Monday, July 11, 2016

Now It's Personal

I live in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Yes, that Falcon Heights.

Last Wednesday night, six blocks from my house, Philando Castile was pulled over for what a Saint Anthony, Minn., police officer called a broken taillight. Within minutes, four powerful, close-range shots left Castile fatally wounded. That's when Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, began to livestream the scene to Facebook. We see Castile slip into unconsciousness, his bloody shot-up arm hanging useless. We hear Reynolds' four-year-old daughter crying in the back seat. We see the officer's gun still trained on Castile and we hear him screaming, almost pleading: "I told him to get his hands up." "No sir," Reynolds says very calmly, "you told him to get out his ID and that's what he was doing." At the end of the video, Reynolds is crying, handcuffed in the back seat of a police car, and her daughter comforts her. "It's okay, Mommy, I'm here." 

But it's not okay. There are many details under investigation, and there is competing testimony from Reynolds and the officer. I want to know the truth, but I also know that there's a larger truth. I finally know that it's not only police officers and people of color who are put in jeopardy and pain from this all-too-common kind of encounter. It's all of us.

This time it happened in my neighborhood. The Saint Anthony Police Department is my local police force, operating under contract with Falcon Heights.

What's more, my daughter Abby and her two children knew Phil Castile. He managed the food service at the kids' school. A few years ago, he helped solve a bureaucratic problem that had been driving Abby crazy. Every day, he greeted all the kids by name and helped make sure they were making good food choices. When Abby broke the news of his death, Augie and Vi were devastated. They talked about what people could do to prevent this kind of thing. Vi suggested a poster campaign, and Augie proposed educating people about all the different groups who have come to live in Minnesota since its earliest days.

I, too, have been thinking. Day and night, SAPD patrols slowly down the alley and up the street. I've seen them respond to emergencies at neighbors' homes, and even my own when we thought I was having a heart attack. I have always felt they are looking out for us, but now, finally, I wonder at what cost? Yes, I want to be protected from actual criminals. What's more, I want my neighbors and friends and people passing through to enjoy the same protection. I don't want terrible mistakes made in haste and fear. I don't want racial profiling. I don't want our community to rely on traffic stops to generate a big portion of the city budget. I have benefited from this system without even knowing it. So yes, I want police officers to be accountable for their actions, but it turns out that we the people have to be accountable for what we ask of them. We need justice for Philando and others like him. We need justice for all the people of color who any day of the week can and do get pulled over for minor and sometimes imaginary offenses. But no matter how this case turns out after the legal process plays out, we still have work to do, to rethink and restructure our systems.

It turns out I accidentally posted before this was done. I know that previous paragraph is breathless and overwrought and will benefit from a bit of judicious editing, but I'm going to post now rather than leave the original incomplete post in place. Can you tell this has become more than just another cause to "like" on Facebook? I want change, and I will be part of it to the extent that I can. 


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