Tag Archives: Philando Castile

After the death of Philando Castile: What will we preach?

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More videos have been released after a jury decided that the officer who shot and killed Mr. Philando Castile was not guilty of any charges.  A jury of his peers decided he did nothing wrong.  Mr. Castile is dead and this is just standard police training.  What’s most important is that the officer made it out alive, right?  Well, he’s been fired and will not be serving Mr. Castile’s community in the future.  I have no idea how both these truths can coexist.

I sat and watched his death from the police officer’s dash camera and it is just as tragic.  I can hear the anxiety in the police officer’s voice and I am disgusted.  “If you are afraid, wait for back up to arrive.  If you are afraid, why not interrogate your fear?”  Because I hear nothing scary coming from the car.

I hear Mr. Castile’s voice and I feel helpless and weak.  I know that he is going to die just like the other African Americans before him  and we will blame them for it.  It’s always their fault, right?  Still, no gun in view much less drawn or aimed, Mr. Castile is shot to death.

In a matter of seconds, Mr. Castile is shot numerous times and I see another officer move away.  The police officer who shot and killed Mr. Castile had not considered his partner who may have been in the line of fire or the other passengers, to include a four- year- old in the backseat, until afterwards.  She climbs out of the car after witnessing the shooting. His partner grabs her.  Isn’t that ironic?

It was “a split- second decision” that has changed her life forever.  I watch another video and I hear her small voice warn her mother to watch her language.  She doesn’t want her “to get shooted.”  In a split- second, her perspective has changed and she now feels the need to police her mother’s behavior.  Because it is more important that her mother maintain her composure after watching a fearful police officer kill the man she loves.

It was a split- second decision that involved the officer only thinking about his safety and no one else’s.  He feared for his life and had to make a split- second decision to kill Mr. Castile?  A decision based on fear of what could happen. But, wasn’t this why Mr. Castile greeted the officer with deference?  Wasn’t that the reason why he told the officer that he had a registered firearm in the car?  To calm his fears and to reassure him that he had no intentions to harm him.  Because why would he tell the officer that he has a gun and then reach for it?

“Sir, I have a gun.  Please wait while I reach for it to take your life with my family in the car.  Put your heads down, girls.”  In a split- second, this logic was not questioned.  That Mr. Castile also wanted to go home.  Because he knows the drill; records show that he had been stopped by police more than forty times.  But, I am supposed to believe he now decides to kill a police officer?

I’m still trying to make sense of it but I can’t.  There’s no real rationale for the continued employment of the shaky hands of Lady Justice.  Because it shouldn’t have happened.   Murdered out of fear when there has been year after year of nationally publicized police- involved shootings of African Americans?  I would understand Mr. Castile’s fear but not the officer’s.

I know that this messes with our neat little boxes.  Police officers swear to uphold the law so we don’t want to consider that they might break it.  They are the good people and the African Americans are the bad people.  There are cops and there are robbers.  But, what happens to our boxes when the cops are doing the robbing?

See Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees.  He didn’t mince words butcalled these keepers of the law “white- washed graves” (Matthew 23.27).  Jesus was quite comfortable with the inconsistences of our humanity and had no problem calling out their hypocrisies.  Police officers are no different; they are under the same law.  Call it like you really see it.  Jesus would.

So, how then do we preach?  Where will we stand behind our pulpits after the death of Mr. Castile?  Will we pray for his family?  Will we mention his name at all?  Challenge ourselves to sit in the car with him and see justice from his eyes?

Or, will we simply pray for the police officers because they are trying to do the right thing?  But, wasn’t that what Mr. Castile was attempting to do? The truth is that in our eyes, he wasn’t good enough.  We don’t have to say it; our silence sums it up.

Yes, a police officer’s job is hard and dangerous.  If someone is going to die, we would prefer it not be the good guy, right?  Our conclusions are cut and dry, black and white.  No grace and no wiggle room for Mr. Castile or his family in the car that day.  It’s the law.

The Scriptures are not silent on matters of justice so why does the Church pretend to be?  Instead, I would encourage my fellow preachers to speak authentically, openly, honestly and transparently about his death and what it means for you.  And if it means nothing, ask yourself, “Why?”  If you feel that he deserved it, ask yourself, “Why?”  If you believe that you can do nothing to break this cycle, ask yourself, “Why?”  And then write.

Perhaps, tomorrow’s sermon will be a lament.  Maybe it will voice the cry of righteous anger or be an opportunity to ask necessary questions about how we can best serve our community in times of crisis.  While you are searching for an appropriate Scripture for the subject matter, consider the position of the police officer and that of Mr. Castile.  Then, ask yourself, “Where would Jesus be?”

Looking into the eyes of the law after the death of Philando Castile

Image result for Philando Castile Crip“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.



We will say more names

A few days ago, I wrote about the death of Mr. Alton Sterling in a police- involved shooting in Baton Rouge.  “I don’t want to say another name” was written from a place of distress and emotional exhaustion.  I just could not take another death, another loss and frankly, another win for the social construct of race.  I never could have imagined that I would revisit this scene again in the same week; though this time, my view was a lot closer.

I am in the car with Diamond Reynolds and her four year old daughter.  She is recording the death of her fiancé, Mr. Philando Castile and live- streaming it on Facebook Live.  He has been shot multiple times and her first reaction is to pick her phone to record the incident.  This is both telling and troubling.

She knows that her word won’t be enough.  Her eyes don’t matter.  Instead, she will need more eye witnesses, more viewers.  In an interview with Fox 5 in Washington, D.C., Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Georgetown professor and well-known public intellectual, compared her to Mamie Till, who decided to have an open casket funeral for her 14- year old son, Emmett Till, who was kidnapped, beaten, lynched, shot and then dumped in the Tallahatchie River in the summer of 1955.

It is as if the scene has been paused; the officer is still holding his gun.  The officer, now identified as Jeronimo Yanez, is agitated.  And it is Ms. Reynolds who is composed and respectful, still addressing the officer as “sir.”  She does not want to be his next victim.

Mr. Castile’s breathing is shallow and she thinks that he has died.  More police arrive and Ms. Reynolds holds the camera and her composure until they put her in the backseat of a police car.  She screams and I scream with her.  The world hears her four year old daughter comfort her, “It’s okay mommy. I’m here with you.”  I have a three year old son.  He would have said this to me too.

Heart- breaking. Heart- destroying.  Gut- wrenching.  Sickening.  Frightening.  Paralyzing.  Angering.  Mobilizing.  Marching.  Standing.  Shouting to the top of my lungs, “I’m here with you!”

In the video, Ms. Reynolds asks for prayers. “Please pray for us.”  No confidence in the police department, the justice system or hope for our shared humanity, Ms. Reynolds believes that it will take divine power.  I agree.  Only God can help us now.

Whether we join hands, put our hands up or our hands in our pockets and look down at the ground because we don’t want to get involved, the outcome is the same.

But, THIS is wrong.  Not “I made a mistake” wrong.  Not “I had no idea” wrong.  Not “let me make it up to you” wrong.  This is historically, factually, presently and always wrong.

Still in shock and while I am processing these two scenes in Louisiana and Minnesota, there is another.  This time, we are in Dallas and it is the police officers who are the target and the victims.  Thirteen people are wounded, including one civilian.  Five police officers are killed by suspected shooter and U.S. military veteran, Micah Johnson.

More names.  Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Brent Thompson, Michael Smith and Patrick Zamarripa.

The fear and hopelessness is spreading.  Officers are told to work in pairs.  There are reports of more ambush- style attacks on police who are called to a scene only to be shot at.  If we do not practice the law fairly, the citizens will attempt to balance the scales.  Lawlessness is inevitable and it seems that we are heading toward a race war.  Dylann Roof  says, “Thank you.”  This is what he wanted.

We will say more names because we do more politicizing and propangandizing than truth- telling, more feigning ignorance than owning our complicity, more deflecting and finger- pointing than hand- holding, more blame- shifting than assigning responsibility, more self- victimization instead of comforting those who mourn, more asking for an explanation instead of seeking an understanding, more looking down at the ground instead of looking into the eyes of another human being, more justifying than apologizing, more denying than accepting, more beating around the bush instead of chopping it down and digging up its roots.

The fruit of race is “a strange fruit.”   Still, we continue to eat it though we know that it is poisonous.  But, the privileges are so sweet and the pain so familiar.  So, we pass the race at our tables as we say more names.