Two Days, Two Deaths: The Police Shootings Of Alton Sterling And Philando Castile
This morning, many Americans woke up to news about Philando Castile, a black man who was shot and killed in his car by a police officer outside of Saint Paul last night. Within hours, protesters had gathered at the site of his death and at the Minnesota Governor's Mansion.
At The Daily Beast today, Goldie Taylor offered an account of Castile's death, and the aftermath. She focuses on his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and what she witnessed moments after the police pulled him over for a traffic violation.
"Moments later, according to Reynolds, the officer unleashed four to five shots, striking her boyfriend in the arm. "Stay with me," she says to Castile. "Stay with me... We got pulled over for a busted taillight in the back."
The officer can be heard saying, "I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand out."
Reynolds, maintaining her composure, immediately corrects the patrolman, noting his directive to Castile to produce a driver's license and vehicle registration.
Growing in distress, but ever mindful of her duty to fully capture the incident, she later says, "Police shot him for no apparent reason... No reason at all."
The recording continues as Reynolds and her daughter leave the car and are placed in the back of a squad car. In custody, the young girl tries to comfort her mother, saying, "It's OK, Mommy. I'm here with you."
Castile's death came on the heels of another police shooting: early Tuesday morning, Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old father of five, was shot in the chest and back by a Louisiana police officer outside of a convenience store in Baton Rouge. Residents of Baton Rouge started protesting that night, and by Wednesday morning, the U.S. Justice Department had announced that it would conduct a civil rights investigation of Sterling's death.
Thousands are reacting to these shootings on social media, with everything from grief to rage to fear. Kelly McCreary, an actor and board member on the Equal Justice Society tweeted what many folks are feeling:
This morning, in an interview on CNN, Castile's mother, Valerie Castile, told Alisyn Camerota that she thinks black people "are being hunted." She also said:
"I basically think that these things are happening because there are no checks and balances in the justice system. And that a lot of our African-American men, women, and children are being executed by the police. And there are no consequences. So in essence, I feel like it's becoming more and more repetitive. Every day you hear of another black person being shot down, gunned down by the people that are supposed to protect us.
My son was a law-abiding citizen, and he did nothing wrong. He had a permit to carry. But with all of that, trying to do the right things and live accordingly, by the law, he was killed by the law. I'm outraged."
You can watch the rest of the interview below:
Kara Brown, a writer at Jezebel, echoed Valerie Castile's sentiment that these shootings are becoming more repetitive. "In the time it took me to write about one fatal police shooting, another one occurred," Brown wrote. She continued:
"And so this song plays again. A black life is stolen and we must now struggle to measure the pain and remember that none of our lives are really safe. We must sit with the footage of these incidents, which fill in what our imagination would write otherwise, and wonder if one of these horrifying videos will ever result in change. So far they have not. Some people will sit with their children to teach them to be cautious around state agents ostensibly tasked with protecting them. Some will cry and some will rage. Some of us will write."
Adrienne Lafrance, over at The Atlantic, wrote about how video footage and social media have helped create a record of who is being killed, which may in turn lead to some accountability among both public officials and private citizens. Lafrance writes that even though there's discrepancy in the numbers, "attempts to track police shootings are meaningful." She continues:
"Coupled with video footage of police violence against black people—grainy, raw, and deeply disturbing in ways that are foreign to many white people but all too familiar to people of color—new technology is forcing Americans to confront life-and-death realities of inequality in the United States.
And as technology helps drive a national conversation about race and police violence, much of that conversation is taking place in digital forums: in tweets and in Facebook posts, and in self-published essays."
Justin Cohen, writing for the Huffington Post politics blog, highlighted some of the ways that the media have reacted to police shootings in the past, and how that can affect white Americans' perceptions of black victims of violence:
"In the wake of police executions, you are bound to hear a few things that distract from the real issues. One of those storylines is that 'he was no angel,' wherein the media will outline the various ways in which the victim behaved inappropriately in the past. None of this matters, and it certainly does not change the fact that the police killed the person outside of any legal process. I smoked pot when I was in high school, for example, and if the police used that as justification to murder me, that would be ludicrous. The second narrative that will emerge is that the killing of Alton Sterling is part of the 'Ferguson effect,' wherein police killings are linked to increases in crime. This is not true, as there is no statistical connection between local crime rates and police killings.
The final storyline to avoid believing is the notion that the real problem is 'black on black' crime. Bringing this up is an attempt to change the subject away from the extrajudicial killing of black people by the police. Not to mention, the vast majority of crimes are committed within racial groups, so 'white on white' crime is just as prevalent as 'black on black' crime."
However, some mainstays of traditional media stepped forward with a different perspective about these deaths. The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that "Alton Sterling is one of 122 black Americans shot and killed by police so far in 2016." And this morning's print edition featured an editorial decrying Sterling's death.
Again, a black man has been shot to death by a white police officer or officers. Again, the incident has been recorded on a cellphone camera. Again, the available evidence — not conclusive, but persuasive — suggests the shooting was unwarranted.
Americans once again are watching the shuddering images of a man's death in horror, in disbelief, in indignation. Demonstrators, mainly African American, fueled by a potent sense of injustice, once again are chanting in the streets."
Of course, that was quickly overtaken by the Castile story, as Wesley Lowery noted. He's part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team at the Post that reported on police involved shootings. He tweeted early this morning, "Leaving the newsroom. Today's front page - projected in lobby - is already one viral police shooting out of date."
There was a similarly grim sense of editorial deja vu at the New York Times. In an op-ed for Thursday's print edition, Roxane Gay explained the numbness that she and others experience after watching time and time again as black people are killed on camera by police. "It is a bitter reality that there will always be a new name to that list," she writes. "Black lives matter, and then in an instant, they don't." Gay writes about how overwhelming it is to watch the videos of these deaths, but that the more heartbreaking images are of family members of the dead:
"The video that truly haunts me is from a news conference with Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of Alton Sterling's oldest child, a 15-year-old boy, who sobbed and cried out for his father as his mother read her statement. The grief and the magnitude of loss I heard in that boy's crying reminds me that we cannot indulge in the luxuries of apathy and resignation.
If the video of his father's death feels too familiar, the video of this child's raw and enormous grief must not. We have to bear witness and resist numbness and help the children of the black people who lose their lives to police brutality shoulder their unnatural burden."
This morning, Gay tweeted "Meanwhile, I wrote about Alton Sterling and already there is a new name to add to the list, Philando Castile."