Last night, just a few miles from my home, a police officer executed a St. Paul, Minnesota man named Philando Castile during a routine traffic stop.
Pulled over for a broken taillight, Philando was a registered concealed carry permit holder and told the police officer he was carrying his weapon. But as he reached for his license in his back pocket, the officer saw the gun, panicked, and shot him dead.
We know what happened because Philando’s fiancée, Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car with her young daughter, had the presence of mind to livestream and narrate the final moments of his life.
This morning, Philando’s mom, Valerie Castile, gave what will undoubtedly be the first of many unimaginably difficult interviews. Speaking with quiet dignity, mourning, and rage, her words indicted a racially-biased justice system that will not easily produce the justice she deserves.
“I had never thought my son would be killed by the person who was supposed to take care of him,” Valerie said, refusing to allow her grief to narrow her vision to this one shooting. The problem of police brutality, and especially unjustified violence against minorities, is as abhorrently systemic as it is devastatingly personal.
“You see them saying that there’s no [racial] profiling, but there is,” she explained. “We’re being hunted every day. It’s a silent war against African-American people as a whole. We’re never free.”
So what would justice look like? Valerie’s first goal is transparency.
As of the time of her interview, this mother had still not been permitted to see her son’s body. The police did not allow her to go to him as he died. And, as she knows all too well, Valerie may never have known how Philando was killed were it not for Diamond’s quick thinking.
But public attention isn’t enough. An investigation that produces no meaningful consequences isn’t enough. Transparency must be followed by accountability.
“If I shoot somebody, I’m going to be prosecuted,” Valerie argued. So, too, the cop involved “needs to be prosecuted.”
She’s right. A two-tiered justice system in which police can walk away scot-free from violence that would land a regular person in jail is no justice system at all.
Such an endemic lack of accountability encourages police brutality and devalues the lives of the very people whom officers are supposed to protect. Like Valerie, “I believe because [abusive police are] getting acquitted it’s like open season. If you don’t hold people accountable for what they do then they feel like they can just do anything.”
If we let Philando’s death pass without justice, this will only happen again—to another community, another family, another mother, another son.
“These police officers need to be held accountable for their wrongdoing,” Valerie said. “If you made a mistake, you made a mistake, and you need to suffer the consequences. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you. We need checks and balances.”
Amen and amen.