I haven’t really posted about much about racism and cops shooting black people lately. Mostly because I got tired of it after Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and Michael Brown and Ferguson and… well, you get the point. If you don’t, I basically said why I was basically done with it back in December 2014. It’s not that I didn’t care anymore. I did. And every time another one happens I think to myself “I should write about that” and then I just have nothing to say.
That changed this time. Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past 48 hours or so, you’ve probably heard about Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man who was shot and killed by Baton Rouge, Louisiana police on Tuesday. Both of the cops were wearing body cameras, but apparently they claim that “the cameras fell off during the altercation and no footage was captured.” Gee, that kind of sucks… officers, I guess we’ll just send you on your way… oh no wait, It turns out that we live in 2016 and so SEVERAL people filmed this with their cell phones. If you are masochistic like me, you’ve maybe even watched the video footage online a dozen times or so. If you have been under that rock, I’m linking footage of the shooting here. Obviously it’s graphic, so you know… don’t watch it if you’re sensitive to stuff like that.
I say masochistic, but that’s the wrong word. I really shouldn’t call it that. Because there’s something that I realized about myself tonight. I’ve watched a LOT of cops killing random black dudes over the last few years. Really a lot. I watch all of them, even when I don’t write about them. Somehow, in my mind, I just feel like it is something I need to see. I need these things burned into my mind. I need to be aware. I need them seared into my brain forever.
And like I said, it happens enough that I never really have anything to say about them. It only occurred to me tonight as I was paging through Facebook and seeing what people have said about the incident that I have basically been watching snuff films. When I was a kid, people said that snuff films were an urban legend. But now, youtube is full of them. I watch snuff films and the thing I realized tonight is that … and this sounds horrible to say… I’m not emotionally affected by them. At least not anymore. They happen so much and have such distribution that I guess I’m sort of numb to them. I watch them and I get angry about the state of racism in this country, but somehow, over the last two years or so, I’ve become numb to the fact that I am literally watching a man murdered in front of my eyes. I get mad at the situation but somehow I’ve stopped thinking of the victims as people. I see them as victims, and that’s different. Maybe that’s what happens when you let yourself watch to many of these. Maybe each time your heart dies a little bit more. Maybe it’s just easier that way.
But I noticed something tonight. It was something that sort of gave me hope for America. I make no secret of my political leanings. I’ve made it clear in the past that I am in the camp that sees a systemic pattern of racism between police and black men in this country. Not exactly a controversial stance. I probably go a little farther. I’m of the personal opinion that police should never fire first. Even if they know the suspect has a gun, I don’t give a damn if someone “perceives a threat to himself and his fellow officers.” I am actually ok with the policy that until the first shot is fired by the suspect, you just hold your guns and point. Yes, I realize that means more cops will be shot. I even realize that some innocents will be shot. I’m ok with that. Like I said, maybe my heart is dead.
But like I said, I noticed something tonight that made me feel a little better about humanity. I follow a wide variety of people on Facebook. People with varying political, religious, racial, and social viewpoints. I do that on purpose. I often see people say stuff like “if you believe in _____ just unfriend me now.” I don’t want that. If you disagree with me, I totally want to understand what you believe. I want to understand why you believe it. But as I was reading the stories tonight I noticed that for the first time since I remember I didn’t see a single person on the cops’ side. I did a search for Facebook posts by people I don’t know. I still couldn’t find any. I went to Google and I had to work HARD before I found anyone defending cops. REALLY hard. For the most part even the most neutral news I can find is just talking about how Louisiana seems concerned about their new #BlueLivesMatter law in the middle of all of this. And even with that, most news sites seem to be kind of critical of the police and sympathetic towards Sterling. If there was one thing good about his shooting it’s that it seems that for the most part, for once, everyone can agree that the victim should NOT have had to die like that.
I was kind of amazed. There’s a lot of reasons to not be on Sterlings side, like Eric Garner, technically he was breaking the law. He had a criminal record. He was resisting arrest (well, kinda…). It would not be hard to spin this into a “the police were just doing their jobs” narrative. I mean, I would have called bullshit on it… as would a lot of people. But it’s the kind of argument you COULD make. No one is. It turns out that if you have video footage of a two cops holding guns against a man’s chest and firing at point blank range into it, people have a hard time feeling sorry for them. I saw liberals, conservatives, blacks, whites, men and women all posting about how horrible this was. I saw posts from people who I know for a fact were on the other side of the fence with previous incidents talking about how tragic and horrible this was. People seemed incredibly affected. People wrote about how their hearts were broken over it.
And I said GOOD! Maybe we’re becoming a better people. Maybe people are starting to realize this is a problem. Maybe it will get better. Some people, including Larry Wilmore and Shaun King complained about how the #AllLivesMatter people should really be protesting along with the #BlackLivesMatter people because Alton Sterling, no matter what his crimes, was clearly a life and was clearly executed on film. For once though, I was optimistic. I didn’t need to see that (even though I did see a little of it). I was happy just to not see anyone defending it. The bar is the fucking low now. I started typing this and wanted to end it with “I’m going to call this a win.”
That teaches me to try to optimistic.
While I was typing this, the news story broke about Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man being shot and killed by Falcon Heights, MN police. Though the actual shooting was not captured on film (at least not that anyone has posted so far), Castile’s girlfriend, Lavish Reynolds, began live streaming the incident to Facebook right after he was shot. According to both Reynolds (in the video) and a press conference held by the police chief after the fact, Castile and Reynolds were pulled over for a traffic violation (busted taillight). The police chief has given no further details, but Reynolds, on the live stream, claims that Castile informed the officer that he was licensed to carry a firearm and indeed carrying at the time. She then claims that the officer asked him for ID, and as he reached for his wallet, the officer shot him four times. On the recording the officer claims that he told Castile not to reach for anything, though Reynolds claims that he told him to get his license and registration. Reynolds is clearly more composed (at least initially) than the officer, despite the fact that her boyfriend is bleeding out right next to her.
The police ordered Reynolds out of the car at which point they handcuffed her facedown on the ground as she begged them to take care of her four year old daughter who was in the car with them. I am also linking to this video, which again… is pretty graphic:
As you can see by watching it, she continues to narrate her situation throughout the entire ordeal, including once she and her daughter are thrown into the back of a police squad car (with her still handcuffed). And that’s where I lost faith in humanity again. People fucking suck.
That said, I am amazed at Reynolds composure. I am amazed that in this situation she was (for the most part) able to remain calm for ten solid minutes while her boyfriend is dying in front of her and the man who shot him is (from her perspective) having her arrested. I am seriously amazed at the kind of internal strength that takes. But I am more amazed by something else. While she is being handcuffed Reynolds drops her phone. She keeps talking and narrating (interspersed with praying for Castile) but since she can’t hold the phone you can’t see anything. That is up until her four year old daughter goes and picks up the phone (against the cop’s commands) and returns it to her. She rehashes the event. She admits that the tail light was broken, she admits that Castile has a gun but the cops never saw it, and only knew because he volunteered the information. She even admits that they had weed in the car. She’s clearly doing her best to get every relevant detail on the record. But the thing that really amazes me is the very end of the video. After more than ten minutes, Reynolds finally breaks down and cries, and her four-year-old daughter says “It’s ok, I’m right here with you.” I’ve watched this video about a dozen times now. The end makes me cry every single time. Lavish Reynolds, you are a hero… and your daughter is MY hero. Because for once after all of this happening over and over in this fucked up world we live in, she reminded me that just maybe I’m human after all. I get to go to sleep tonight knowing that if nothing else, there is one four-year-old girl in this world who is maybe the best person who ever lived. Maybe my heart isn’t completely dead.
At least til I wake up tomorrow and I see the first person defending the cop in this incident or worse find out the there’s been ANOTHER shooting on film since then. Then I’ll remember the the world fucking sucks. And then I’ll just wait for the next riot when I’ll have to explain to people once again why it happens.