fatal encounters…again and again

On July 5, 2016, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Alton Sterling, a 37-year old African American man, was shot and killed by police. Police had received an anonymous tip that a man, wearing a red shirt and selling CDs outside of a convenience store, had brandished a gun. Sterling, matching those two descriptive elements, was confronted by police officers, who tackled and pinned him to the ground. Amid the tussle, an officer yelled, “He’s got a gun!” At least one officer fired his revolver at pointblank range into Sterling’s chest. All this, captured on a bystander’s video.

On July 6, 2016, in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a suburb of St. Paul, Philando Castile, a 32-year old African American man, was shot and killed by police. Pulled over for a broken taillight, Castile, according to the eyewitness testimony of his girlfriend, Lavisha Reynolds, riding in the front passenger seat, informed the officer that he had a gun, which he was licensed to carry. Reaching for his identification, the officer commanded Castile to keep his hands in view. Castile complied and, nevertheless, was shot 3-4 times, within moments, dying. Reynolds then livestreamed the aftermath of the shooting via Facebook.

I have a variety of responses…

I cry. Foremost, I grieve for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, their families and friends, and (as I’ve learned to think and to feel over time in reacting to these all too many shocks to the soul) for all of us for whom death, especially needless, unavoidable death, enshrouds our hearts with sadness.

I call for the advance nationwide, continuing in some jurisdictions, only beginning in others, of the reformation of police policy and procedure, particularly in regard to the black community and elements of criminal-profiling related to race. How much of the latter was involved in these instant cases? It’s difficult to know. However, historic mistrust between police departments and black communities and the intensified scrutiny of fatal encounters with police tracing back in near time to the August 9, 2014, killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, provoke suspicion. DWB, WWB, SWB, BB (driving while black, walking while black, sitting [or standing] while black, being black) remain cautionary classifications for many African American parents in counseling their particularly male children about public life in America.

I confess my wariness, my lack of sanguinity about the wholesale benefits of police reform. Policies and procedures and with them instruction and training of police officers can, must change, but none of it has any necessary causal relation to the transformation of hearts and souls, for there, racism abides.

I confess, too, my anger; ever a companion of my sorrow. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are but the latest killings (murders?) that stir in my bowels my racial animus. A few years ago, I crafted a shorthand self-statement: “I am a 60+ year old African American man born and raised in America”; my Cliff Notes autobiographical testament to my ever-present lens of race through which I look at life and the world. Sadly, angrily, I see no reason to dispense with it.

8 thoughts on “fatal encounters…again and again

  1. My dear Paul,

    I have no words for the sorrow I feel today – for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, for those who love them, for everyone who identifies as African-American, for our suffering society, for the waste of precious lives, and so exquisitely poignantly, for the little four-year-old girl who tried to comfort her mother in Falcon Heights last night. My heart is full of tears. That this happened again in my own community last night is simply too much to take in.

    For too many years we have held wide the door to base fear and craven distrust, made them a mantra and a creed. We have accepted the ridiculous notions that guns – in anyone’s hands – can make us safe, that being forever on guard against what we do not know or understand is the way to build a society. I believe that living in fear is the lowest and deadliest sin the human heart succumbs to, because ultimately fear enthrones hatred, grants it all power, and builds walls behind which our worst impulses hide and fester.

    I am so sorry that you had to write your sad, soul-weary, wise words today. I pray for the transformation of hearts and souls that will bring an end to these horrible, tragic killings and the whole range of pain, insults, losses, oppressions, and injustices in every sphere that have been so long inflicted on some Americans. May Love work its miracle in us and in this nation, and grant us grace, strength, and mercy for the living of these days.

    With much, much love to you and Pontheolla.


    Liked by 2 people

    • Karen, thank you for the poignant kindness of your words. Though at times despairing, I continue to pray and to act with love and justice, unconditional benevolence and fairness for all, as my watchwords. And, in this, there are moments of my sorrowing anger when I have to release my hold on my spirit, for to continue to cling to it would lead me to act in anger, and lift my hands, proverbially and literally, to clasp the wings of the Spirit Who empowers me to strive to be and to do love and justice. Love to you, Ted, and Emilia. And, yes, I share in your prayer in the wise words of Harry Emerson Fosdick, God grant us strength and courage for the living of these days.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The last time I saw my older sons, I noticed that both of them put their wallets in the console trays when they drove. I asked them why and they said it was to avoid having to reach into their pockets if they were pulled over. Paul, I fear so much for my sons, my grandchildren, my great grandchildren, my nephews and neices and their children. This ugliness has shaped and will continue to shape their perspectives as people of color in America. Every time it happens there are tears. Tears of rage and tears of sadness. Is there even a difference any more?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, Sandy, I read your words and I hurt all the more. For the longest time, I’ve kept my wallet and i.d. out of my pocket and in plain view. Just in case. It is, paradoxically, at the same time, no way to live, yet one way to live. And, no, my beloved sister, I find little difference or distinction between tears of sadness and rage. Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this Paul, though I’m mortified that you’ve had to write this. I was still processing Alton Sterling’s death, so I was shocked when I woke up this morning to yet another. Philando Castile’s death is just mind-blowing, especially given the graphic and heartbreaking video of the shooting’s aftermath. As there is video in both events you feel as if you’re watching a movie and the “actors” will get up when the scene is over!! But they don’t…..nor have all of the others who preceded them in death. It’s just too damn much!!

    Yeah it’s a good idea to keep that autobiographical piece handy I don’t think you’ll be able to put it away any time soon! Race is absolutely at the forefront of everyone’s minds these days. We left the campground to go sightseeing in Cooperstown, but as soon as we left we started to see confederate flags hanging from almost every other house. But we pressed on and as we got into Cooperstown and parked, we saw a police officer driving by. My stomach felt a little funny, but then the officer rolled down her window and waved at us.

    I waved back, but still feel so much pain. We need to do better in this country, so much better!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have thought of you and Tim continually whilst you’re away on your NY state summer journey. I pray your safety.

    As for this post, I sat up last night crafting notes for a post of my reflections on Alton Sterling’s killing. Then, this morning…Philando Castile. I almost wrote nothing, for I felt greater, physical pain in my belly, my bowels. Then I began to write. On reflection, I realize a part of writing was my need, my urgent need to salve my despair that nothing ever changes or will change. So, sad and angry, I recommit again and again to be and to do love and justice.

    Liked by 1 person

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