps, Reynolds thought that this evidence would support her claim. “See. Look. Listen. This is happening right now. And we were all witnesses in real time.”
The historical and social discounting of the innocence and consequently, the life of African Americans it is not lost on this generation and will not be overlooked. Social media and protests help to keep these stories in the news cycle and the victims of police- involved shootings on the front page. But, more still needs to be said not in sound bites but in our cross- cultural relationships.
Because it didn’t matter that he followed the officer’s instructions, that he was reaching for his wallet or his seatbelt, that he had a permit to carry his gun (which the officer’s defense team did not want the jury to hear), that he wasn’t running away or towards the officer, that he wasn’t reaching for the officer’s gun. The results are the same. On the two year anniversary of the brutal murders of nine worshippers at Mother Emanuel AME Church, news stations reported that the officer charged with manslaughter in the death of Mr. Philando Castile and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm had been acquitted of all charges. All Charges. All fingers point back to unarmed Castile.
He must have done something to cause his death. Check his criminal record. Release mugshots. Test him for drugs. Because there must be something about him– past, present or future– that makes him worthy of death at any moment. To be socially colored black is to look guilty, right?
Part grief and part disbelief, I still don’t know what to say. This is not happening. This cannot be true. But, this is not an isolated incident. Is anyone keeping up with the number of connections that are being made, the number of cases that are piling up where the outcome is the same for African American women and men?
But, I wasn’t the only one who was searching for words. The New York Daily News reported on the silence of the National Rifle Association (NRA), an organization that advocates for Americans’ second amend right to bear arms and to protect their families. Yet, it is not just the NRA that needs to speak up and address its double- standards but all Americans. Because it’s not just one rogue police officer, one bad apple. No, bad apples come from bad trees.
Both police officers and citizens should be given the benefit of doubt. Because if we are presuming guilt or innocence based on the social construct of race and not evidence, then African American people are never innocent. And that’s not justice. That’s prejudice and the continued intentional criminalization of an entire cultural group.
My head is down today because this really hurts. This feels like betrayal and I don’t know when I will be able to look into the eyes of the law again. It will certainly not look the same after seeing it from Castile’s perspective.