A week and a half ago, I attended a breakfast held in honor of this year’s winners of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards. The honorees all spoke—about books, about art, about children, about being black in America. Author Jason Reynolds gave a spoken word performance that brought the audience to its feet. Here is an excerpt:

if you listen closely
you can hear the machetes
cutting the air
in half
connecting for half a second with something
breathing and growing
breathing and growing
before being chopped
down like sugar cane in a Louisiana field
yes there are machetes everywhere
the sound of them cutting the air

chop CHOP
chop CHOP

we try not
to bend in the wind
try not to bow or bow
try to wrap fingers around our own
saccharine souls
and brace ourselves
for the

chop CHOP
chop CHOP

the machetes
cutting the air in half
coming for us

You can read the full poem here, and you can see it performed in this video, recorded by a person in the audience.

Last night police officers shot and killed a black man. This is nothing new. But these were the police officers from the place I call home. The police officers whose station is an easy walk from my house. Whose station is in the same building where the jalapeno started going to daycare last month. The police officers who wave to my boys when we’re walking home from the park.

While eating breakfast this morning, I told my boys that too many black men are being killed by the police. I told them that last night our police officers shot and killed a black man. The peperoncino, who just turned three, got it. He said, “That’s not okay. The police need to say sorry for killing.”

It’s hard to know how much to say to young kids. It’s hard to talk about racism. But I didn’t have a choice this morning because I needed the jalapeno to know in case things were different today in the building where his daycare is and where the police station is. I wanted him to hear it from me--not from an older kid or a teacher.

Things were pretty quiet this morning, but when I was leaving from dropping off the jalapeno, a protester had arrived. He was a skinny, young white guy holding a large cardboard sign. Handwritten in black marker was FUCK YOUR BADGES. I wasn’t sure what to do, but with the peperoncino in the back seat, I rolled down my window and waved. I said, “Good luck today.” He nodded and said, “Thanks.” While I probably wouldn’t phrase my own sentiments the same way he phrased his, I wanted to say a kind word to him, to let him know that I support him in believing that the killing has got to stop.

I didn’t know Philando Castile, but this morning my heart hurts for him and for all those who loved him.

45 thoughts on “Philando”

    1. I hate stats being given out like this. There is no reference point here. I have no idea if 1,495 people being killed by police is a lot. It sounds like a lot. Who knows? Maybe 3,000 people were killed by police the 18 months before that. Maybe it was 750. I have no idea.

      Now, every death is tragic and is mourned by those who knew and loved those who died whether those who died "deserved it" (like the 2 terrorists that were killed in a gun battle with police in my own community 6 months ago) or not. However, to expect that stat to drop to 0 at any time is not at all realistic since there are millions of cops on the street with guns and millions more "bad guys" with their own weapons and even more people with and without weapons that have interactions with police.

      I've also read about people in shock about 2 men being killed by police in 2 days. Well, based on this statistic, about 1,500 people have been killed by police over the last 500 or so days, which means cops kill an average of 3 people per day. Again, I don't want to minimize personal tragedy, but based on this stat, I guess we should be pleased it was "only" 2 people and not 6 or more. But the only time we should be truly pleased or happy is when no one dies.

      This stat also says nothing to the number of lives saved by police, such as innocents that those killed were aiming at, or fellow police officers, or their own lives. Now I recognize there assuredly are victims that were unjustifiably killed and we need to reduce that number to as close to 0 as possible, however, I firmly believe in innocent until proven guilty, but that needs to apply to police as well as civilians.

      1. some context here for the 2015 numbers on fatal shootings by cops.

        According to BJS data, during 2003-09, there were 163 "arrest-related deaths" in which no criminal charges were intended to be filed against the persons who died during the process of arrest. Is that a large number?

        'FZ' SelectShow
      2. One is a state-sanctioned, judicial process that involves a lot of time and oversight before killing someone.

        The other is a state-sanctioned, executive process that involves zero time, no oversight, no consequences, and no transparency for killing someone. And it kills at 30 times the rate of the other process. Any time the number goes above zero should require thought about how to prevent further deaths.

    1. Neither do I, other than to say that I find the apathy and lack of empathy regarding this from people I generally respect and admire in my day to day life to be incredibly disheartening.

      1. One problem with the discourse is that both sides make up their mind immediately and dig in their heals no matter what the facts say.

        It is possible that a shooting is justified. It is also possible that a shooting warrants homicide charges. This duality seems to miss the most vocal people.

          1. Yes.

            And I don't believe Mr.Stewart will be seen carrying an F- your badge sign anytime soon.

  1. My next-door neighbor joined the People's Republic PD after retiring from the Marines a few years ago. Since he joined the department relations between residents and the police have deteriorated significantly (more on that below), unfortunately from a place that wasn't particularly great to begin with in communities of color around town. I try to imagine what's on his mind and what he's feeling – he's a black cop with a teenage, mixed race son & daughter. I can't begin to imagine the conversations in their family.

    Use of force & community policing has become a very volatile issue in the People's Republic in the last few years, though the extent of the disparities in the use of force (and other police methods) extends significantly further back than this. Three men – two white, one black – have been killed by police in my old neighborhood since 2012, the most recent one just last week. This spring university police pulled a young black student out of class (an Afro-American Studies class, no less) and arrested him for allegedly authoring protest graffiti on campus property. (Nobody can remember any student suspected of a more serious, violent crime ever being treated in such a fashion.) This sparked a series of demonstrations (I posted some photos from one here) in support of the student and/or against the police. Faculty & staff across the university submitted a letter of protest (which I signed) to the chancellor/provost/police chief. The campus PD chief retired this summer. The city's police chief has frequently been adversarial when faced with criticism by either the community or alders, though he's also said some important things about the declining access to social services in our community during his time on the force.

    The road stretches ahead of us, and the only way we get to a better place is to keep putting one foot in front of another, arm in arm, city by county by state. I feel awful that the violence wrought between now & then means we're not all going to get there together.

  2. I feel heartbroken and powerless today.

    Over and over again, with no change in sight. I keep trying to think of something I can do, some way to make this better, some way to help make this stop, but I keep coming up with a blank.

    1. Policy often changes when public opinion changes (see: gay marriage). However, it seems like guns is one area that seems to be immune to public opinion. I don't know how to demilitarize our society.

        1. I get the point you're both making (and understand where the frustration/anger/despair is coming from), but I think that they're two separate conversations with a common agent of destruction. If someone were able to make every privately owned firearm disappear from American society tonight, tomorrow there would still be excessive force and killings at the hands of police in communities all across the country. (Especially in communities of color.)

          I think, if we're going to actually try and find an effective solution, we need to make the use of violence such a professional & personal burden for cops that they instinctively seek alternative solutions to resolving the situation. The extreme solution is to assign any officer involved in an independently reviewed, justified fatal shooting to permanent desk/investigative/administrative duty and rescind their authorization for a duty weapon. The moderate approach is to assign that officer to desk/investigative/administrative duty without a sidearm for two years, then require they complete mandatory trainings on crisis intervention/use of force tailored to rehabilitating officers who have used deadly force, before returning them to their former duties. Sure, this presents a manpower problem. But the professional consequences for a justified killing need to be codified & severe enough – if for no reason other than self-interest – to force cops to make a conscious decision about their professional future before they take an action that ends a life.

          1. FZ SelectShow
            1. Not to be flippant, but "commenting without a true point" is basically standard operating procedure in the basement. I think you do yourself a disservice by categorizing this comment as that.

          2. FWIW (not much; see Corny's comment re: SOP in the basement):

            It is abundantly clear that many, many law enforcement officers lack sufficient training in conflict resolution and deescalation techniques and when/how to deploy their weapons. It is also abundantly clear that we have widespread problems with race and class in American society (and those two are intertwined).

            The motto is "Protect and Serve." Protect AND Serve. Not, as we used to joke in San Diego, "shoot first and ask questions later."

            I don't know what really happened in Minnesota last night. None of us do. But I know what it looks like, and I know the outcome was a tragic, senseless one.

            1. I've been openly critical – to the point of a guest opinion piece in the state's second-largest newspaper – of the militarization of police in the People's Republic. I frequently disagree with the positions & combative tone taken by the police chief, who is the former head of the academy hereabouts. But I absolutely agree with three things he's said:

              - He refuses to use the term "law enforcement" or "law enforcement officer,' and pointedly imbued that in his cadets. Enforcement is an act of force that creates a gulf between community & cops.

              - He is committed to making his department, which is one of the most diverse departments in a major American city, more diverse and more representative of the community. And he wants to hire more people from non-law, non-criminal justice backgrounds – social workers, teachers, therapists, etc. – to be beat cops & neighborhood officers.

              - He openly & eloquently laments this: When he was a young cop, that people would send loved ones who needed more help than they can find at home to the People's Republic, knowing their loved ones would get connected to robust social services. In the decades since our social services have been hollowed out and stretched thinner & thinner, putting cops in positions where they are less effective substitutes serving those in need less effectively than they deserve. He welcomes that part of the job, but wishes it was triage instead of primary care.

              1. Interesting.

                Of course, "policing" and "enforcement" are pretty similar.

                transitive verb
                archaic : govern
                : to control, regulate, or keep in order by use of police
                : to make clean and put in order
                a : to supervise the operation, execution, or administration of to prevent or detect and prosecute violations of rules and regulations
                b : to exercise such supervision over the policies and activities of

          3. The problem is there already is a police manpower shortage. If you tell a cop that he is going to be essentially demoted for killing someone even if they start shooting at him first, then a lot of cops will just hand in their badge right then and there and the shortage will become even worse. I would think that would mean lower standards for hiring, lower standards for training just to they can get enough manpower on the street.

            Perhaps a little better would be to have all cops trained better in crisis management and if a shooting occurs that does not result in criminal charges to the shooter but an independent review shows he/she did not properly use crisis management training, then desk duty/loss of weapon/retraining. This way, if it is shown that the cop had no alternative in the shooting, they would not be punished, especially if the shooting ended up saving lives of other civilians.

  3. 'FZ' SelectShow
      1. No kidding. Stay away from windows too. No telling what Nawlins will be like tonight and tomorrow, given what is going on in Dallas.

        1. I'm back home, KMOJ is a North Minneapolis station that I listen to when I'm waking up. More anguish on the radio this morning.

          1. Re your outlaws, I'm not surprised in the least. Folks here seem to forget quite easily that the generational wealth they accumulated was built literally on the backs of others.

            1. 'Off Topic' SelectShow
            2. Also, I'm not implying anything about your specific outlaws, just the pervasive attitude here

      1. Seriously.

        I read about Philandro before I went to sleep last night. Now this tonight. Not what helps de-escalate.

        I'm working on some thoughts, and will try to get them down tomorrow. Thanks for the conversation, all.

  4. Last night there was a group of about 15-20 protesters outside the police station. They were holding signs with messages like "we need justice" and "Saint Anthony won't support killer cops" and flashing peace signs at passing vehicles. A fair number of drivers were honking in support as they passed by.

    After dinner, the boys and I walked over with some cookies for the protesters. On the way home, we stopped at the house of a neighbor who also has young kids. She was in the midst of baking banana bread for the protesters. We don't really know what to do, and baking alone won't fix anything, but as Minnesotans, it's somehow our first instinct in difficult times.

  5. I don't contribute often, but it is civil discourse like this on such a divisive subject that reminds me how special this basement is.

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