America had scant time to process the death of Alton Sterling at the hands of two Baton Rouge cops on Tuesday night before Minnesota man Philando Castile was fatally shot by a police officer the next day. Castile was pulled over for a broken taillight and was slumped over on the driver's seat, blood soaking through his white shirt, when his girlfriend began live-streaming the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook.
In the video, the woman, Lavish Reynolds, alleges that the officers fatally shot her boyfriend for reaching to get something in his car — after they'd asked him to retrieve his driver's license.
"He's licensed to carry; he was trying to get his ID out of his wallet in his pocket," Reynolds explains. "He let the officer know that he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet and the officer just shot him in his arm."
In the video, the hysterical police officer continues to point his gun at Castile. At the back of the car sits the couple's four-year-old daughter.
Black parents in America have long taught their children to obey and comply with law enforcement. But in one tweet, Twitter user kidnoble captures the impossible choice that parents must now make in the wake of the shooting.
If Castile obeying the officers led to his death, he asks, "What do we tell our children now?"
In a country where black people are seen as weapons by virtue of the color of their skin, black parents' version of "The Talk" is often a lesson in protection from being unfairly — sometimes fatally — targeted by the police.
But by Reynold's account, Castile did comply. He was licensed to carry a firearm and had explicitly told the officer that he had a gun on him but that he was reaching for his wallet. Even Reynolds herself remained astonishingly calm and painfully polite towards the cop as Castile lay dying beside her.
The officer opened fire on Castile anyway, killing the 37-year-old father, partner, son, and longtime J.J. Hill school cafeteria employee.
Ballard's tweet encapsulates the hypocrisy of mainstream (read: white) culture's expectations of how racial minorities, especially black people, should behave. Already stacked against so many odds, to be a black parent in America means having to constantly reassure your children that their lives are as valued as that of a white person — even in spite of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and now, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
A child protests police brutality in November, 2015. a katz / Shutterstock.com
Castile did absolutely nothing wrong. He did what all black men and boys have been taught to do when dealing with the police.
On Thursday morning, his mother, Valerie Castile, told CNN that she had always told her son to comply with law enforcement. "The key thing in order to try to survive being stopped by the police is to comply. Whatever they ask you to do — do it. Don't say nothing. Just do whatever they want you to do," she said.
"So what's the difference in complying and you get killed anyway?" she asked.
So what now? If keeping calm, being respectful, and complying with law enforcement does nothing to prevent a black person from being shot dead by the police, what does?
There have been efforts at systemic change. Many police departments have equipped their officers with body cameras with the expectation that they will act less violently when their actions are being recorded. But body cameras have limits; in Sterling's case, the cops alleged that theirs fell off during the altercation.
As the past few years have shown, the justice system more often than not has ruled in favor of cops who kill. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has made clear her attempts at being more proactive in getting involved in such cases, and though the Department of Justice announced that it is conducting an investigation into Sterling's death quickly after the news broke, the acquittal of many a police officer has done absolutely nothing to show people of color that justice for them is real.
But just as important is the impassioned discussion about police brutality and the furor stoked each time a black person dies a senseless death. It is an essential part of holding the police and its deeply flawed system accountable for their actions, and judging by the past year's inching progress, it can make an impact.
After decades of learning to use force, police departments are showing slow signs of change. The New York Times reported last year that an increasing number of departments are "rethinking notions of policing" by revising training standards, re-evaluating civilian interactions and reassessing arrest tactics.
But one year on, the number of people killed by the police remains agonizingly high.