One of the earliest lessons I learned as child was “you can’t win if you don’t try.” The logic showed me that the critical ingredient to success was actually doing something to be successful. Now, as I look at the repeated miscarriages of justice where it concerns slain and oppressed Black people in the United States, I don’t see the system as failing. It just isn’t trying and was never meant to address the grievances and harms committed against Black people.
I hate having to write that, just like I hate having to write about a 32-year-old Black man having his life taken because of anti-Blackness and systemic racism only to have his killer walk free.
Yet, here we are.
On Friday, Officer Jeronimo Yanez, the Minnesota Police Officer who fatally shot Philando Castile in July 2016, was acquitted of all charges. He was also found not guilty of criminal endangerment of Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend who caught the aftermath of the shooting on video, and her young daughter. Both were in the car when Castile was killed.
Let’s be reminded that an audio recording prior to Castile being pulled over and shot suggested that Officer Yanez believed his “wide-set nose” resembled the nose of a robbery suspect.
His nose, y’all.
This is so sick. Shooting into a vehicle with his girlfriend and CHILD, killing #PhilandoCastille. All recorded. Still not enough.
— PrestonMitchum (@PrestonMitchum) June 16, 2017
This country, my home, is breaking my fucking heart. #PhilandoCastile
— Anika Noni Rose (@AnikaNoniRose) June 16, 2017
1. Black man killed by police
2. White person gives "instructions" on how to prevent
3. Black person follows; dies anyway#PhilandoCastile
— Robert People (@PeoplesCourt79) June 17, 2017
our legal system is not constructed for the charging and conviction of police officers who kill people – no matter the circumstances
— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) June 16, 2017
Yet, the overwhelming sentiment following the acquittal still seems to ask: what does it take to get justice for slain and oppressed Black people in America?
Valerie Castile, Philando’s mother, spoke to reporters after the acquittal and expressed precisely why the injustice was a systemic problem. She courageously told them,
“Now, these are somethings that you need to know and recognize, there has always been a systemic problem in the state of Minnesota. And, me thinking with my common sense, that we would get justice in this case. But nevertheless it never seems to fails us: the system continues to fail Black people.”
She also pointed out interracial families as potentially sitting this fight out.
“It will continue to fail you all. Like I said, because this happened with Philando, when they get done with us, they are coming for you, for you, for you and all your interracial children. Y’all are next. And you’ll be standing up here fighting for justice just as well as I am. I am so disappointed in the state of Minnesota.”
Perhaps the most powerful thing Ms. Castile said was about Philando’s love for Minnesota and how even that wasn’t enough to protect him.
“My son loved this state. He had one tattoo on his body and it was of the Twin Cities (…) My son loved this city and this city killed my son. And the murderer gets away. Are you kidding me right now? We’re not evolving as a civilization, we are devolving. We have taken steps forward, people have died for us to have these rights. And now we are devolving. We are going back down 1969. Damn! What is it gone take? I’m mad as hell right now. Yes, I am.”
I love that Ms. Castile spoke her truth. She stood up for her son when the country wouldn’t and didn’t let anyone or anything silence her. She also made it clear that many Black people still love their states and their country. These states and this country just don’t seem to love them back.
Ms. Castile also echoed the sentiment that the system is failing Black people. But, it can’t fail us if we don’t believe in it in the first place.
If we have learned anything from previous outcomes like this (including the lack of indictments in the murders of Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Miriam Carey, Tamir Rice, Kendrec McDade and so many others), the system has continuously protected officers and street vigilantes (like George Zimmerman) who kill Black people. This, is a reliable and predictable fact of reality. It doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.
I guess what this boils down to is that there is absolutely nothing that individual Black people can do to ensure that a system meant to target, isolate, and eradicate Blackness will stop functioning as it always has.
Good grades won’t do it. Needing help won’t do it. As seen in the murder of Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old pregnant Seattle woman who was killed by officers she called to her home after a reported robbery, believing that the cops will solve an actual injustice won’t do it either.
Loving this country won’t save us. It just won’t.
The system isn’t broken.
This is the status quo.
This is the norm.
This is as American as apple pie and the NRA.
As Black people, we must grapple with and accept these facts. We must disinvest ourselves from the criminal justice system which operates to enact oppression, surveillance, and control of marginalized people.
That is the only way forward.
Photo via Flickr