Doing the right thing can still get you killed … if you are black
How do we keep the rage inside and the fear at bay?
I don’t know how other people buy cellphones. Me, I make sure I’m getting all the gigabytes I can. Just in case I witness police killing another black person, I want to have enough space on my phone to record the state-sanctioned slaughters. It’s just in case, but in America, there’s always a case.
In less than 36 hours, two black men were added to the list of the estimated 136 black people killed by police in 2016.
On Tuesday, I woke to news that a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police officer had shot and killed Alton Sterling. The accusation, lodged by a 911 caller, that led to his death? Allegedly harassing customers with a gun outside a convenience store, a claim the store owner disputes. Bystanders captured parts of the confrontation on video that showed two white officers pinning the 37-year-old father to the ground and shooting him at point-blank range.
Before I had gotten out of bed Thursday, Twitter delivered another hashtag: #PhilandoCastile. Late Wednesday near St. Paul, Minnesota, St. Anthony Police Department officers stopped Castile, 32, for a broken taillight while he was driving with his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter. Castile, who worked in the St. Paul public school system, had been shot but was still alive when his girlfriend began to broadcast on Facebook Live, a video I still can’t bring myself to watch. I don’t know what other methods people use to join the now-familiar ritual of a social media wake. I create shortcuts in my iPhone so I can type “blm,” and my phone fills in #BlackLivesMatter. “Als” becomes #AltonSterling and “phc” becomes #PhilandoCastile.
Castile’s family said he had a license to carry a concealed weapon, told police during the stop that he had a gun – just as concealed carry safety training says to do – and knew how to behave if his path crossed with police. “That was something that we always discussed – comply,” said Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, in an interview on CNN Thursday. “The key thing in order to try to survive being stopped by the police is to comply. Whatever they ask you to do, do it. Don’t say nothing.” Asked why she thought her son was killed, Castile replied, “I think he was just black in the wrong place.”
But that’s the thing. I don’t know where the right place is. If you find out, let me know. I’ll take my nephew and cousins and godson there and never come back. On CNN, Castile’s uncle cried: “Oh, Lord, my God, is there no help for the widow’s son?”
I don’t know how other people still call on God for help. I don’t bother anymore. That said, I can still be stirred when I hear Martin Luther King Jr. in a 1965 speech in Montgomery, Alabama. The Baptist preacher borrows from Scripture to exhort those gathered to persevere in the face of brutal racism.
“I know you are asking today, ‘How long will it take?’ ” King said. “Somebody’s asking, ‘When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?’ ”
King then asks and answers his own question: How long? Not long!
But I don’t know how we’re defining a sufficient length of time. Hasn’t enough time elapsed since Amadou Diallo in 1999 and Rekia Boyd in 2012 and Tamir Rice in 2014 and Walter Scott in 2015 and now Sterling and Castile?
I don’t know how to keep my rage inside, my despair at bay or my fear from consuming me.
And I know that I’ll probably never know.