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Saturday, July 9, 2016

On Racism - Editorial, The Week in Review – Analysis, Commentary, Opinion


On Racism

This week an African American, a black man, a Negro, a person of color; a man named Philando Castille was shot, and killed by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. This happened just a few miles from where I live; in a part of the Twin Cities that I cross through frequently.

Philando was sitting in the passenger seat of a car, the car being driven by his fiancée, Lavish Reynolds, who had her four-year old daughter in the back seat.

It was early in the evening of July 6th, it was still light outside. The car had been pulled over by the St. Anthony Police; ostensibly for a broken taillight.

Philando, who was a Member of the Teamsters Union, who worked for the Saint Paul Public School System; he was armed at the time, and had a permit to carry his weapon. When the police officer asked him for his identification, Philando informed him of that relevant fact; as he was trained to do. Having been asked for his ID, he was at the same time reaching for his wallet when the police officer shot, and killed him. He bled to death in the car, while his fiancée, Lavish, captured the moment on video, streaming the whole incident live on Facebook for the world to see. Philando bled to death while he fiancée’s daughter watched from the back seat of the car, trying to comfort her mother. 

Lavish remained calm, the police officer who did the shooting was nothing short of hysterical.

Philando was shot four times with a woman and a child sitting in the car next to him. After the shooting, the police did not administer first aid. They did not call for an ambulance. They continued to point their guns into the car, until they ordered Lavish and her daughter out, where they separated them, put Lavish in handcuffs, administered a breathalyzer too her, and did whatever else it is that they did…

The community reacted instantaneously, the whole world was connected to it through Facebook, the people at Facebook found the video so terrible they began to restrict access to it, news of the incident spread regardless.

Crowds gathered in protest all around the country, and at the Governor’s mansion in Minnesota. 

Mark Dayton, the Governor of Minnesota said that this killing would not have happened if Philando had been a white man, it would not have happened. The governor used the word “racism,” and the critics of the governor were quick to scramble: “how could he call the officer a racist?” They demanded, but he did not call the police officer a racist, he said the event was caused by racism. It was caused by racism, not by the actions of a racist cop, and those are two very different things.

Racism permeates our culture. Racism, nationalism, tribalism, permeate all of the cultures of the world. Good people, bad actors, the fair, and the unjust, men, and women; people of all ages, all colors, all socio-economic backgrounds are conditioned by the paradigm of “race.” Racial categories condition our views of self, of family, of community; race is not a biological reality, it is a thought construct, it is a language game, it is a function of metonymy, semiotics, and linguistics. Most importantly; it is a lie.

Philando Castile was the latest victim of this lie; he and his family that survives him.

Governor Dayton was right, the killing of Philando was a product of racism. It was caused by racism. Not because the police officer who shot him was a racist. Who knows what was in that man’s heart when he pulled the trigger? I do not know. He could be a racist; a person who actively promotes the classification of people by “race;” black, white, red, yellow, maybe that cop is a person who hates people based on the color of their skin. Who knows? Not me. The governor did not say he was, the governor did not call him a racist, the governor said that Philando Castile was killed because of racism, and all of the hidden (or not so hidden) emotions and assumptions surrounding that construct. 

The overwhelming emotion on display in Lavish’s livestreaming video was not hate, it was fear on the part of the officers, fear and indifference. I do not know of any credible person who is saying that the police officer who killed Philando Castile was a hater, but he was definitely afraid, and when Philando lay there dying, without the administration of first aid, there was also indifference. It is in the vector of fear and indifference that the racism which killed Philando Castile can be found.

The root of racial injustice, its ordinary cause, is fear, not hate.

Fear is how racism manifests itself as a deadly plague in our community, It is the responsibility of the community to overcome that fear, through togetherness, relationality, and love.

I can think of a lot of good public policy we could enact to address this problem, it is my fervent hope, that we can arrive at a place where good policies can be honestly considered. However, the ultimate solution lies with us, people will not stop being afraid of the “other” unless they determine to do so. We must determine to treat everyone we meet with respect, to honor the inherent dignity of all human beings, we must determine to do so. 

Treat each other lovingly. Do to your neighbor what you might wish would be done for you, treat them as you yourself would like to be treated, and do not do to any other what you would not like to have done to you…the Golden Rule; live by it. 

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