Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: FEAR of a Black Planet

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A dying Philando Castile

*If there ever was a case where the National Rifle Association should stand in support of a man’s second amendment right to bear arms, Philando Castile is that man. Castile had a valid permit to carry a gun when he fatally was shot by police during a traffic stop last week in St. Anthony, Minnesota. But the NRA has remained silent . I wonder why? Nevermind, I know why.

In the aftermath of mass shootings across the United States one would think those elected officials who claim stronger federal gun laws will infringe on the second amendment rights of Americans would have spoken out against the officer who shot Castile because he exercised his right to carry a gun. But no press conference yet. I wonder why not? Nevermind, I know why not.

The NRA and members of Congress should be outraged, vocal and in lock-step agreement that Castile’s civil rights were violated in the worst way. But mum’s the word.

Everytime a person of color is beaten, shot or killed under questionable circumstances by a member of law enforcement – the people sworn to protect and serve them – detractors are quick to explain it away:

If there’s no video, they say it’s a case of ‘he said, she said.’ When police body cameras mysteriously don’t record the altercation it’s written off as a technical mishap. And if there is video of the incident, they say the angle doesn’t show what really happened or the video could have been altered.

What will they say to explain away the video streamed live on Facebook showing the moments after police fatally shot Castile last week? The attorney of Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who stopped Castile’s vehicle, said there was more to the traffic stop than just a broken tail light. But Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, said that’s the reason Yanez told Castile he was being stopped. And when Castile told the officer he had a license to carry the gun that was in his car, the officer told Castile to show his driver’s license and registration. Still Yanez said he was “reacting to the presence of a gun” when he shot Castile four times in front of Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter as the trio sat in the car. That’s an admission to the violation of Castile’s right to carry a gun under Minnesota law and a violation of his civil rights under the U.S. Constitution.

In his four years on the police force, Yanez must have pulled over other drivers carrying handguns legally. But he didn’t shoot them! What makes Castile different? Nevermind, I know the answer.

Now the conversation between black children and their parents has to go farther than to tell them to comply and don’t make any sudden moves if they’re pulled over by police. Must they only drive pristine cars hoping they don’t get pulled over by THAT officer harboring fears of a black planet? And if – GOD forbid – they do get pulled over by THAT officer, must they start live streaming video first, then put their hands on the dashboard next to their ID and registration before police have a chance to claim they ‘fear(ed) for their lives’ and start shooting? What must a black man to do to remove the target from his back? Not even becoming president of the United States is good enough.

The day Barack Obama was elected POTUS – a feat many people thought never would happen in America – plans were set in motion to return the White House to the kind of person some think is the righful occupant: A white, elitist male who says what most of his constituents are thinking, but are too afraid to say. A man who uses his influence to increase only himself and his allys while minimizing the accomplishments of others, especially if they don’t look like him or think like him or he can’t benefit from them. A person who thinks if the spotlight isn’t shining on him there must be something wrong with the spotlight. The pendulum of prejudice has swung all the way to the extreme right leaving dead black males in its wake. I don’t know which is worse: Being an invisible man or being too visible, man! Sometimes progress feels like nothing more than a trip around the block.

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Steffanie Rivers

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Email her at [email protected] to comment, ask questions or for speaking inquiries.

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