The killing of Philando Castile, the aftermath of which was streamed live online by his partner Diamond Reynolds has sparked massive outrage.
The 9 minute video shows Castile bleeding to death while the police officer – sounding panicked, angry, and completely unstable, keeps his gun aimed at Diamond Reynolds. To make it even worse, their 4-year-old child was in the back seat.
This is a disgusting and outrageous situation. To start with, Castile was pulled over for a “broken tail light.” It’s absurd that someone would be pulled over for such a minor “crime” and somehow end up dead.
The killing of Philando Castile sheds light on some massive problems. Whether it’s the militarization of the police, the fact that black people are pulled over more often, or that just 48 hours prior another controversial shooting of a black man took place when Alton Sterling was killed, something very disturbing is going on.
The aftermath of Castile’s shooting is below. (WARNING-GRAPHIC)
Here are 4 thoughts on what’s going wrong, and what must be done about it:
1) The police are being turned into a military force. Armies are meant to fight external enemies. Police are meant to protect communities. Police should not look like armies. The more the police are militarized, both in equipment and in attitude, the more there will be a widening gulf between citizens and the police.
Considering that most police officers are good people trying to keep citizens safe, that would be a tragedy, and would put more and more people in danger.
The militarization of the police has to stop and be reversed. Government exists to serve the people, not oppress them with force. We cannot, and we must not allow ourselves to move in that direction.
2) Fear breeds suffering and death. The rising fear caused by the militarization of police, along with the growing failure of the government to address both income and systemic inequality, means people are losing trust in those who are supposed to be keeping them safe. The more that happens, the more people will see the police as an enemy, and vice-versa. In the United States, much of that fear is being directed towards the African-American community – fear which has led to shootings in which the victim was unarmed and/or cooperating.
And we have to acknowledge that racism, and the fear and hatred bred by racism, plays a role. When African-American’s are perceived as more dangerous from the outset, some police will enter into peaceful situations with a fearful mindset – raising the odds of an innocent life being taken. Addressing bias must start in the police training process and needs to be part of discussions throughout our society, because nobody should lose their life because of their race.
As a society, we have to move beyond fear based ways of thinking. If we can’t do that, things could just keep getting worse.
3) Anger is justified and must be a force for change. People are outraged at the killing of Philando Castile. That outrage is justified. What happened to him should never happen to everyone. A young man with his whole life ahead of him, sitting in his own car, with his partner and his child. Stopped for a worthless reason, and then shot at least 4 times and left to die like a dog. This is disgusting.
If this horrific situation is to have any meaning, it must be to build momentum for a wholesale rethinking of how the government relates to and protects the people, and the standards that those protectors are held to. We will always need police, and the majority of police are good people. This has to be said because those few police officers who kill and take lives do massive damage to society. Not only do they take an innocent life, but they put more innocent citizens and police officers in grave danger by raising the level of anger and distrust.
As President Obama said, police officers have a right to go home to their families. In our justified anger, we cannot condemn all police, and we need to remember that at this very moment there are people in the police force voluntarily putting themselves at risk to keep us safe.
4) Newsflash – more guns don’t make everyone safer. After mass shootings, the NRA likes to claim that, “only if more people had guns and shot back things would work out so much better.” The fact that Philando Castile had a concealed carry permit didn’t seem to keep him safe. In fact, the officer who killed him is trying to use Castile’s gun as the excuse for the killing.
As I wrote before, more guns mean more shootings and more gun deaths. Alton Sterling’s gun didn’t keep him safe. Philando Castile’s gun didn’t keep him safe. It’s time to retire the failed and false guns=safety lie.
These are all big and disturbing problems. But we are not powerless. Channelling the justified anger we feel can lead to change. We have no choice but to do better. Lives depend on it.
Photo credit: Lorie Shaull (Flickr) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/