The Nothing We Learned from the Death of Philando Castille

Hi Joel,

Today is the one-year anniversary of the death of Philando Castille.

That’s 365 days that his fiancée and her young daughter, who watched him die after police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot him at point blank range, have had to live with this memory.

That’s a whole school year since the children he mentored at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School have had to show up to school, knowing that nothing will keep them safe.

A year later, we have heard only the same thing we white people should have known all along if we have been listening to African Americans, believing their stories, and studying history: because black bodies are themselves a threat to white supremacy, they are always in danger.

In the last year, nothing significant has changed in the culture of policing, which is simply a part of a larger, longer project of fear and control of black bodies. Some of us learned this history in school, others in our family histories, others from the news, others from our neighborhoods.

Left to right, Louima, Diallo, and Castille. 

(Who is the first point on your timeline of white police violence against black bodies? If you skip subway “vigilante” Bernie Goetz, mine was Abner Louima, who , then Amadou Diallo.)

The same forces that allowed Yanez to go free are the ones that allowed him to shoot anyway. If he were going to be found guilty, he wouldn’t have done it—not that fear of sentencing keeps officers from firing their guns but that our common (I say “our common” because everything about American culture works to train us all to see black men as violent.) investment in violence against African Americans both justifies and excuses violence. I was afraid, you understand. Yes, we understand what it means to be afraid of a black man. It means when you kill him, we will feel empathy, because we have been afraid too. And we will not punish you, because we, too, want to reserve the right to kill the black men we fear.

A year after Castille’s death, what do the jurors think about his killing? What do the two African Americans on the jury think? Are they thinking, as the juror in Audre Lorde’s “Power” was thinking:

“They convinced me” meaning
they had dragged her 4’10” black Woman’s frame
over the hot coals
of four centuries of white male approval
until she let go
the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.

What did former officer Yanez learn? Does he continue to allow his fear to outweigh others’ lives?

What can white people learn? Nothing that we did not already know, because we are the ones who invented this system.

  • That black respectability is not protection from white fear.
  • That black compliance does not guarantee safety from white violence.
  • That the safety of black children is not a priority for white people.
  • That guns rights are white rights.
  • That conceal and carry does not keep black people safe.
  • That implicit bias continues to be the lethal—and excusable.

***********

If you want to learn more about implicit bias and to test whether you (and especially you, dear white readers) have implicit racism, visit the Harvard’s Implicit Project.

There are many ways you can work for racial justice. One is by donating directly to Black Lives Matter, which works to combat police brutality against black people.

Rebecca

 

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