A police officer shot and killed Philando Castile yesterday, no more than six blocks from where, in just a few weeks, the “Great Minnesota Get-Together,” our state fair, takes place, where families will come for fun, our freckle-faced, corn-fed rural 4-H kids will bring their baby lambs and crafts, and everyone will over-eat on new, deep-fried gastronomical delights. Yes, our metro is over 3 million now but we still have a bucolic mid-western city. Or so I thought. I can’t ignore the stark contrast of this annual joyful melting pot of people with the all-too-common, all-too-real racial condition that we white Minnesotans have been shaken awake to see and should be ashamed we ignored.
I grew up in this town. Falcon Heights, MN is really part of St. Paul to us natives. It sits only a few blocks outside St. Paul proper and only a few miles from the state Capitol building. And now, last night, we had our second notorious shooting in the Twin Cities in the past year, with Jamar Clark being shot in Minneapolis last November.
This isn’t my city. Or at least I didn’t think this was my city because I am white. Smart phones have opened this white girl’s eyes. I didn’t think I was that blind because I actually worked with law enforcement once upon a time. So I know how some cops talk behind that thin, blue line about the public and to each other. Some of them say inappropriate stuff and they get away with it. But I didn’t witness what I am seeing on tape happening to black people, apparently on a pretty consistent basis. I can’t ignore or deny or even live with what I am seeing.
See, I know how cops are trained. I know they know how to deescalate situations, ensure the security of everyone in a traffic stop, a domestic call or investigating suspicious activity. Now, I can’t possibly speak with authority from either side of an interaction between a cop and an African-American citizen. I am neither. It sure seems to me that an awful lot of folks who are supposed to be trained ought not be cops because they are fearful and blatant racists, like in the Tamir Rice case, the Sandra Bland case and the case of Trayvon Martin, to name just a few. (I know that shoe dirt George Zimmerman isn’t a cop but he played one and shares this insecure, bigoted, vengeful mentality.) How the bad seeds manage to get through the screening process is terrifying.
I have seen some incredibly unsuited people in these jobs, both in person and on these countless videos. I worked with some who were clearly super insecure people who just wanted the cop badge to shield them from the big, bad world. Not all. The majority of cops I personally know genuinely care. But they’d best get vocal and flush out the bad ones. Too many I have known were trying to over-compensate for their inadequacies or feelings of weakness. That’s dangerous – for everyone.
And Mr. Castile was killed in his town – and my town. I am physically sick. But I am glad I am physically sick. And I am so grateful to Mr. Castile’s fiancee, Diamond Reynolds, for capturing this one-way battle on the quiet, suburban streets in my town. I don’t want my fellow neighbors and friends to live in fear. I don’t want small, frightened, rotten people to remain on a police force. And I feel so broken that it took technology for us white folk to see the sickening reality of every black person. You can be twelve with a toy gun in a park, 17 with Skittles, a professional woman moving to a new town for a new job or a Montessori school worker. It does not matter. It doesn’t matter if you’re Chris Rock or Philando Castile, because the common denominator is skin color.
I am so sorry. I can’t know how the black community feels. But I feel badly for the soul of my town.