In the wake of recent events which took place here in Saint Paul, first the horrific shooting of Philando Castile less than five minutes from my house, to the outrage following the livestreamed killing, to the lack of legal action taken against the guilty police officer, I felt it necessary to comment on how I, and probably many others, struggle to come to grips with how such an attack could take place.
Let me start a few weeks ago. I was pulled over for speeding in Wisconsin, by a white police officer, yet my first thought was not “will I make it out of here uninjured” but instead “how can I pay for this?” This is white privilege. It was not a choice, but instead something that I was born with, something that has been engraved in my mind. The traffic stop went as expected, asking for my insurance, my drivers license, all of which I complied with. But, looking back, I can’t help but think that if I had been black, the simple action of reaching for my pocket, or the glovebox, could’ve triggered violence from a police officer who may subconsciously associate African Americans with guns. But then I think about my brother, sitting next to me in the car, and try to convince myself that his presence would’ve saved me. But Philando was not saved by the presence of his four year old daughter. His daughter who not only has to live with the memory of seeing her father die at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect us, but live without a father figure in her life.
This story of this shooting was not told through shaky dashcam videos or witness accounts from afar. It was livestreamed to Facebook, where millions saw what happened, unfiltered. Yet, unsurprisingly, the court was still able to find excuses for the fatal shooting. Following in the footsteps of the endless previous convictions (or lack thereof), the officer was let off without any repercussions. Examining the trial further, we see a severe lack of diversity on the jury; of the 12 panel members, only two were black. The jury ended up acquitting the officer, Jeronimo Yanez, by a count of 10-2. Despite complying with the Yanez’s every request, and simply reaching for his wallet, Castile was shot and killed. And this would not have happened if he was white.
How can we fix the system? If Castile was white, and was shot and killed in the same fashion, with the same evidence provided, would Yanez have been let off? Maybe, but the issue lays in the fact that this doesn’t happen. White people don’t fear for their life at traffic stops, or even simply in the streets. For the justice system to be able to differentiate between a sincere use of force to defend oneself and systematic racism is difficult. They are supposed to see things equally, and not insert bias into the equation. But there is a history of killings and acquittals now, and jurors need to be aware of the fact that the police are not always justified in their actions.
There seems to be a lack of action I can take. Following the court’s ruling, for a week I failed to comprehend what had gone wrong. The evidence was there. Everyone in the Twin Cities had heard about the shooting. The livestream video had circulated the internet long enough for anyone with any interest to see it. Yet 10 out of 12 people (including the two black jurors) failed to provide justice for Philando. How could this happen, in my city, in a diverse, liberal, proud city? Is racism that engrained in people’s minds that they can identify with an officer who saw a black man reach for his pocket and assumed that he was going for his gun? If this is true, and this is what the jury proved, than the protesting is obviously not doing enough. It will take more than that. It will take education, a change in mindset. While “All Lives Matter” followers may dismiss the Justice for Philando marches as annoyances, having conversations with them about the obvious discrepancies in treatment of whites and blacks by police may began to open eyes about how change needs to happen. Put them in the shoes of a black man or woman, see how they expect to be treated, and show them how blacks are actually treated. Maybe these realizations could do something helpful.
But I don’t know anymore. I am just another white man in a world where I have all the advantages, and I didn’t have to do anything for it. Now tell me how that’s fair.