On the Killing of Alton Sterling & Philando Castile

In the past few days, two black men were killed by the police, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, MN. I live in Minneapolis, just a couple miles from where Castile was killed, and one of my friends is friends with him. According to Castile’s girlfriend who was in the car with her daughter, Philando Castile was stopped by a Falcon Heights policeman for a busted tail light (which his girlfriend said was not busted). The officer told him to produce his driver’s license. Castile informed the policeman that he had a gun and a permit to carry a gun. He then told the policeman he was reaching for his wallet and the policeman shot him several times. The shots killed Castile.

As so many, I am sick of police killing black men when they are unarmed or being stopped for a minor violation or for no reason at all. There needs to be a complete overhaul of how police are selected, trained and sent out into the field. At the least police should be screened not just for explicit bias–after all, any candidate would know he or she should not express out loud any racial bias. Instead police should be screened for implicit or unconscious bias–there are tests for this. Unfortunately this will make it much harder to find qualified police since most whites and a significant portion of blacks and POC (the policeman in the Caste killing was reportedly Asian Am) possess implicit or unconscious racial bias towards blacks. This problem isn’t just because there are police who are explicitly or consciously racist. This problem exists because, throughout our society and justice system, racial bias is deeply embedded in the actions, thoughts, beliefs, policies, laws and practices of both individuals and systems.  Just read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow; it’s all there.  Blacks and whites use marijuana at the same rate, but blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for this.  A black man is twenty-two times more likely to be killed by police than a white man.  Etc.  Etc.  Etc.

As for the Castile killing, I know this stretch of road where he was stopped.  That spot is a notorious ticket trap. It’s not a high crime area, it’s not a densely populated area, it’s not a busy traffic area.  It runs next to the U of M golf course and along fields where the U of M agricultural dept. does studies. It’s a sparsely populated road, and there’s no reason why it should be so heavily patrolled. Falcon Heights has a population of 5,500 people. The reason police patrol this road is for them to write tickets and collect revenue–just as in Ferguson. There’s a place where the speed limit changes from 40 to 25 and the road feels more like a county highway where the speed would be 55. It’s an ideal place if you want to catch people speeding. I’ve seen more cars pulled over within that half mile stretch than anywhere in the Twin Cities, and this for a town of 5,500 people.  The police are there to write tickets and collect revenue–to my mind, a form of highway robbery. That Castile was pulled over for a busted taillight is so stereotypical–a black man stopped for a busted taillight. To me, this incident calls for a whole reevaluation of the Falcon Heights police force and not just this one policeman.

I will end with something I’ve written before, prompted by the death of Freddy Gray in Baltimore. Here we are mourning the preventable police killings of two more black men, and the words I wrote before are still applicable:

At what point does the social contract end? If violence can be wreaked upon you without cause? If your life can be taken from you while you are unarmed and your murderer goes unpunished? If your rights as a citizen have been taken away simply because you were walking on the street? If the skin on your body becomes the marker for your criminality and you become a source of profit for those who run the prisons? Isn’t this the definition of a slave? You are not a citizen, violence can be done to you without need of justification or provocation, you are deemed to be property, you are not regarded as a human. If the society you live in has failed to recognize and protect your humanity, what is your obligation to that society?

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