Just yesterday, I penned an article about the outrageous and brutal slaying of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Sadly, before black Americans and others with sensitive moral meters could fully process Sterling’s shocking murder, police in Minnesota have committed an eerily similar style killing of 32 year old Philando Castile. It happened again. Back to back killings. Both fatal law enforcement shootings were recorded on cellphones. Castile’s shooting was posted and streamed on Facebook Live, his death now a thing gone viral.
What was Philando’s crime? Driving through St. Paul’s predominantly white Falcon Heights neighborhood with his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter. Allegedly, they were stopped for a driving with a broken taillight. Mr. Castile, a lawful and law abiding gun owner by every measure of Minneapolis statutes on gun ownership, alerted officers to the fact that he was armed. When he reached to present identification, Philando was fatally shot by the officer who performed what should have been a routine stop. The penalty for a broken taillight is a warning usually, a ticket at best. Certainly not a gunshot to and through the torso and being left to bleed to death in the passenger’s seat of a vehicle in full view of your family.
A deeply disturbing video of Philando Castile’s final moments is below:
WARNING: This video contains graphic content. Viewer discretion is advised.
The question that faces our nation now is this: how many more black people must be unjustifiably shot to death during controversial encounters with local law enforcement officers before the federal government steps in to protect citizens of color from the undeniable culture of racist and abusive policing that is terrorizing urban communities and communities of color? The deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling have turned the emerging summer of 2016 into a season of martyrdom and injustice. It is impossible to deny that if such a plague of intentional violence and selective brutalization by cops were fatally affecting suburban white young adults at the alarming rate we are losing black lives, the national guard would be mobilized to defend and protect their civil rights.
Policing in America is in the midst of an identity and mission crisis. Undeniably, the duty of officers to protect and serve — all of the public — is no longer a priority nor is it a mandate by their government employers. Seemingly, the mission of today is to contain, restrain, and execute. This is unacceptable.
The demonization of every officer everywhere is wrong. But the sheer volume of black deaths at the hands of police using excessive and criminal force is indicative of more than just the actions of a few renegade racists or bad apples. Racist, oppressive, and hyper-aggressive policing is becoming the new normal. It is a learned style, though it spreads like a disease, and attempts by police brutality apologists to downplay incidents like the Sterling and Castile killings as merely being random or coincidental are themselves racist acts that are designed to distract the public.
Philando Castile should not have died while fully cooperating with police during a routine traffic stop. Period. That is a truth that cannot be crushed to the earth. This man, by all accounts a positive force his community, should be preparing to go to work today. There are children looking forward to his warm smile and the joy he brought them by taking a charismatic approach to being a school cafeteria worker. He has a loving family. Now, he lays on a cold table in the morgue with a bloody, saucer-sized hole where his heart used be, complements of police officers who have yet to be placed on unpaid administrative leave and stripped of their weapons (professional and privately owned). The officer involved in this shooting should be immediately arrested, finger-printed, mug-shots taken, and held behind bars until released on bail or their own recognizance. A man has been shot dead, and there is no good reason why.
Philando Castile was a “straight-A” high school graduate, not a dangerous degenerate or violent criminal. He was gainfully employed, college-experienced, and now he is dead. Why? Because 21st century American policing still profiles Philando and most black men as dangerous, belligerent, uncooperative, suspect, and murderous vigilantes of the law. What Philando, Alton, and so many others really were was mirrors. Reflecting back into the eyes of their executioners the very hate and rage they were unfairly labeled as possessing.
Therein lies the problem. The “fear of death or injury” argument made by cops is losing, and rightly so, its legitimacy. By gathering cellphone footage, brave members of the public are risking their own safety and setting the record straight on who the aggressors are in the encounters between the police and black people. The truth is laid bare. You cannot argue with video.
Philando Castile did not have to die. Philando Castile is now a deceased victim of police brutality, excessive force, racial profiling, and misconduct. Philando Castile’s civil and human rights were violated. Philando Castile had inherent worth and dignity as a human being made in the image of God. Black lives have value, and we should not be shot dead like dogs by brutish bigots with badges. This must stop. Now. There must be a federal investigation. Now. There must be preemptive federal intervention across the nation. Now. Black Lives Matter. Now.
The Rev. Jarrett B. Maupin, Jr. is a Baptist minister, civil rights leader and political activist. Follow him on Twitter @ReverendMaupin