Over the last two days, there has been two seemingly needless killings of black men over 1,100 miles apart. Alton Sterling was shot between 4 and 6 times while being restrained on the ground by law enforcement in Baton Rouge, LA. Just one day later, Philando Castile was shot and killed in his car by an officer while reaching for his drivers license as requested by the officer in Falcon Heights, MN.
Now, I am not going to go on a tirade like many people online have; calling the police (as a generality) murderers, killers, racists etc, there are plenty of good officers that take their oath to “protect and serve” very seriously. But there seems to be an issue within law enforcement when it comes to race in the USA.
The Baton Rouge incident could possibly be justified; there was a 911 call saying that Sterling was waving a gun at people passing. We don’t know for sure what happened prior to the start of the damning videos. But, the multiple videos online seem to suggest that Sterling was relatively subdued, when the officer yells “GUN”, then fires off three shots, followed by a pause and another three shots were discharged.
Sterling is a known felon who allegedly owned a firearm, illegally but his rap sheet does not justify the actions of the officer. We cannot continue to justify these kind of slayings using the victims past record and reputation. These men and woman have already been charged and often served their debt to society.
The incident in Falcon Heights is inexcusable; Philando Castile was in a car with his girlfriend and child, fully complying with the officer’s instructions. Despite his compliance, Castile was shot repeatedly by the officer while reaching for his drivers license. Castile also informed the officer that he was armed with a permit. Of course, this is the account of Castile’s girlfriend, which we have no reason to disbelieve.
Now, I come to issues with race, clearly there are issues with racial profiling. There are stark differences in the handling of white people in similar situations to that of Sterling and Castile and the handling of black individuals. Is there such distrust of black men by law enforcement throughout the country that officers tend have their hand on their gun ready to draw, just in case? In many shootings of black men, there was little time between arriving on scene and drawing and/or discharging their weapon, often multiple times.
So where do we go from here; current police training tells officers to shoot first, ask questions later. We should be training officers to assess and deescalate the situation. To use better community policing in neighborhoods to head off issues before they get to the tipping point. The Police also need to stop the racial profiling and enforce equal justice for all, blacks are targeted massively disproportionately; this has been an issue for multiple decades; we just hear about it more in the instant social media age.
I honestly fear for my wife, who is African American and my mixed race kids; a routine traffic stop should never end with someone being shot and killed in their own car. With these cases coming to light due to social media video, I fear that African Americans will start carrying guns and using them on, more than likely good officers who don’t have their hand on their gun, while the bad apples go unchecked.
From a personal perspective, it broke my heart to see Alton Sterling’s 15 year old son distraught while his mother gave a statement to the press, if that does not tug on your heartstrings, there is something wrong with you. Between the mass shootings and police killings, I truly despair about the direction in which the USA is heading. I question whether the people in power want to change the direction or whether the lawmakers actively ignore the problem, it seems to me that the issue is getting worse, not better.
Update [Jul, 8 2016, 11:01]: Sadly, my prophecy about black men taking up arms and shooting white officers has come true in Dallas, TX. Five police officers have been killed by a black man, Micah Xavier Johnson, who was angry at the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in recent days. I hope that this will be a wake up call for everyone. Change needs to happen, better community policing, allay those fears on both sides, stop the senseless killings on both sides, remember the police’s motto is “protect and serve”, so many don’t feel that is the case, especially in the African American community.