“Stay with me,” Diamond Reynolds said as she hit record on her cell phone while her boyfriend, Philando Castile, lay bleeding next to her. The couple had been stopped in Falcon Heights, Minnesota for a broken tail light. Now, Reynolds broadcast her boyfriend’s last breath live via Facebook. A broken tail light became a death sentence — judge, jury, and verdict carried out by a police officer’s gun at point blank range as Castile reached for his license and registration.
He was killed for following the instructions.
But what is more telling, to White America, is Reynolds’s response.
Think about it. If you saw your partner get shot, bleeding out in the seat next to you, what would you do?
I’d call 911. I mean, that seems right, doesn’t it? Call the first responders to save my partner’s life.
But the first responder was there. The first responder pulled the trigger. On a routine traffic stop. A broken tail light. And here was Reynolds, with her boyfriend literally dying a seat over, with the police officer still pointing the gun at her through window rather for calling for help. What do you do when that failsafe is no longer on the table?
For Black America, they rely on their upbringing, which rightly teaches that normal (white) rules do not apply to them.
Watch this video and look close.
Have you ever been in a car with a gun thrust through the window pointed at your face? After the same gun just fatally shot your partner?
I’ve been pulled over plenty of times. When I was 17, I saved the money to buy my first car; a used Oldsmobile 88. It kind of looked like a busted up Cadillac (I loved that car). I lived in the Bay Area, California at the time. I’m also a big Oakland Raiders fan, and I plastered the rear window with a Raiders decal.
Apparently the car looked “Black.” I got pulled over all of the time. I was pulled over for not having lights on my license plates (which wasn’t even a thing). I was pulled over for my music being too loud (I received the ticket without turning the volume down, because it wasn’t loud enough to disrupt the explanation for the ticket), I was tagged for not wearing a seat belt when driving, literally, from one driveway to the next.
I also got a lot of warnings rather than tickets when the officer noticed I was white. The more affluent the neighborhood, the more warnings. They key — evident even to stupid, teenager me — was being white.
Diamond Reynolds is a Black woman. She knows what that means. That’s why the video is so important.
Never have I seen the racial divide so overtly displayed.
Every time I am pulled over, I’m nervous. Just because of authority. I must have done something wrong. Shit, I hate screwing up. I shake as I hand the police officer my license and registration. I sit in terror as he or she walks to the patrol car and decides whether or not to ticket me. (I’ve never worried about getting shot.) My knees buckle at the thought of a ticket.
Diamond Reynolds sat as a policeman fatally shot her boyfriend in the seat next to her. Instead of doing what any normal (white) person would do, she calmly grabbed her cell phone and started broadcasting the scene.
“Keep your hands where they are!” the officer screamed at her while she explained what was going on to Facebook viewers — pointing the same gun that killed Castile through the same open window of the car.
“No worries, I will,” she said flatly, while the officer panicked, realizing he just killed a man.
She talked him through the tragedy. “Yes, I will, sir, I’ll keep my hands where they are.”
“Fuck!” the officer offered. “I told him not to reach for it!”
“You told him to get his I.D., sir, and his drivers license,” she replied.
Stop. Think about this.
Her boyfriend was bleeding out directly next to her from a wound doled out by a gun now pointed in a car window at her face, point blank. And she was the one not freaking out.
The Black experience is different than the white experience. We’d best learn that and stop trying to layer our experience over Black lives as if it’s the same. It’s not. It never has been. It likely never will be.
“You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face and the hounds are always at your heels,” author, activist, and hero Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in his book Between the World and Me — an open letter to his son, preparing him for life as a Black man. “The difference is that you do not have the privilege of living in ignorance of this essential fact.”
And that is what Black Lives Matters is. It is a removal of the excuse to live in the shadows of the second class citizenship America has bestowed upon Black America. It is the dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. added to the honesty of Malcolm X and thrown atop the fires stoked by Stokely Carmichael. It is not a meme. It is not a quote. It is a reaction to injustice. It is a desperation. It is a voice.
And, of course, it comes in a time of nuance that people wish to quickly judge as sin or miracle.
On the heels of Philando Castile’s (and Alton Sterling’s) deaths, a peaceful protest in Dallas, Texas turned into a massacre, as Micah Johnson used a parking garage to slaughter police officers with an assault rifle.
A lone wolf (who was disavowed by BLM) was then cast by rightwing/racist pundits as the flag bearer of the entire Black Lives Matter movement.
“This is now war,” former Illinois Republican Congressman Joe Walsh tweeted. “Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”
(To be clear, “real” translates to white and racist.)
“One of the greatest events that ever happened in my life is that, when I was a child, I went through a flood. And whenever you’ve been through a natural disaster and you’ve got to rely on the people who are around you, you begin to find out and understand that things like skin color make no difference,” Pastor James Willis told a crowd of hundreds in the Sears parking lot in Anchorage last weekend. “Everybody has the same needs. Everybody has the same objectives. And when we came together as a community, we were able to overcome everything and to make it through.”
Willis was the first speaker at a Black Lives Matter demonstration on a beautiful Friday evening. He was joined by Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Police Chief Christopher Tolley.
Berkowitz was among the first people to speak.
You know, the idea of America, and its hopes and its promise, is that we’re able to rise above our histories. It’s the idea that we can create a better society that delivers justice for all, liberty for all, and equality for all. But today, as we’ve done too often, we’re gathered to reflect and to mourn, because once again this country has descended into violence and once again we’re fighting against the ghosts of racists past. But that’s not our way. That is not the Anchorage way. We live in the most diverse of American cities. And we have an opportunity, together, to illuminate the way so other communities can see how it’s done. So other communities can see how people of different races and different backgrounds can work together, can live together, and build a better kind of community.
Not bad for a guy filling a seat previously held by someone who checked his wallet after meeting with the leader of the free world, because, you know, Black.
Before and after he spoke, Berkowitz stood behind the podium with residents of the municipality donning signs openly advocating Black Lives Matter. He stood next to Anchorage’s police chief, Christopher Tolley. Again, stop to think about how important that is.
“We want to acknowledge this great community that we serve and our citizens who have given their trust to our department and the officers that are here to help you,” Tolley said, clad in full uniform, reading a script from his smart phone. “We cannot successfully serve or protect this community without your support. We thank you for sharing your voice, for coming together, and for supporting one another as our country faces difficult times. We are all each other’s neighbors and we will always treat each other with compassion and respect.”
By now, some of you might be wondering, “Great, a lot of white people talking about Black Lives Matter.” Some of you might also be judging white guy — me — for writing about it. Sorry, not sorry. It’s my community too and I will exercise my right to give all the shits.
And our community is brimming with amazing, inspiring people. Like Kevin McGee, who spoke representing the NAACP. He made me cry. Then and just now, as I reread what I’m copying and pasting. Your turn:
The NAACP Anchorage Alaska wholeheartedly rejects the reprehensible acts of violence that were perpetrated against members of the Dallas Police Department. Our hearts break for the families of the officers who were lost as they protected protesters and residents alike during a peaceful rally. Regardless of how angry or upset people may be, resorting to this kind of violence should never happen and simply cannot be tolerated. Violence against violence will never solve the problem. We are a witness to a perfect storm of rage. Pain, weapons, and a hot summer, and all the issues coming together. This is a paradigm shift of rage going outward. Obviously, Alton Sterling of Baton Rough, Louisiana and Philando Castile of Falcon Heights, Minnesota did not deserve to die. Let’s be clear. We have said Black Lives Matter. We have never said that only Black Lives Matter. That was not us. In truth, we know that all lives matter. We’ve supported lives throughout history. Now we need your help with Black Lives Matter because Black lives are in danger.
And Jasmin Smith, who spoke up for the Black business community.
A lot of times we become comfortable in our current situations and I think business owners don’t want to get involved because we fear what the outcome might be, and I had to think long and hard about being a part of it, but being from Georgia, having a family rooted in Southern life, it wasn’t a second thought to just say “Give me the information and let’s get sharing. Whatever happens happens.” So, as a result, you know, there were some individuals that were leery at first, and they were not proud of the decision to do this event, and sometimes you lose business. But, like I told them, it’s the best business I ever lost.
“In the end of the day you have to answer to yourself,” Smith said. “At night, you have to answer to your family. And when everything’s said and done, you’re still you. Your good name is all you have.”
Risks that the rest of us don’t have to take. Because of a skin tone. And White America enjoys the luxury — the privilege — of placing the fault at the feet of the accused. Just for being a class that we made up. As Coates explained openly to his son,
Our current politics tell you that should you fall victim to such an assault and lose your body, it somehow must be your fault. Trayvon Martin’s hoodie got him killed. Jordan Davis’s loud music did the same. John Crawford should never have touched the rifle on display. Kajieme Powell should have known not to be crazy. And all of them should have had fathers — even the ones who had fathers, even you.
Black Lives Matter or none of us matter. And while we’re at it, say their names.