Mr. Phil. That’s what the kids at J.J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul called Philando Castile. A parent called him “Mr. Rogers with dreadlocks.” Will he be remembered as the cafeteria supervisor who gave out hugs and food and love to “his” kids? Or will he be remembered as one more name in the unending litany of black men and women killed by police?
The list goes on. And on. No beginning. No end.
Just over a year ago, Philando Castile was shot and killed by Officer Jeronimo Yanez on Larpenteur Avenue, near the State Fair grounds. His girlfriend was in the passenger seat next to him. Her four-year-old daughter was in the back seat, when Yanez fired seven shots into the car.
Less than a week ago, Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of all charges. The jury said he was not guilty of negligent manslaughter, not guilty of intentional discharge of a firearm that endangers another. Apparently, the jury believed that he was afraid of Philando Castile, and that his fear was reasonable and justified his shooting seven times into the car and killing Philando Castile.
On the night that he died, Philando Castile had tacos with his sister. The New York Times reported:
“Over a meal of Taco Bell takeout, the two siblings alternated between laughter and serious discussions, including about the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by the police in Louisiana.
“We talked about all this stuff: ‘Did you see that video on Facebook of the man getting killed?’” Ms. Castile recalled in an interview Tuesday. “I said, ‘No, I didn’t watch it, bro. I refuse to watch another video.’”
Hours later, Philando was dead, another victim, still more videos. Diamond Reynolds, his girlfriend, started filming and posting directly to Facebook just after he was shot. You can find that video online. The police dashcam was running, too. That video was just released today. One of my friends wrote on Facebook:
“It will break your heart. In only 62 seconds, 7 bullets entered the body of Philando Castile. You hear “sir”, “no”, “I didn’t”. You hear moaning. You hear crying. A little girl gets out of the back door. In 62 seconds, black pain is all you see. And all you’ll ever see– if you even see it at all.
“No, I didn’t watch the video. I refuse to participate in the spectacle.
“Police officers across the country shoot and kill people 900 to 1,000 times a year, according to a database created by Phil Stinson, an associate professor of criminology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.”
They are rarely tried, and even more rarely convicted.
“Stinson found that over the past 12 years, 77 officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter. Of those 77 officers, 27 were convicted.”
Macalester professor and American Book Award and Booker Prize winner Marlon James wrote on his Facebook page after the verdict. He says he goes out of his way to avoid police because he “doesn’t know how to deal with them,” and asks:
“Do I hold my hands in the air and get shot, Do I kneel and get shot? Do I reach for my ID and get shot? Do I say I’m an English teacher and get shot? Do I tell them everything I am about to do, and get shot? Do I assume than seven of them will still feel threatened by one of me, and get shot? Do I simply stand and be big black guy and get shot? Do I fold my arms and squeeze myself into smaller and get shot? Do I be a smartass and get shot? Do I leave my iPhone on a clip of me on Seth Meyers, so I can play it and say, see, that’s me. I’m one of the approved black guys. And still get shot? “
Fear. Fear of black men. Fear of black people. The fear that Offcier Jeronimo Yanez felt. That fear kills.
Click on the names in the list above. Read about the fear that police felt. That fear kills.
I see my friend’s son – tall, handsome, dark-skinned. Would you be afraid of him, if you saw him on the street? Would a police officer be afraid?
I see my cousin, tall and brown and strong and careful. Would you be afraid of him, sitting in a car? Would a police officer be afraid?
I see my great-nephew, two years old, sturdy, dark-skinned, laughing. How long will it be until people fear him? Tamir Rice was 12 years old when he was killed by police.
Police must change. Policing practices and culture must change. The racism of our entire system/society/community/country must change.
I can do very little to make that change – write, march, vote, protest, talk to people.
I do what little I can, and then do it all over again.
It is not enough.
Please – do what you can. For Philando. For his family. For St. Paul and for Minnesota and for the United States. For all of us.