This past Thursday, I was fortunate enough to join the cast and crew of BET’s “Tales” for an Atlanta screening of their “Fuck The Police” episode, which airs on June 27th. Without giving anything away, the episode, which focuses on police brutality, ends by rolling through the names of victims of police brutality. As I began watching the list, I noticed this was not the normal obligatory short form list of your Tamirs, Garners, and Browns. No. This is the long form list. A few minutes in, like many of the members of the audience, I began to file out. As I walked slowly closer to the exit, I looked up to find we were only up to the Fs. And while I by no means thought that anyone should be excluded, a part of me felt that ALL of those names seemed a bit much.
Then on Friday, Jeronimo Yanez, the Minnesota police officer who was broadcasted in his execution of Philando Castile (via Facebook live) was acquitted of all charges associated with his death. Castile, the beloved school cafeteria worker. Castile the loving boyfriend. Castile, who was traveling with both his girlfriend AND her 4 year old daughter in the car. Castile, who notified the officer that he had a firearm, as firearm training had taught him to do. The officer that recklessly shot and killed him was acquitted.
The defense focused on the questionable circumstances that were not revealed via the dashboard footage or the Facebook live video recorded by Castile’s girlfriend (Diamond Reynolds). Instead they argued that Castile appeared to be high and moving slowly; marijuana had been found in the car; Castile had allegedly not pulled over right away; Castile had fit the description of a robbery suspect. For all these reasons, the defense argued that Yanez’s behavior was cautious yet justified. They say he was unsure of what threat level he was approaching and reacted according to those suspicions. And for those reasons, I suppose, they were able to plant a level of reasonable doubt in the 12 members of the jury, who deliberated for 27 hours before acquitting.
However, as was questioned by Minnesota governor, Mark Drayton, in the aftermath of this shooting, “Would this have happened if the driver were white, if the passenger were white?” And while proponents of Blue Lives Matter have consistently decried the claims of racism in these incidents, at what point do they stop claiming coincidence and start admitting a trend. The miscarriage of justice in these situations occurs way too often. Too often, the cases don’t even go to trial. And when they do, acquittal or mistrial seems to be the key words. With no real justification, somehow, the officer felt threatened. The victim’s existence alone, his or her blackness, was considered a threat that justified death. Now I’m not saying in any of these cases the victim should be insubordinate, unruly, mouthy, or pushy. That behavior in any person toward an officer is asking for trouble of some sort. But somehow, for some, it seems to be asking for more than just trouble. It seems to justify death.
Even more, it’s notable that the NRA has not said a word about Castile in over a year. A permitted gun owner, who followed his training, Castile made it clear to Yanez that he was legally armed. He repeatedly reassured the officer that he was not reaching for his gun. And somehow, he was still killed, and the NRA has been silent. Castile was killed for his 2nd amendment right and yet nothing. Are we to believe that the NRA believes this killing was justified? Are we to believe that the NRA believes that the 2nd Amendment does not apply to Castile?
The only reasonable answer lies in Castile’s blackness. The vilification of the black body goes further back then just the origins of this country. It is criminal. The mark of Cain that damns those marked as a punishment of God. Thus making them inferior beings, more inherently predisposed for criminality, hyper-sexuality and all levels of deviance and impropriety. And that blackness makes mere existence a threat. And those protecting themselves from that inherent threat justified, or at least understood in their inclination toward self-preservation. The reality is, Castile couldn’t win. He notified the officer that he was armed; he narrated what he was doing; he attempted to follow conflicting directives (to show identification and freeze); and yet he was still murdered in a system that has failed to recognize the wrongdoings inherent in the hypocrisy.
In watching the names go across the screen at the end of “Tales” I felt like it was too much. It was uncomfortable. But isn’t that the point? We’ve normalized these killings, even as we’re outraged by them. We scream certain names as if they are the only ones (Garner, Bland, Tamir, Philando, Alton, Mike Brown…). But they’re not. People are going to protest in the street for Philando for a while. A civil suit will be filed, and a settlement reached. And we’ll be silent again until there’s another name to say. People don’t change when they’re comfortable. So why not be made uncomfortable by the reality? It’s about time we all get uncomfortable and start really shaking things up.