I am heading to Versailles on a back road when I spot the police car in my rear view mirror. My shoulders drop. Where did he come from all of a sudden?
He starts to follow close, so I wonder if I am going too slow, then that he’s about to spin up his lights because he’s clocked me speeding. I check my dash. A smidgen over the limit. This will be a real drag, I think. When was the last time I got a ticket, how many years? I can’t remember. This is so embarrassing, and why am I in such a hurry? When this officer pulls me over, I wonder will he chat me up all friendly, give me a stern lecture, or be the quiet type, matter-of-fact, and just hand over the ticket?
One thought never crosses my mind: that this man may kill me.
In the days following a Minneapolis officer’s acquittal for the killing of Philando Castile during a traffic stop, I put off watching the newly released video. I remember the story. I read the reports. I know his girlfriend recorded the entire encounter on her phone and that her four-year-old daughter witnessed the shooting from the back seat. But the video? I didn’t want to bear witness.
Never miss a local story.
I check Twitter, as we do now, for a statement from the president. What does our president have to say about the verdict, has he seen the video, what are his words of comfort for the family, for that four-year-old?
But I find nothing. It seems our president — a man who tweets his every feeling and grievance — has nothing to say about an American killed within seconds of being pulled over … for a broken tail light.
Instead, I find tweets from fellow citizens: 6/16/2017 = the day it became legally OK to shoot a seat-belted man in the chest seven times because he looked scary. Philando Castile had a permit to legally carry a gun. Philando Castile had a permit to legally carry a gun. Philando Castile had a permit. What’s more tragic is the amount of people who will be completely unmoved. Philando Castile was stopped by police 46 times (in the last 13 years). That’s what it’s like to drive while black.
This is what I know for sure: There is zero chance of this ever happening to me. Zero chance on the road to Versailles. Zero chance if I am rude to the officer who pulls me over. Zero chance if I inform the officer that I am carrying a loaded gun.
There is zero chance I will be shot, because I am white.
You might argue that I am a woman, that I don’t have a record, or that I “look harmless.” But I have men in my family who are often on the wrong side of the law; men who’ve committed felonies and been stopped for expired tags and DUI; men arrested for assault and for ripping doors off the hinges in a rage; men who sport tattoos of Confederate flags with nooses and post photos of themselves surrounded by their favorite assault rifles; men who have resisted arrest.
Like me, they are white. They have never once been shot at by police.
I waited a week to watch the video. It was more shocking, more devastating than I imagined. Castile immediately advises the officer he has a gun, for which he has a license. The back up officer will later testify that Castile was “relaxed and calm.” Within seconds of speaking to Castile, the officer rapid-fires seven shots into the car. Two shots hit Castile in the chest. Over the next 30 minutes, he bleeds to death.
You can hear the child crying in the back seat, comforting her terrified mommy. “It’s OK, I’m right here with you, mom, please don’t scream because I don’t want you to get shooted.”
This, in the United States of America. What so proudly we hailed, land of the free, home of the brave.
It was Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison who said, in a 2014 interview, “There is no such thing as race. None. There is just a human race — scientifically, anthropologically. Racism is a construct, a social construct.”
An American citizen was shot to death by a government employee because of this imaginary social construct, a jury acquitted the killer, and our president has nothing to say.
You can be Republican or Democrat, city dweller or rural, and we can debate our ideals on education and health insurance and taxes, but know this as fact: We are dangerously adrift, and the morally bankrupt man we have chosen to lead us spent the last seven years goading our first black president to show his birth certificate, demanding his papers like he was a runaway slave.
How, exactly, do we think this story is going to end?