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About Philando, Sandra & Black Lives Mattering

I don’t even know where to begin. I wrote the words below after what happened regarding the lack of justice in the shooting death of Philando Castile last week. Woke up Monday morning (June 19) to horrific news about Charleena Lyles, and Nabra Hassanen. It was, in a word, overwhelming. But I will leave the raw energy and emotion of my words around Castile as I initially penned them because they were part of a moment, a moment I fear I’ll relive again when another person of color is killed needlessly, whether by police or otherwise.

I suppose I couldn’t possibly add to the ongoing points and well-made realizations about what happened to Philando Castile. But what I do need to say is that it’s exhausting to see Black lives consistently seen as an expendable thing. For one, many of us had the misfortune of seeing what happened to Philando, of seeing what happened to Sandra Bland. These were moments of our lives supplanted by moving imagery that I’m sure some are trying hard to forget.We didn’t just get first-hand accounts or hearsay. We saw it. So it would be fair to assume things would go in the favor of justice for those who perished under the tyranny of the law because of the evidence that was presented.

That didn’t happen.

It was another reminder that I do not bear witness to this country’s idea of justice. I live here, it’s not my nation, and never has been. This cruel and repeated reminder that we won’t see the scales tip in favor of Black and Brown lives is traumatic and anyone reducing it to “well, what do you expect?” isn’t incorrect in that viewpoint but definitely insensitive. What then do we tell our young people about the unfairness they’re sure to face? How do I go to my family and say “that’s just how it is” and feel any type of balance in that sinking reality? What do I say to my nephews and nieces? What does anyone do when it feels like nothing will ever go the way it should?

My mother might not have been the doting, loving mom you would see in a 80s TV drama, but I know she loved my brother and I the best way she knew how. Every time we left the house, even if it was a quick jaunt down the block, she would always say “pay attention and be safe” because the neighborhood was certainly besieged by the element of crime at varying levels.

My mother also hammered home the fact that being Black boys would also be a telling mark that we wear and proceed with caution accordingly. Prince George’s County — a Washington, D.C. suburb — was notorious for its police force and their heavy hand against Black residents, especially the youth. I’ve always been very aware of the presence of police and the myriad ways they use the fear they inspire to their often selfish advantage. I have countless tales of the P.G. “po-po” literally harassing me and my friends for the mere fact that we were Black and had the nerve to be outside past 7 PM in the waning light of summertime.

I still get tight when I see a cop car zoom too close if I’m walking or driving, thinking it’s going to be the day they’re going to try to flex power over me. Even as I’m far removed from my petty crime days and not even remotely tied to my former past in the streets, I can feel that heat on my back. That’s what hurts so hard about Philando Castile. Officer Jeronimo Yanez said he was afraid, yet it was Castile who had that familiar tone of fear that wavered between trying to be respectful yet firm in hopefully conveying the notion that he was not a threat.

But it didn’t matter.

There is no reasoning with a police officer who has already determined you’re easy to kill. The officer has the weaponry and advantage each time. Fear makes us act irrationally, move erratically. How anyone can expect a confrontation with a police officer to go smoothly, what with lights, guns and yelling coming at you with force? As it stands, Philando Castile did none of that and it still led to him being shot and killed.

I don’t know much about Jeronimo Yanez. I did read he cried in court while giving his side of the story. He claimed he didn’t want to shoot Castile but said he saw something in his eyes that spooked him apparently. I wonder if Officer Yanez looked into Castile’s eyes and saw a bit of shame. That maybe he reacted to the fear as they say some dogs do when someone is afraid of the animal. Fear, shame, doubt — to an aggressor, could those be seen as a defensive acts? I’m speaking about this because I want to learn how to communicate that I pose no threat if I ever find myself in a similar situation.

No matter how I try to reason with myself over all of this, I’m left strictly with the nagging thought that police will continue to kill and terrorize because that model appears effective to those in power. What would it serve those in law enforcement to actually change their ways? What examples exist that their negative methods are met with a proper reprimand?

I suppose we just have to keep our eyes open and be thankful that social media has one immediately recognizable use in that we can spread awareness of this one-sided issue with a continually sinking hope that it might change things for the better.

Until then, pay attention and be safe.

With Love Always,

D.L.