At a Loss: The Struggle to Say Something About the Murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling

I watched the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile videos shortly after they were put on line, one night after another, showing two black men murdered by police officers. The Sterling shooting is pathetic and enraging. The video of Castile bleeding to death while his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, filmed and narrated and her young daughter sat in the back seat as the cop holds his gun and gives orders is an absolute abomination.

Because, see, Castile did everything he was supposed to do. He complied. He had a license to carry a concealed weapon, which he was and about which he told the officer. He complied. The one thing that anyone who wanted to support the police in all the previous murders by police - Eric Garner or Walter Scott - was that you needed to do what the cops told you. Philando Castile, who was beloved by kids at the St. Paul, Minnesota, elementary school where he worked in the lunch room, did, even volunteering the information about his weapon, which likely the cop knew about in the first place from running the plate on the car.

What do you do with that? How do you justify this shooting, knee-jerk cop defenders? He listened. He responded. But the officer's complete fear and loss of control come through when he desperately screams at the almost supernaturally composed Reynolds, "I told him not to reach for it! I told him to get his hand out!" Philando Castile was still moaning at that point. What the fuck do you do with that? What do you do with what seems, in the video, with no one attempting to help Castile as he bled out? It was ten minutes before anyone tried to do anything for him.

Castile didn't resist. He submitted. Why would an African American want to submit anymore if even that will just get you killed? Why fucking bother, if following the law is no defense against law enforcement?

And Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana? Shot point blank by cops who were on top of him? How dumb a cop do you have to be to do that? How likely are you to shoot your partner in such close quarters? You'd think that police officers would be trained that if they have someone on the ground and are holding him down, they don't need to shoot the suspect.

I watched the videos, like you, and I just don't know what to say anymore. I don't see how you can conclude anything other than that the two men are dead because they are black. Hell, the governor of Minnesota just said that he's sure Castile wouldn't have been shot if he had been white.

I have long said that, at some point, what needs to happen is that cops need to condemn other cops, like Muslims after a terrorist attack. Usually, the response to that is how cops would never do that to other cops, that I don't understand their job, or something about the Blue Wall of Silence, the usual litany of excuses for why we can't evolve. But the Castile case seems to offer a situation where police officers can possibly, safely say, "Yeah, he fucked up and needs to be arrested."

African Americans need to know that the police know the difference between right and wrong, protection and attack. That's incumbent upon the cops to show that their world isn't just easily killed black and readily defended white.

We are stuck in this nation in patterns that we seem to be deliberately refusing to break, as if to do so would take away the status quo and reconfigure the power dynamics of our culture. A history of racism, the proliferation of guns, the shitty training of police, the militarization of local law enforcement, so much is bound up in these acts that we may never get to untangle it and try to come up with a new way of putting it all together.