Watch the above video.
It’s nine minutes and 46 seconds of absolute heartbreak. On Wednesday afternoon a man named Philando Castile was shot and killed by police in Falcon Heights, Minn. According to Castile’s girlfriend, who was in the car and filmed the tragedy on her cell phone, they were stopped for having a busted taillight. The police officer, according to the girlfriend, requested license and registration, and Castile told him he had a pistol, which he was legally licensed to carry. “As he was putting his hands back up,” she said in the video, “the officer shot him in his arm about four, five times.”
He died moments later, at age 32. He worked for the local school district.
I say this again—watch the above video. If need be, watch it twice. Three times. It illustrates, better than anything I’ve ever seen, what it can be to be black in America; what it’s like to be driving along a road and pulled over for something (a dragging muffler; a busted taillight; a peeled-off registration sticker) that whites always seem to be given a pass on.
Watch the video and imagine what it’s like to wonder about the officer approaching your car. Is he nervous because he sees the color of your skin? Does he have preconceived notions? Is his finger on the trigger, when normally the gun would remain in its holster? Did he grow up with a father who referred to African-Americans as “niggers”? Is he pals with officers on the force who call blacks “thugs”? Do the words of Donald Trump resonate? Is he sick and tired of this “civil rights bullshit”?
When I hear whites bemoan the “whining” of blacks over police brutality, I always ask two things:
A. Are you blind, deaf or both?
B. Have you ever been to Gary, Indiana?
The second question is my favorite, because the answer is almost always No. And Gary doesn’t have to be Gary. It can be Newark, or Trenton, or parts of Detroit, or Compton, or Brownsville. Pick a crime-heavy, largely minority populated inner-city, and I’ll show you an education on what it is to be young and male and black and have police eyeing you with suspicious hostility. Along those lines, I’ve never met an adult African-American male who lacks stories of being followed in department stores; pulled over for driving 60 in a 50; loitering on a street corner. Hell, not all that long ago one of our favorite kids (an African-American child who spent countless hours at our house) was harassed by police for skateboarding through a parking lot where, ahem, kids skateboard all the times. The questions he received (“Where are your parents? What are you doing around here?”) oozed what you’d think they oozed.
So, once, again—watch the video. Take it in. Absorb it. If you’re white, like me, it’s something you don’t have to worry about.
And if you’re black, like many of my friends and family members, it’s something you dread having to live.