Last week I wrote a blog post about how tired I was. The post was triggered by the recent verdict in the murder of Philando Castile. I was tired of hearing about police officers killing people with impunity, but I was also plain tired of life.
I had no words last week. No words. No. Words. Nothing. There was nothing to say. What does one say when police get off (no pun intended because really, they must get off) from killing people time and time again? Like, what do you say? I was incredulous and all I knew was that I was tired. But this week, I watched the police dashcam footage that was recently released, and I think that my voice has finally started to return.
But can I tell you?
I am so bloody livid.
I’m so hella pissed.
I’m mad as hell.
I am so angry.
I’m just so mad.
I ask you to pardon my French. I cuss even though I have a large enough vocabulary. I think I finally understand why some people curse. Profanity is unsavoury, uncouth, unclassy and unbecoming of a Christian, but polite, flowery, verbose words often don’t do the hurt justice. Sometimes you are pushed so far and cut so deep and hurt so much that all you can do is sputter one-word epithets.
To those who say, “Well, I’ve never sworn a day in my life”: Good for you.
My dear readers, you must understand — I rarely get this angry. So angry that I have thought about this case day in and day out — at work, on the bus, at home. So angry that I stare at my computer screen in a daze. So infuriated that I write with tears in my eyes as my heart pounds in my chest. I’m not an angry person by nature. But there are times in life when you witness something so unconscionable — something that literally shocks the conscience of anyone who has one — that all one can hope to do is weep and write.
I don’t know if I can ever properly articulate the rage that has welled up in my chest, but I shall endeavour to try anyways.
I realize that not all of my readers are American or Canadian, so I’ll post some videos to give you some context.
Philando Castile was a Black man driving with his girlfriend and four-year-old daughter when he was stopped by a police officer. Because Black people are now so used to hearing stories of other Black people encountering police officers and getting murdered, they have become accustomed to whipping out their cell phones as soon as a police officer shows up on the scene (it really hurt me to write that. What a dammmmmn shame. It really is so very sad that we as a society have devolved to such a sickening, sorry state of affairs). Philando’s girlfriend did the same, and thank God she did. She had the good sense to start live streaming the exchange on Facebook.
The police officer said he was stopping Philando because his light was out (which we later find out is bullsh*t according to the videos below). Philando legally carries and has a permit for a gun. Philando very transparently and really non-threateningly informs the officer that he has a gun and has a permit for it. The office asks for Philando’s license and registration. Philando moves to obey and retrieve his license and registration to show the police officer, only for the police officer to shoot him four times (some reports say seven), in front of his girlfriend and his child (Lawd Jesus have mercy).
The following videos are graphic and may be triggering. Viewer discretion is advised.
Oh.. and then there was this. Lord, I don’t even have time to unpack this:
The Daily Show’s host, Trevor Noah, was on fire this week:
Several, and I mean, several things bother me about this incident.
Let’s talk about the dashcam footage. In it, the police officer says that Philando looks like a suspect from a recent robbery — that he matches the description since he has a “wide-set nose.” Black people are often described as having a “wide-set nose.” If that isn’t the most racist description of a subject, I don’t know what is. Having a wide-set nose would pretty much give him license to stop just about any Black person. I mean, we all look the same after all (that was sarcasm in case you didn’t pick it up).
Then… then, the police officer lies and says, “The reason I pulled you over is because your brake lights are out.” I kid you not — this is a like a scene out of one of those 1960’s civil rights movies — getting pulled over by a police officer for a made-up reason in order to get lynched. And in 2017, we see history repeating itself with this legal lyniching. It has racial profiling written allllll over it.
The officer, supposedly in a panic, shot Philando, not once, but seven times. Seven. Seven. Biblically, seven is the number of completion, and I, for one, wonder if the police officer wanted to make completely sure that the man was completely dead. Once may have been explicable or slightly excusable, insofar as we go along with the weak story that the police officer was threatened. But seven? He really wanted to kill the man.
Another thing that bothers me: surprisingly enough, believe it or not, police officers somehow often manage not to kill White people when arresting them. So. Many. Times. Really. Too many times to mention in one blog post. Dylann Roof was calmly escorted out by police officers. He gunned down a church full of Black folks, but for some strange reason, police officers were not threatened by him. They even bought him a burger. Go figure.
Such kindness, deferrence, and calm are rarely ever bestowed upon Black people when they are taken into custody. That is just a blatant slap in the face.
Sometimes I want to ask some police officers, “Why are y’all so easily threatened? What is it about the Black body that scares you sh*tless to the point that you feel compelled to go on a shooting spree?” Some of these police officers are just too damn trigger/nigger happy.
Breathe. Okay… Can we just talk about the four-year-old child for a minute?
My God. Seeing her is what broke me.
Sometimes you hear single Black women sit around and gripe and complain: “Where are the Black men? They’re all in prison or they’re gay.”
Here’s another idea: They’re dead. They’ve been shot down in cold blood by the very people who allegedly and ironically swore to serve and protect them.
We often ask ourselves, “Where are the good men?” The good men are in the grave, felled by the bullet of the state.
Philando, by all accounts, was a good man. In an article entitled, “The 395 Children Phildando Left Behind,” it mentions how Philando memorized the allergies of the children with whom he worked. A fourth-grader is quoted asking, “How do you kill Mr. Phil and nothing happens?”
Sweetheart, the whole world is asking the same question and I wish I had an answer for you. Sadly, I don’t.
Speaking of children, let’s turn our attention to the child that had to watch her father die in front of her.
This poor little girl had to watch her father’s body get riddled by bullets, watch as life slowly slipped away from him, and watch her mother get handcuffed and thrust in a police car.
I marvel at her calmness and I am astonished by her maturity. I am touched that she had enough wherewithal to comfort her mother. But what puts salt in my wound and adds insult to injury is she says to her mother, according to the dashcam footage, “Mommy, stop screaming. I don’t want you to get shooted.”
In other words, “I don’t want what happened to my daddy to happen to you. I don’t want to be left alone, an orphan, in this bleak, dark, scary, racist world.”
I don’t care what your opinion on this matter is; no child should ever have to utter such words.
As young as this little girl is, even she understands that screaming, grief, fear, breathing, or any sign of life from a Black person is enough to get you “shooted.” It is absolutely horrible and heartbreaking that she has learned such a hard lesson in her very short life, and it pains my heart that she will grow up without a father.
She will need therapy. She will need grief counselling. She will need a strong community to enfold her in their arms and she will need Jesus.
But she didn’t need to see her father die, and this should never have happened in the first place.
But you know what really, really bothers me? What really bothers me to my core? What bothers me to no end are the people — I tell you, the people — who take out their magnifying glasses of mighty ignorance to search and find and point out what Philando and other victims like him did wrong. Help me Holy Ghost.
At first, when videos like this started to surface, these people said, “Oh, he should’ve taken off his hoodie.” Black people were like, “Nah, he got shot because he was Black,” but some of us who were trying to be even-keeled were willing to concede that yes, hoodies can be scary.
Then, after another such incident, they said, “Well she shouldn’t have mouthed off. She should have just obeyed the officer.” Black people were like, “Nah, she still got shot because she was Black,” but some of us who were trying to be reasonable and fair were willing to concede that “Fine, she shouldn’t have mouthed off. Black people, unfortunately, have to learn how to grovel and ingratiate themselves — “yes sir” or “yess massah” — or else they will lose their lives. It’s just the way things are.”
Then, after yet another such incident, they said, “Well, he had a toy gun” or “he was selling cigarettes” or my favourite “he was resisting arrest.” Black people were like, “Nah, he still got shot because he was Black,” but some of us who were trying to be level-headed and not emotionally driven were willing to concede that fine, “he should just avoid those places. We won’t let our children play with toy guns because, while children of all other races manage to have a toy gun and not get shot, a black boy with a toy gun is just too much of a threat for these officers. He should just become limp and just breathe when confronted by an officer. It’s just the way things are.”
But the fault finding exercise has been taken too far and has gone on long enough. We watch a video like this, where Philando and his girlfriend were constantly and consistently transparent, honest, deferential and respectful, where there was a child in the back of the car, where the man was shot — not once, but seven times because the police officer, with all of his training and years on the force, was so very “threatened” and panicked when a Black man calmly tried to cooperate with him, and people still try to dig — scrape — and find out what the victims did wrong — not what the police officer, piece of sh*t that he is, did wrong, but what the victims did wrong. It boggles the mind and completely grinds my gears that people are so intent — dedicated and devoted — to absolving the obvious wrongdoing and culpability of the perpetrator, that they will try and find a semblance and shadow of a speck of a reason to blame and inculpate the victim.
I read comments like, “Well, he shouldn’t have moved his hands.” “He should have kept his hands visible,” or “he should have kept his hands on the steering wheel.” Philando was obeying the officer’s orders to surrender his license and registration. For the love of Christ, Philando could have had his hands up in the air ’til kingdom come and he still would have been shot.
We just can’t win, can we? We can’t win no matter what we do. We dig our hands in our pockets and we get shot. So we take our hands out of our pockets and we have our hands up saying, “don’t shoot” and we still get shot. We keep our hands visible and we get shot. We tell the officer that we are a registered gun owner and we get shot. What the hell do people want us to do?
I absolutely hate it when I read comments like that. Man gets shot by a police officer. “Well, what was he doing to get shot? He must have been doing something wrong.” (The assumption being that police officers only ever shoot if someone is not doing what they are supposed to do. They never are misguided in their use of force. They are always trying to serve and protect. Biggest lie ever told). Woman gets raped. “Well what was she wearing? Was she drinking? She must have done something wrong.”
Why is it when things go wrong in a dispute or violent incident, especially one involving a discrepancy in power, that we always want to point a finger at something the victim did or didn’t do? We are we so adamant to protect and incapable of admitting that state racism exists and that toxic masculinity is a thing. It’s the people with the power who have the problem. No one ever says, “Well, the guy was an ass. He should have kept his dick in his pants,” or “He should have let the person retrieve their license and registration.”
Who cares what the victim was doing or not doing? Who cares about the victim’s nonfeasance or malfeasance? What matters most — the only thing that really matters — is the guilty mind and the guilty act of the accuser — not the victim.
People are so unwilling to admit or believe that police officers and others in positions of authority can harass, rape, or even kill. This really, really bothers me. The only “crime” of the victim was that they were a woman, or, in this case, they were Black.
I marvel… no, I’m insulted and infuriated by the willful blindness and dearly held, tightly clutched ignorance and racism of those who claim to only be “sharing their opinion.”
There’s sharing your opinion, and then there’s denial and racism. Those are three completely different things.
And so dear readers, I am still so very tired. Cases such as this one are what drove me to go to law school. I felt the fear of living as a marginalized person, and I wanted to study the law and use it as a sword and a shield for people who looked like me.
But my legal studies and the constant absolution of police officers in cases such as these often showed me that the justice system was often an obtuse tool in obtaining justice, that the law can sometimes perpetuate inequalities, and that justice, fairness, and rightness might be better and more effectively obtained through different means.
The police killings of the past few years have shown, as cases in point, that systemic racism pervades the police forces of the United States. Unfortunately, I do not have reason to believe that Canada is any different. My issue is not with police officers as individuals. I would imagine that most of them are good, kind, helpful people. My issue is with the powers and principalities and systems that allow for Black bodies to continue to be viewed as threatening, ready to maim, capable of harm and malice at any given moment.
While I could litigate and be retained as counsel for a family who lost a loved one, it would only be a person by person victory, and may not trigger the widespread systemic change that is necessary. The disease of racism is mental. Its dismantling requires that people question and to think. Writing has been shown to be a very effective tool in doing just that.