Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay
I am sick to my stomach right now. My head is spinning with fury and sadness. Over and over I hear the brave composure, the fear, the pain, and then, the crushing grief in Diamond Reynolds' voice during her brave filming* of her boyfriend's (Philando Castile) murder by a policeman in Minnesota. Castile was a well-liked school cafeteria worker with no criminal record other than a previous fine for not having car insurance.
Castile and Reynolds, driving home with Reynolds' young daughter in the backseat, were pulled over for a broken tail light. The cop demanded to see Castile's license and registration at which point Castile informed the officer that he did have a properly licensed firearm with him and that he was reaching for his wallet only. The cop shot Castile in the arm, screaming at him not to move. Three more bullets in quick succession, and Castile begins to bleed out in the car, in front of his girlfriend and her child. He dies slumped over the console and into the back seat.
Reynolds continues to film, the agitated cop screaming in the background, as back-up police arrive. She is unbelievably polite as the cop yells at her to keep her hands where he can see them. She is restrained, composed, calm in a way no one should have to be in the face of such danger and cruelty.
She is ordered out of the car, hands up. She is ordered to kneel and be handcuffed. She is not allowed to hold her daughter, the cops don't answer her when she asks about her child.
This happens less than 48 hours after Alton Sterling is shot and killed by policemen in Louisiana. Like Castile, Sterling was not holding a gun although it seems he had one in his pocket. He was selling CDs in a parking lot when the cops arrived. They tackle and, according to some, taser him, screaming “I swear to God if you fucking move!” He does not reach for his gun. He is quickly shot six times at point-blank range. He bleeds out and dies in the parking lot.
Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Laquan Donald, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice...The list grows, black men and women and children slain by cops who rarely receive more punishment than paid administrative leave. PAID! The cops who shot Castile and Sterling do NOT deserve payment; they deserve to be fired and imprisoned and held accountable for taking lives.
Meanwhile, mass shootings continue, Congress refuses to discuss gun violence, control or reform, the NRA sits back and laughs, rolling in piles of money, willfully blind to and unconcerned about the blood on their hands. Donald Trump fans the flames of bigotry and intolerance and division, and people cheer. They cheer!
I don't have any way of understanding this. Hatred isn't going to make anyone do better in life. It's not going to increase paychecks or bring peace. It's not going to make anyone safer.
Our country is falling apart, riven by those racing backward in time to an age of overt racism and classism and horror. Where is a collective sense of self? Why are so many excluded from that? Where is our empathy? Our revulsion? Our willingness to do the right thing regardless of political party? The right and moral thing isn't political; it's justice. It's being our best selves.
Guns are everywhere. The police, tasked with serving and protecting, are killing and abusing all too often. All too often, black Americans are treated like dirt. They fear for their children, their lives, and their futures in a way I simply don't believe whites can understand. This is grossly unjust. This is not something to perpetuate. This is not an America that makes me proud. It is an America that frightens and disgusts me. We should be better than this.
*The videos, especially Reynolds', are extremely difficult to watch, but I urge you to if you can. Hear her pain. Hear the pain of a people oppressed and hated and mistreated. This has got to stop. #blacklivesmatter
Thanks to Adam Ortiz for sharing the gorgeous St. Vincent Millay stanza above.