When Benedict and i decided to start the web site, and do blog posts on here with our personal thoughts, I think both of us assumed mine would be more satirical and funny, while his would be serious and deep, that is sort of the dynamic we have created on the podcasts after all. I’m the first to admit that my defense against difficult issues is to joke about them, but there are some things I just can’t do that with. Some issues are just so serious I have to treat them with the seriousness they deserve. The death and acquittal in the shooting of Philando Castile is one of those issues.
If you haven’t yet heard, Philando Castile was a 32 year old black man who lived in Minnesota and worked for the St. Paul Public School District as a cafeteria supervisor. on July 6, 2016 he was stopped by officer Jeronimo Yanez. When we recorded the podcast this afternoon I hadn’t yet seen the video of what happened during the stop. But I decided that if I was going to write about it, and if I was going to write about my conclusions, I had to be fair and watch. The video is one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever seen. I don’t think everyone should watch it, and I was genuinely shook after seeing it, but I think many of us have a need to know exactly what happened.
On June 16th 2017, officer Yanez was acquitted of all charges, and a member of the jury told the press that the main reason for the acquittal was the wording of the law.
So let’s start with the shooting. Castile told the officer that he had a gun in the car, making an honest attempt at doing everything he could to make sure the stop went safely. Mere seconds after he told the officer he had a gun, Yanez fired 7 shots. Castile’s girlfriend and her 4 year old daughter were also in the car. Immediately after the shooting the young girl runs from the car, undoubtedly, scarred for life.
The first thing I thought about was what if it were me. I’m a big white guy who I’m told can be a bit threatening because of my size, but the key word there is white. I AM WHITE. I’ve been pulled over several times in my life, and I’ve never even had an officer become anxious in my presence, even when I used to drive a beat up old pickup and wore grease stained work clothes everywhere. But Castile was black, with long braided hair and a goatee. He had been pulled over more than 50 times for minor traffic infractions and drove a beat-up white Oldsmobile. At trial, the officer’s defense was that he was “justifiably afraid” of Castile. But why? Because Castile told him he had a gun when he didn’t have to? Because Castile had his girlfriend and daughter in the car? No. It was because he was black.
For the last few days I’ve seen numerous right wingers try to defend the shooting by saying stupid shit like: “Black people commit more gun crime” “He shouldn’t have gone for his wallet” or “Why would he have a gun if he wasn’t doing something illegal?” These types of responses display the problem beautifully. The right has thrown all in with the idea that police cannot do anything wrong, they have dug their heads into the sand and ignored both the implicit, and institutional racism that exists in police departments across this country. Because they have decided that they must, at all costs, oppose anything that the left supports.
But at it’s core this is not a left vs. right issue. Police should not be shooting anyone who obeying the law and not a threat. Yes, Philando Castile was armed, but he had the legal right and appropriate paperwork to carry his firearm, one would expect outrage from the gun loving conservatives over a legal gun owner being shot just for having a gun, but all we hear is silence. Because the second amendment ends the moment your skin is darker than a good tan.
By all accounts, Philando was a great person, loved by his family and friends, loved by the children in the school cafeteria, loved by his girlfriend’s daughter, who will now grow up with the memory of what happened in that car.
There has been a certain false narrative in this country, that if you support police, you hate black people, and that if you think Black lives matter, you hate the police. But that is not how things actually are. We all need the police, and we all like knowing that they’ll be there if we get robbed, or if our lives are threatened. But the truth is, in the U.S. black neighborhoods don’t usually have the comfort of knowing the police will be there for them. More often they live in fear of the police coming to take a loved one to jail, or to evict them from their homes. And in the worst case, a police interaction could end up with someone they love dead.
I cannot proclaim to know what it is like to be a black man in this country. But I know what it is like to be a white one, it is easy. We don’t really understand what white privilege is until something like this happens and we think, “If I was in that car, the officer probably never would have even felt threatened.” It takes actual active effort every day to remind yourself how good you have it as a white man, but it is the least we can do, as white men, to seek to feel empathy for those who don’t have our privilege. We should, in reality, go beyond just feeling empathy, and actively try to fix the situation, because our ancestors, and our contemporaries inability or unwillingness to fix the problem of systemic racism in the U.S. has led us to where we are now.
Real reforms need to be made. We need body cameras on every officer in the country, we need to reform the laws so that when an officer kills an innocent black man, they can be successfully convicted for what they did, we need to double efforts at community policing, we need real criminal justice reform, we need a justice department that will actively fight for the rights of all people instead of telling prosecutors to seek the maximum penalty for minor drug charges. We need change, and we need it fast, because far too many of these deaths happen every year. We need to stop the horror, and we can only do that if we stand as one and declare that enough is enough.