Another Shooting Another Acquittal

Shame on the jurors, shame on the entire system

The black community has seen their share of police corruption and abuse. We have “the talk” with our children about what to do if stopped by police, where you should put your hands, and the measured way you should speak to an officer, making sure not to trigger them into using force.

I used to sit and listen to my grandmother talk to my uncles about police brutality, and even as a child the irony of the situation didn’t escape me. We, the Black community, were being held to a higher standard than the police department. As if we just acted a certain way, the police wouldn’t beat us.

Years later, the Rodney King verdict put the issue at the forefront. And my White friends were focused on the riots, rather than the injustice of the verdict. There was a video of police officers brutally beating a black man and a jury found them not guilty. Black communities were smoldering with rage and the verdict was the gas. Most of my black friends were not surprised by the riots. We were more surprised that it hadn’t happened sooner.

I had fewer white friends when the OJ verdict was announced. I remember how my coworkers and I were sitting around the office radio, waiting to hear the verdict. The divide was clear. Whites on one side, Blacks on the other, literally sitting across the room from each other. My Black co-workers and I were certain the LA police department was racist and felt the Defense made the case for reasonable doubt. The tapes and the testimony from the police department, none of it surprised the black community. We were living it every day.

My White co-workers however, couldn’t see the reasonable doubt and worse, how we felt as Blacks living in America. It bothered me. These were people who were more than casual acquaintances. We were friends, good friends actually. I remember being frustrated with how quickly they dismissed the corruption in the police department as if they could not believe what they were hearing from the Defense.

I even told them about my own encounters with police; the way they harassed people as they entered or left certain neighborhoods. Stopping you for a variety of infractions, then demanding to search your car once they stopped you. My friends sympathized but clearly didn’t understand how the constant threats from police wears you down and demoralizes you.

Since then, it’s been one case after another of a dead Black man or woman and a police officer either not going to trial or found not guilty of anything, even manslaughter. But this case has hit me hard. It has taken me days to process this case. Again, I wasn’t surprised by the verdict but it still has affected me in a way I have had trouble putting into words.

Philando Castile was shot in his car while riding with his girlfriend and her 4 year old daughter in Minnesota. Castile was initially pulled over for a broken tail light in what should have been a routine traffic stop. When Officer Jeronimo Yanez stopped the car and asked for the license and registration, Castile volunteered that he had a concealed weapons permit and had a gun in the car with him. As soon as Castile made this statement, the officer reaches for his own gun telling Castile to not pull the gun out to which Castile replied that he wasn’t pulling the gun out, he was reaching for the ID that the officer requested him to do. The officer then yells not to pull the gun out and fires into the car, shooting Philando Castile seven times and killing him.

Castile’s girlfriend live streamed the encounter on Facebook giving the entire country a look at what happens when Black people are stopped by police. The video along with her commentary was heartbreaking. We all saw this woman watching her boyfriend being shot and killed while her little girl was in the back seat. And the crime for which he was given the death sentence, legally carrying a licensed firearm. Since the verdict, more videos have come out each one a little more distressing than the previous one especially the video where the little girl tells her mother not to curse because she would get ‘shooted’.

I live in an open carry state and if I go to a Starbucks on any given Saturday, there will be some White guy in the Starbucks with a weapon, or at the park, or at the grocery store, even at a bar. Police aren’t stopping these guys and shooting them within 5 seconds. The NRA and their supporters love to talk about 2nd amendment rights. They don’t want anything to infringe on their right to legally carry a weapon. But where were those voices when Castile was shot? Why didn’t the NRA run an ad supporting Castile’s right to own a gun?

Officer Yanez used the standard line of being afraid for his life; his fear outweighing the actual evidence. His fear outweighed Castile’s claims of not pulling out the weapon. His fear outweighed Castile’s rights. His fear outweighed the safety of the other passengers in the car who were not accused of doing anything wrong. His fear meant he didn’t have to be concerned that a stray bullet could have killed the little girl in the backseat.

If police officers are so afraid of every Black person they see even in routine traffic stops, what exactly are Black Americans supposed to do? Telling the officer about the weapon didn’t help. Not telling them doesn’t work either. Hell, lying on your back with your hands in the air didn’t even stop officers from shooting a Black man. Sow what exactly do we do because we can’t change the color of our skin.

Case after case after case has shown that no amount of force is too excessive when used on Black people. Nothing is out of line. Not killing a 12 year old seconds after pulling up near him at a park. Not body slamming a teenager on her way home from a pool party. Not dragging a little girl out of her chair in school. Not denying a Black man water for so many days he died of dehydration. And certainly not shooting Philando Castile while two other people are in the car including a little four year old girl.

My grandmother would have been 100 years old last week. She was around when police were allowing Blacks to be drug out of their cells and lynched in the streets. She lived through a time when you were more afraid of the police then you were of the criminals. She and my grandfather had the talk with their sons and later their daughters. And all these years later, Blacks still have to have the talk with their kids. So if our Black voices aren’t changing the police culture, where are the white voices?

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