Need to recognize the humanity in all lives
WASHINGTON – Horror. Shock. Disbelief. Numbness. Grief. Anger. And terrible sadness.
These fractured thoughts were all I could muster upon waking Friday to news of the ambush on Dallas police. They were still fresh in my mind from the night before when I’d turned in early, exhausted by the images of 32-year-old Philando Castile dying in Minnesota after a police officer shot him.
As we all know by now, Castile was African-American and the officer was not. It started as a routine stop for a broken taillight and ended in what has become a routine shooting followed by a routine headline.
Black man shot by police officer. How many times must we read those words?
Just 24 hours earlier, another black man, Alton Sterling, 37, was shot to death by police while being restrained in Baton Rouge, La.
Like Sterling, Castile did have a gun. Castile also had a conceal permit, which he apparently told the officer as soon as he was stopped. Why would someone tell a police officer he had a gun if he intended to use it?
Castile was reaching for his driver’s license and registration when the officer opened fire, says his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds.
Reynolds used her cellphone to film the aftermath of the shooting, careful to address the officer as “sir” and follow his instructions. Over and over I watched the video, trying to imagine being in that car, while at the same time feeling shame about watching a stranger who is mortally wounded.
Nothing is more intimate than death, which we all hope to face with dignity in the comforting presence of loved ones. Castile had no such luck. Instead, he was surrounded by millions of onlookers, most of whom, I feel certain, suffered with and for him.
On the video, we hear the officer repeating the F-word as he realizes what has happened. Reynolds is saying, “Please don’t tell me this, Lord. Please, Jesus, don’t tell me that he’s gone,” she said. “Please, officer, don’t tell me that you just did this to him.”
Friday morning, Castile’s mother bore into the television camera. She said people can look into her eyes, at that point 48 hours without sleep, and know that she’s not going away until justice is served. Across the country, protesters had gathered peacefully Thursday evening to demonstrate against the shootings.
Then suddenly in Dallas, the peace was shattered when shots were fired from a high vantage point. A shiver. Not again. When it was all over, five officers were dead and another seven were wounded.
A suspected shooter is dead, too, killed by a police bomb robot. Why not. An un-human kills the in-human. Before he died, the man told officers he was upset about Black Lives Matter. He wanted to kill white people, and white policemen, reported Dallas Police Chief David Brown at a news conference.
In Minneapolis, Gov. Mark Dayton said he thinks that if Castile had been white, the officer wouldn’t have shot him. A retired New York City police detective wept as he spoke to CNN about the bravery of the Dallas officers who, carrying only pistols, were wearing protective vests they knew couldn’t deflect the bullets of the shooter’s weapon.
Then, too, imagine being a young black man who is taught early on he has to be extra careful around the police. The worst will be expected of him.
“He shot his arm off,” we hear Castile’s girlfriend saying on the video. We see Castile’s blood-soaked shirt; we hear him groan and watch his head drop.
Black lives matter. White lives matter. Blue lives matter. Does anything matter anymore? What is happening to this country?
For now, we grieve with the families of the dead and talk of ways to stem the violence. But there’s really only one way to stop the killing and it lies in changing our culture, beginning with recognizing every single person’s humanity – the black youth’s, the white officer’s, and every other in between. As Charles Blow, the New York Times columnist put it: “Everyone deserves to go home.”