Note: This is going to be a controversial post… not that my writing ever draws any attention.
‘We have a problem,’ I read one day, on social media. ‘The dehumanizing.’ …But the detail of the text was misinformed, as too often generalized posts on twitter are.
It was the first Thursday of the month, the day the Reynolds video went viral. A video that, as slow and horrific as it was, saddened me. Philando Castile, 32, was fatally wounded in a traffic stop, and “Diamond” Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend, live-streamed the aftermath the previous day. It was emotional. News outlets warned viewers before showing the video as it included Reynolds briefly conversing with a child in the back, and Castile’s shirt soaking in blood, the man fading away. (He was pronounced dead at Hennepin County Medical Center, but to the viewer it may appear that he died in the car.)
The recording of the Facebook video was at first taken down, but restored early Thursday. “GRAPHIC CONTENT” trended on twitter. (Warning: there are unrelated tweets on the GRAPHIC CONTENT timeline that are seriously graphic.)
I was surprised that the officers allowed Reynolds to cover what she did, considering there have been other, less violent scenes where officers demanded bystanders stop recording, and laws enacted in some states that prohibit recording police at the scene at all. That seemed unusual to me about the video.
It was obvious that the driver showed no indication of harming the officer. In Minnesota, a state that allows open-carry (with a license), Reynolds informed the police officer that Castile was carrying a permitted firearm… So the early picture that developed was: a law-abiding man reaching for his wallet, shot multiple times.
“He worked an honest job five days a week,” his mother, Valerie, told CNN Thursday. He worked as a cafeteria supervisor.
It’s sad news like this that promotes the more valid point of #BlackLivesMatter, that black Americans have the rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness like any other citizen, with more than enough proof that show many police are implicitly trained with a bias that black men are seen and treated as a threat first… Tim Scott, a GOP Senator, had to prove his identity despite wearing a pin that immediately identified himself as a Senator.
Still, there are other parts of the equation that reveal a certain ignorance in this country. Between the sweat and the news that morning (it was relatively hot in Maine the day prior), I was reminded of California Gov. Brown signing gun bills with retroactive effects, and the comments in social media that show how disconnected we all are, in some way or another.
I was reminded the fact that many of the fears people have are exaggerated. The officer who shot Castile, who is of Chinese descent (according to Reynolds), was likely terrified. The probability of anything happening if he hadn’t fired was low; it was after Castile’s death that he was put on paid administrative leave, as standard procedure.
If it wasn’t for the fear, Castile would probably still be alive. And, supposedly, if his gun rights were respected, he would still be alive. The same with Alton Sterling, another victim that week. There is a real problem here.
…But the picture is never as simple as we’re told to believe.
First, Thursday made me see, in terms of race, how skewered gun control is. The demographics are split, according to a CNN poll. (The poll also indicates that three out of ten don’t understand law.) But public perceptions have contributed to saddening articles like “White & Black, A History of Gun Control for Black People.” (The article also adds more reason to not to trust the NRA, an organization once known for training freed black men in post-Civil War America to defend themselves against pro-slavery remnants like the Klan.) So, not only did the Clinton administration promote conservative policies that contributed to the twenty-five-fold increase of prison admissions for black Americans for drug offenses between 1983 and 2000, but there’s a whole history of policies promoted with, in mind, the very fear of black men baring arms. (Apologies if the last link doesn’t work— I’ve been getting an “encoding compression” error trying to load the page I was able to read a while back.)
It was in my further reading that I caught one way of reducing gun violence, one that has actually shown to work.
In the 1990s, there was a program called “Ceasefire,” which targets to help young people, in breaking up feudal violence. Shown to have an effect on reducing gun violence in inner-cities, in two years Ceasefire apparently reduced the average youth homicide rates by 63%. That isn’t to say this program is a one-size-fits-all solution, but there’s something remarkable when there’s a community that works, the crime rates are effectively low and the police better know the actual problem areas.
The Rev. Jeff Brown, one of the ministers who worked on the project, remembers people were outside more, barbecuing in the park. At Halloween, kids were able to trick-or-treat on the streets again.
So why don’t we hear about this program today? Because the conversation is drowned out by the noise and demands of lobbyists and national politics in the media circle, particularly massacres in suburban areas, which represent less than 1% of the gun homicide stats overall. “The national groups that spend the most money and do the most advocacy related to gun violence have concentrated almost exclusively on passing stricter gun control laws.” Liberals and conservatives alike tend to oversimplify what Ceasefire addresses as “urban,” effectively reducing what the program targets as “a minority problem.” Inner-city violence is higher in the stats, so… deliberately do nothing? The media are no better, with the breakdown of the black family narrative in the Wall Street Journal and Huffington Post sticking its own coverage into the category “Black Voices”… Black Voices written by white progressives. And so these programs, which tend to actually help, have trouble in getting the necessary funding from Congress to get off the ground.
“Such initiatives … fit into no political camp and thus have few powerful champions.” Focused deterrence— what academics call Ceasefire and similar approaches— “challenges the orthodoxy on both sides. It makes everybody uncomfortable.” Boston’s own effort fell apart in 2000 (according to research), and feudal crime crept up again.
…Skip to recent years, where news coverage has become noticeably lacking.
It wasn’t until the following Saturday this July, hours after a cold army reservist retaliated to “the news” in Dallas, that I looked at alternative news sources in the Castile case. I was missing a big part of the picture.
There were details in the Reynolds video that didn’t add up. It wasn’t some ordinary traffic stop, as alleged. (A ‘busted taillight’ added to the emotional outrage.) A store was robbed approximately four blocks from the traffic stop, and Castile, to a degree, resembled the suspect. Store camera footage and the police audio for the stop made that clear, and in such cases, an approaching officer may not state the actual reason for pulling a someone over to avoid escalating potential violence should the person be the suspect. The officer clearly saw himself in danger. But once a story snowballs, it’s hard to roll back.
The press appeared to take Reynolds at her every word. And, surprise, the two adults in the car are very flawed people. Reynolds lied about details on her Facebook page (which isn’t all that uncommon), and photos of a few years back revealed a different Castile giving the finger multiple times and flashing Crip gang signs, among other behaviors. (Member or not, there’s no way you can flash gang signs without getting into trouble.) …I know you don’t want to tarnish the victim, but… there’s “a man turning his life around,” and then there’s scrubbing a person’s character clean.
Yes, we all have our flaws; believing otherwise is delusional. …And the illusions of the press are exposed every so often with hoaxes.
So we do have a problem: a narrative problem. A dishonesty problem that has promoted fears on all sides, and has exhausted police departments with protests, not to mention Molotov cocktails.
Continue reading Of Fear and Trust