A few years ago, following the Michael Brown shooting, FOX News host Sean Hannity explained that he never has problems with police because when he gets pulled over, he simply informs the officer that he is licensed to carry a firearm and it’s in the car. Philando Castile did just that and was murdered by a police officer in front of his girlfriend and her young child.
Castile, by all accounts, was a pillar of his community, well loved by hundreds of children at the school where he worked, not to mention their parents, his colleagues, friends, family and, of course Lavish Reynolds, his girlfiend. A woman who, after witnessing her boyfriend get shot, was able to muster the strength to go live on Facebook and show the world what had just happened.
Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who shot Castile probably didn’t know what the public now knows about him. All he had to go on was that Castile had a busted tail light, was riding with a woman and a small child, had informed him that he was carrying a licensed firearm and was reaching for something.
Could it be his registration? It would make sense. That is what you’re supposed to show the police when they pull you over, after all.
Could it be his gun? Why? Why would someone take the time to inform an officer that they are carrying a legal firearm if their plan was to whip it out and shoot? Why would someone riding with a small child be likely to kill over a busted taillight?
Why would a police officer jump to this unlikely conclusion and shoot before even telling the person to freeze? Truth is they wouldn’t if it was Sean Hannity in the car, or if it was me or most white people.
Castile, though, was a black man. When it comes to black men and sometimes black women and children, it’s sadly all too common for police to shoot first and hope nobody asks questions later.
Not Close to an Isolated Incident
There would have been significantly fewer questions when Baton Rouge police murdered Alton Sterling just a day before Yanez shot Castile in St. Anthony, Minnesota. However, a group called Stop the Killing had caught the whole thing on video and had the forethought to wait for the police to tell their side of the story before showing the world what really happened.
Sterling was selling CDs outside of a convenience store and allegedly pointed a gun at someone who called the police. According to the convenience store owner who witnessed the shooting, the police were aggressive from the start and quickly escalated the situation. Sterling was complying with them and never went near his weapon which he was licensed to carry.
The cellphone video shows police yelling at Sterling to get to the ground and then tackling him almost immediately. One officer shouts “he’s got a gun!” This was in reference to the firearm the officer had found in his pocket, not a weapon Sterling was brandishing or even going near. Hearing this, the other officer shot Sterling in the chest.
Two black men murdered by police in two days. A record? Hardly. Two black men murdered by police in two days and the public has video proof. That is new, and a reminder that filming cops is not just a right but a civic duty.
NRA Double Standard
Both victims were also legal gun owners. After much pressure the National Rifle Associaton (NRA) released this statement, which didn’t even reference what happened to Sterling:
“The reports from Minnesota are troubling and must be thoroughly investigated. In the meantime, it is important for the NRA not to comment while the investigation is ongoing. Rest assured, the NRA will have more to say once all the facts are known.”
The NRA’s reluctance to rush to the defense of black men who legally owned firearms when we all know that they would have been all over the stories if the gun owners had been white is not at all surprising. While I’m not a fan of open carry laws in general and think no one has a legit reason to own an AR-15, this video shows just who the Second Amendment applies to and doesn’t, at least in the eyes of law enforcement:
Dallas Doesn’t Change Anything
As I was writing this, Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests against these two most recent murders were happening in cities all across the United States (and still are a few days later). In Dallas, Micah Xavier Johnson, an Afghanistan War veteran with sniper skills who was not a part of the march turned the peaceful protest into a bloodbath shooting twelve police officers, killing five.
According to Dallas Police Chief David Brown:
“The suspect said he was upset about Black Lives Matter. He said he was upset about the recent police shootings. He was upset at white people. He wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”
While Johnson did attain his goal of killing white police officers, he also shifted mainstream media focus away from the recent police killings he claimed he was upset by. Instead of simply chalking this up to the work of a spree killer with easy access to firearms, the training to use them properly and a likely case of PTSD, quite a few people in the media, online and at least one former politician decided to use this to attack BLM, despite this statement that they do not support murder:
#BlackLivesMatter advocates dignity, justice and freedom. Not murder.
— Black Lives Matter (@Blklivesmatter) July 8, 2016
This is already being used by some and will undoubtedly continue to be used to push a #bluelivesmatter agenda. There are three huge problems with this.
First, cops choose to be cops, people don’t choose to be a particular race, so the comparison is nowhere near valid. Second, the hashtag was created specifically to reinforce the notion that police are entitled to murder black people, despite being disguised as some sort of BS equalizer. Third, according to politicians, the media and mainstream thinking, police lives do matter and to some, matter more than others.
The shooting in Dallas is being treated as a national tragedy. Prominent voices on the right and even the supposed left equate an attack on police with an attack on everyone. The President is even cutting his trip short to visit Dallas, something he didn’t do for any of the black victims of police shootings.
Police were attacked by one spree killer who is now dead. Black people are under constant attack by an officially sanctioned paramilitary force that has killed and continues to kill them with impunity. Systemic racism is a real thing that’s alive and well in police forces across the Western world.
No, All Lives Are Not Dealing with this Right Now
If you think we should be saying #alllivesmatter, then you’re missing the point entirely, either intentionally or because you just don’t get it. This kitchen table analogy should explain how you’re basically the person railing against a cancer fundraiser by screaming that other diseases matter, too or this cartoon dude:
I’m white and I don’t think for a second that my life doesn’t matter because I say #blacklivesmatter, I know that my life mattering is not in dispute. I know that if I had been driving that car with a busted tail light instead of Philando Castile, I’d probably still be alive right now.
Sure, police kill white people without a valid reason, too, but they do it nowhere near as frequently as they murder black people. 26% of Americans killed by police are black, though only 13% of the population are. The ratio of unarmed black men killed by police versus unarmed white men in the US is six to one (and I got those stats from a right-wing website trying to argue, badly, just the opposite point while doing their best to misinterpret Washington Post numbers).
I know my life matters, I don’t need to scream it. I know that Black Lives Matter and I feel it’s important to let everyone know. It’s not an either-or situation. It is a dire situation that needs to be addressed and fixed now.
Now, sadly not now more than ever, it’s important to keep saying Black Lives Matter.
You are right on Castile but very wrong on Sterling. I wish the two were not commingled.
Sterling was an armed felon, and from my view of things, was struggling with officers who were trying to disarm him at the time he got shot. He had been in prison for both assault and statutory rape, and so in no way should have been armed. We don’t see in the video what officers did try to disarm him before the struggle, but I don’t think once they were on the ground that the felon needs to draw his weapon before deadly force is used. Simply putting up a fight is enough if you are an armed felon.
Now every black person I know is as law abiding as I am and it give me pain that their interactions with police are often so negative. But I am very much OK with armed felons being much afraid when they have a gun, and if you struggle to be disarmed in those situations, things are probably not going to turn out well, black or white. But our focus should be on the unjust way law-abiding men of color are treated, not the armed felons who get into physical altercations with police who are lawfully trying to disarm them.
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