Where to begin? We know that yesterday Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who murdered Philando Castile in front of his girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter, was acquitted. In this case, an acquittal means that no one is responsible for this black man being dead. In a court of law, and the eyes of this country, Yanez is not guilty. Of anything.
A verdict like this just means that a segment of this country’s population–black and brown people–will never believe that justice is blind. It’s clearly not. Because no one is accountable. And that’s all people want. A life has been taken, and someone should be accountable for that. They shouldn’t be given the benefit of the doubt because “cops have a tough job” or because “cops put their lives on the line everyday”. I’ve said this before:
But I’ll tell you this: If you sign up to be a cop, you’re signing up for a stressful job. More importantly, you’re being endowed by the State with the right to use lethal force when you deem necessary. That means your behavior has to always be held to a higher standard. Period. So we can’t use the “cops have a tough job” line of reasoning to justify uses of excessive force. Ever. If you can’t handle that, then don’t be a cop.
We have to stop acting like a cop killing someone–as accidental as it may be–is the same as any other (honest?) mistake. It’s not. Someone’s LIFE WAS TAKEN, and it didn’t have to be that way. In any other case, if you fucked something up, you’d have to own it: “I didn’t mean to do it, but I did it, I take responsibility, and I’m sorry.” That’s what a charge of involuntary manslaughter means: We, the state, acknowledge that you didn’t set out to kill someone, but someone’s dead by your hand nonetheless. An acquittal means not guilty. No responsibility is demanded. No, Yanez didn’t set out to kill Castile, but his actions led to Castile’s death.
But this country is so afraid of holding cops accountable for the wrongful deaths they cause. And why is that? Is it the irrational fear that doing so would open the floodgates to widespread lawlessness? Because “cops wouldn’t be able to do their jobs”? 100% bullshit. The fact is, I’d bet that relations between cops and the black and brown communities they patrol would improve dramatically if people knew that cops were held to the high standards of conduct as a supposedly civil society should demand.
But let’s be clear: It’s been the policy of this country not to respect the rights of black folks for centuries. And it says a lot about just how systemically and institutionally racist this country is when jury after jury fails to hold police accountable. There’s no other way to put it, no other explanation.
If you haven’t, it’s worth reading The Root‘s Michael Harriot’s post-Castile verdict piece, “This Lying, Murdering Whore Called America”. In it he writes:
Do not be mad at Yanez. He is a police officer, and we already know what they do. This is the fault of America. Yanez admitted that Castile didn’t pull out a gun. He conceded that Castile didn’t do anything dangerous. America is the one that let him go. Her laws. Her courts. Her criminal-justice system that fucks black men for half a joint but allows white killers their freedom, unmarred by their guilt.
Because America is bullshit.
The truth is, it’s all bullshit. Whatever you tell your son or daughter to do when the police stops him or her is bullshit. The idea that it means anything to “know your rights” is bullshit. It’s bullshit for anyone to suggest that a black man should ever trust a police officer in this country. It’s bullshit for anyone without white skin to ever believe that he or she enjoys the full and equal protection of the law. It’s bullshit to believe that America gives a fuck about you and won’t put a gun to your head and pull the trigger for no reason at all. And even though it is not a new revelation, it still hurts my gut.
I can’t argue with that sentiment. Because it gets to the emotional truth much of the black experience in this country. We have given this land so much, but in the end are respected so little. What black people have built and achieved has been done in spite of the resistance, violence and hatred from our countrymen.
I’ve also always said that I have to remain hopeful because I have kids. In fact, we’re sending our son off to college in the fall. But then I think of the parents of all these slain black folks and I think, those parents were hopeful, too. They were hopeful that the country they were sending their kids out into would be better than the one they’d experienced.
Sadly, tragically, and heartbreakingly, they found out different.