We’re All Responsible for Castile’s Death
Post by Jason Papallo, NCCJ E-Communications and Marketing Specialist
Not only outrage for Castile, but for all of us.
The July 6, 2016 incident went viral when Castile's girlfriend Diamond Reynolds live streamed via Facebook the moments shortly after the shooting. The video from the squad car shows how quickly the situation escalated as well as the actual shooting.
The firing officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was found not-guilty on manslaughter and other charges last week.
We’ve been programmed to believe that there are a specific set of physical traits that create a criminal in the United States. Black? Check. Male? Check. It stilts blame for violent activity towards one section of the population while leaving the rest of the population with some form of anxiety around the existence of the prior.
Fact: media conditioning has distorted the way society views people of color, specifically black men.
This means that in one form or another, all people of color go unprotected, with black men being the most defenseless. (Part of white privilege is not living in fear of being perceived as a hostile monster.) To live in fear is one side of the burden, fear of death is the other.
The superficial skin of a post-racial United States has been shed, and now we’re confronting the reality of race.
It began with the concept of colorblindness, a way to conveniently erase the country’s horrific past. Then, it was the impersonal interactions that followed. The urge to blame without context, walk in a rushed manner, and generally look at people of color through the distorted lens of distance. Honesty is set aside in place of politeness, and thus racism was perpetuated because it wasn’t acknowledged.
That lack of sincere contact in combination with media conditioning have created a bubble of fear around black men that’s of a mythical status. It’s been embraced by society to the point of expectation.
The issue with this type of perception is that it creates a culture where folks are so afraid of becoming victims, that they create victims. It’s easy for the bitter to view Castile’s death as another in a line of those gunned down in a shoot-first-ask-after police culture across the nation, but that cheapens the severity of the situation.
In the foreseeable future, our country’s heightened tensions aren’t going away, and we’re all responsible for it. We need to set higher standards across the board for ourselves. As a society, we can start with how tax dollars are spent.
With historic increases in police spending, it seems like a fair amount could be allocated to emotional health, wellbeing and mindfulness; the cornerstones of critical thinking. To fight bias, we must examine it honestly. It’s a difficult task, but essential to the elimination of racism, which is the cause behind needless killings like Castile’s.
That set of biases needs to be challenged, because when they aren’t, it leads to the beginnings of many false narratives around the culture of crime in its relation to the black community. That also means that in the scheme of things, police are victims too. They’re are victims of the lie that they were fed, as we all are. Heightened fear and the snap decision responses that come with it can be a typical part of police work, but they shouldn’t be typical of how police deal with average citizens.
As reported in the Minnesota Star Tribune, Yanez “thought” he was going to die during the incident, which happened moments after Yanez profiled Castile as a robbery suspect based only on his skin color and hair style. After pulling Castile over, Yanez noted the smell of burnt marijuana coming from the car.
“I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me. And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girls [sic] was screaming,” Yanez said in a statement in the Star Tribune.
This is an assumption for any officer of the law to make, as well as a perfect example of public misconceptions around marijuana use as a method of oppression against people of color. This came with his training.
Even after Castile declared that he had a licensed firearm and permit to carry, Yanez falsely assumed that Castile had the gun for protection against drug dealers and street criminals.
“And at that point I was scared and I was in fear for my life and my partner’s life,” Yanez said.
What fear was there to warrant pulling a firearm? Fear of invention.
Yanez admitted to never remembering anything being in Castile’s hands. That’s because the threat of danger was nothing but a stilted caricature in Yanez’s mind. His fear was real, that’s clear. Our collective media conditioning has bred that fear in an exchange for scaled down compassion.
Yanez’s line of thinking is an example of someone creating a narrative that’s completely founded on racist stereotypes, as well as myths about marijuana distribution and consumption as a means to perpetuate racism. This programming came from news outlets, films, politicians and law enforcement for decades on top of decades into today.
Yanez didn’t invent the system, but he is a part of it, and as such he’s responsible for his actions. Though he wasn’t held accountable for them, we should all be aware that he killed an innocent man for no other reason than racist paranoia.
Was that fear his fault? No, but acting on it was.
The institution of racism and its manifestations throughout our law enforcement and justice systems are responsible for another death of an innocent man of color, and Yanez walks free while Castile’s friends and families will mourn the death of their loved one.
With court rulings like Yanez’s innocent verdict, it seems as if there’s no clear end of such violence in view, but that’s not the truth.
While the road of social justice has many obstacles, they are conquerable. Through patience, understanding and education, there is an end to racism and the violence it causes in sight.
Now, we all have to be willing to work together, honestly and without ego, to get there.
About the National Conference for Community and Justice
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