Police and Me and Philando Castile
Posted on July 7, 2016 Posted by John Scalzi 94 Comments
Here’s the thing: I’ve been pulled over by the police before, mostly because I’m speeding, but at least once because of a broken tail light. When I’m speeding, I usually know that I’ve been speeding, so when the police officer asks me if I know why I was pulled over, I say “probably because I was speeding. You caught me, write me up.” I do it because I know there’s a good chance he’ll be so tickled by me not even trying to evade the ticket that he’ll just let me off with a warning. One time I was speeding on the freeway, and when the cop pulled me over, I asked if I could speak to him outside the car. He allowed me to get out of the car, and when he did, I leaned in close and said, “the people with me in the car have not stopped arguing since I picked them up. I need a break from them. Write me up, and please, take a long time doing it.” The cop laughed, didn’t write me up, and chatted with me for about five minutes to give me breathing space from the squabbling in the car.
I have never once been afraid of being pulled over by the cops in my car. I have never once been afraid of the cops when they have approached me for anything. It does not occur to me to be afraid of the cops. Why would it? When I have been pulled over by the cops, the worst that will happen to me is that I will be cited for speeding — which is, when it happens, an entirely fair call on the part of the cop, because I usually was speeding. I have literally been pulled over by the cops with an actual skinhead neo-Nazi in my car — and there’s a story for you, long and complicated, and mostly aside from the point at the moment so I’ll skip it for now — and the neo-Nazi was literally biting his tongue so he wouldn’t scream fuck yooooooou, PIIIIIIIIG at the cop at the top of his lungs. I sat there and chatted with the cop about me speeding, and he let me off with a warning and I went on my way, neo-Nazi with bulging neck veins apoplectic in the passenger seat beside me.
So I repeat: I have never once been afraid of being pulled over by the cops in my car. I have never once been afraid of the cops when they have approached me for anything. It does not occur to me to be afraid of the cops.
Nor, I rather strongly suspect, does it occur to anyone who looks like me — white, male, visibly part of the mainstream of American culture — to be afraid of the cops. The only time we are afraid of the cops is when, say, we’ve got a dime bag and the car smells of skunkweed. Or when in fact we’ve had more to drink than we should have. Or we have that unlicensed gun poking out from underneath the passenger seat. Basically, when we are doing something that’s against the law, and we can get in trouble for it, and the cop would be perfectly within their rights to take us to jail for it.
This is why, I suspect, when so many people who look like me, white and/or male, and visibly part of the mainstream of American culture, hear about a black person being gunned down by a cop, in their car or out of it, immediately go to “well, what did they do to deserve it?” Because, in the somewhat unlikely event of one of us being arrested by a cop, much less gunned down by one, we know damn well that dude did something stupid to warrant the cop taking that action. My own lived experience of 47 years, and the lived experience of nearly every other person who looks like me that I know, confirms that fact. I’m not going to get stick from a cop unless I did something to get that stick.
Now, here’s what I know so far about Philando Castile, which is what anyone at this point knows: This 32-year-old guy who worked at an elementary school and who had no police record* was, with his girlfriend, pulled over for a broken tail light, and was in the act of complying with police instructions and volunteered information to the police officer that he had a gun, which he was licensed to carry, when the police officer shot him. It’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to suppose that the reason Castile told the police officer he had a firearm was so the officer wouldn’t see it, panic, and shoot him. But it didn’t matter, and he was shot anyway, and died. He died, by all indications, despite doing exactly what he was supposed to do — complying with police instructions, and doing what he could to defray any potential problems.
I have been pulled over by the police. I have had a broken tail light. I have complied with police instructions. And while I don’t travel with a firearm in my car on most days, if I had one in the car and was pulled over, you’re damn right I’d let the cop know about it, especially if it was on my person. Why wouldn’t I? I don’t want to give the cop any surprises. And I am just about 99.9% certain, in that situation, if I were doing all those things, I wouldn’t suddenly find myself shot, dying in that car.
But then, I’m white, and Philando Castile wasn’t.
I posted this tweet last night, about the announcement that Philando Castile had died:
And the first comment was from a guy just like me, white, middle-aged, clearly in the mainstream, who responded, “Jumping to conclusions again, John? Maybe we need more time on this one. Guy said he had a gun and reached inside his coat.”
Leaving aside the data point that according Diamond Reynolds, her boyfriend was reaching for his wallet in compliance with officer instructions, and leaving aside the data point that she maintains that Castile was informing the police officer about the gun so he would know it was there and presumably not be alarmed by it, all I said was one simple word: “Jesus.” Shock that Philando Castile died. Nothing else — I didn’t comment on whether I thought the shooting was justified or not. I didn’t comment on the color of Castile or of the police officer. I didn’t make a statement on who was at fault, or of my general feelings about police, or of anything else. Just, “Jesus.”
And the first comment, from a white, middle-aged, mainstream dude, is reaching for a rationalization for the cop for shooting Philando Castile.
The most charitable explanation I can give for that fellow is what I mentioned above: For him, and for me, and for the folks who look like us, the only way we’d get shot is if we were doing something that would get us shot.
But I also know, with high levels of certainty, that someone who looks like me merely informing a cop that we have a gun would be unlikely to get us shot. I mean, hell. Aside from anything else I’ve mentioned here, I live in rural America. You think a non-trivial percentage of people here don’t have guns on them? Even when they’re pulled over by cops? It’s also worth noting, as I say the above, that the racial composition of my county is 98% white. If my neighbors or I get pulled over and inform a cop, in the process of complying with their instructions, that we have guns, we’re very likely to live. Not everyone can say the same.
I’m not saying the fellow who made the comment to my tweet is racist. He’s probably not, any more than I am. But we live in a racist society, and some of that racism gets exhibited in how our police forces deal with us. I have a very different experience of the police than my friends and fellow citizens who don’t look like me. It’s an experience different enough that while I understand intellectually that there are people who are afraid of the police, just as a default setting, and it’s something I see again and again as minority friends of mine vent and rage on social media, I still can’t feel it. I am not afraid of the police. I never have been. I have never had to be. I probably will never have to be. That doesn’t mean that my friends are wrong.
The police officer who shot Philando Castile wouldn’t have known that Castile had no police record, worked in a school and was by all indications well-liked in his community but even that is placing the burden of exculpation on the man who got shot. In the same situation, pulled over with the same broken tail light, telling the cop the same things, with the cop knowing exactly about me as he did about Castile, I still don’t get shot. Of that I feel certain. Nor should I be. Why should I be? Even if you hate the idea of people being able to conceal carry weapons, if someone is following the law, they shouldn’t be shot for carrying that weapon.
The cop made a threat assessment and decided to shoot. A man is dead for it, one who, by all indications, complied with the officer’s instructions and acted to keep the officer aware of his situation, so there would be no surprises. And I know that because the man is dead by the cop’s hand (and by his weapon), there will be people, many of whom will look like me, who will look to find fault with Philando Castile, with what he did or said, something, anything, to justify the shooting. And it’s possible that what we know now is not the complete story, and that Castile did do something, anything, that made the cop in question shoot to kill.
But, two things here. First: would that something, anything, be enough to kill me, if I did it? I would like to bluntly and rather racistly suggest that the standard for policing in this country not be how the police treat black men, but how they treat white men, and specifically, white men like me, me who has no fear of police because he has never had cause to fear the police, and never been made by the police to fear them. By all indications, there was no reason for this police officer to fear Philando Castile any more than he would have to fear me. We know this now. But in the moment, I suggest in the same situation, I would still be alive where Castile is dead, and we need to ask why. The officer who shot Castile may not be racist any more than I or the fellow who commented back to me on Twitter likely is. But we live in a racist society, and the ambient racism steeps into each of us whether we acknowledge it or not.
Second: If you’re one of the folks looking for something, anything to excuse the shooting of Philando Castile, as a matter of intellectual honesty you should consider the possibility that you’re wrong, and that Castile, in fact, did nothing to warrant his death, and that the officer shot him, needlessly. And when you entertain that notion, you should also ask yourself why Castile is dead anyway. If your answer to that question is entirely devoid of anything having to do with the fact that Philando Castile was a black man, you should probably try again.
I am not afraid of the cops. Never have been. Probably will never have to be. That is a luxury and privilege not everyone gets to have. I’m glad I have it. I want more people to have it, too. We’re not there yet. We can’t pretend we are.
* Update: 3:46pm: NBC News is reporting Castile was pulled over numerous times since 2002 for various traffic violations, including speeding and driving without a muffler. They note: “All were for misdemeanors and none were for violent crimes.” Another NBC-affiliated reporter pipes in re: the traffic violations:
Thoughts and instructions:
1. I’m busy writing on a novel today and I don’t have a lot of time or mental energy to provide this comment thread. So, while the Mallet is out as usual and with specific focus on people being racist and otherwise stupid, if it becomes clear the thread is trying to jump the rails on a continual basis, I’ll just cap it. I have deadlines. So, please, behave, treat each other nicely, and don’t be racist assholes. Thanks. For folks new to the site, here are the house rules for commenting. Read and follow them.
2. For those of you who might be new to this site, and want to know my perspective on discrimination in the US and in general, this piece might be useful for context.
3. If you’re one of those people who thinks any negative (or even less than positive) comment about police means the person uttering them is virulently anti-police, please go be stupid elsewhere. As noted, I have never had a bad experience with police, who never been anything but professional and courteous to me. As a general rule I think positively about police, and in particular the friends of mine who are police officers are people I am proud to know. Likewise, I assume most police officers are not racist horrible people. With that said, again, my lived experience with police is different than the lived experience of others, and their lived experience is not wrong. Also, as a general rule, when someone is dead by the gun of a police officer, it behooves us as a society to ask why and whether it was absolutely necessary.
4. If your comment is nothing but excuses for why Philando Castile got shot, I may assume you didn’t read the article in question, and may Mallet your comment.
5. Incidentally, I think it’s fine for you to question my general assertion that in the same situation I wouldn’t have been shot, but know I’ll deeply skeptical of any such assertion based on my own lived experience and the experience of people I know, who look like me. Also, as a matter of statistics, people who look like me are rather less likely to be shot by police than people who look like Philando Castile, and that’s a thing.
6. Also, what I would like to do here is avoid a general discussion of gun ownership, which I think is not likely to be useful. Let’s keep any discussion focused on the specifics of the incident, with the additional understanding that by all indications, Castile had a right to own his weapon, and to carry it.
7. Finally, and quite obviously, this piece comes from the point of view of white, straight, well-off middle-aged dude, so it’s not universal, etc. Factor that in, and of course feel free to interrogate it being from that perspective. With that said, if you’re the sort who wants to blunder in here and blather about “beta cuck SJW liberal blah blah blah,” well, save yourself the time writing it and me Malleting it. Go be boring elsewhere. Thanks.
Thank you for this. This is pretty much my reaction to the police. And, I think, why.
Just a small point. Here in Ohio if you have a Concealed Carry Permit you are required by law to inform the police officer stopping you for an infringement. You are also required by law to inform the officer if you have a weapon in the car. To not do so is a crime, which the officer will discover when they run your license (and then search your car because of that infringement). In Minnesota I believe it is a requirement “if asked”. So, just in case anyone wants to say, “Well, what does he expect by telling the cop he has a gun and then reaching into his pants pocket?” You’re supposed to inform the police if you have a Concealed Carry Permit.
And I should add that I’ve never gotten a ticket I didn’t deserve, so why be a jerk about it? My experience is that when I cop to having been speeding–what the traffic stop is invariably for–I’ve gotten less of a ticket on several occasions than I would’ve otherwise. Certainly being a jerk to the person with the right to give you a ticket is not going to get you a *better* deal. :)
It should also be pointed out that in such shootings, the NRA has been remarkably silent about the decedent’s Second Amendment rights.
My lived experience, which I am even now trying to compare to this tragedy and coming up blank, is slightly modified by being female, but no less white. I’ve taught my daughter that it is her right to request a female officer be present should she be pulled over and asked to exit her vehicle (and actually, I’m not sure it IS her right – I just taught it to her that way so she would be assertive in her demand), but though my fear she might be raped by an LEO is valid, it’s also statistically improbable – because she’s white. Plus, the odds of her surviving such a horrific encounter are still significantly greater than a black man at a routine traffic stop. I’ve never feared law enforcement as a group, either, but as I become more aware and more involved – that’s starting to change. I hold white supremacy accountable for that, not the black community. I hope that’s enough to position me for change.
Your jovial relationship with police astounds me. Mine is much more guarded, and although I’ve smiled politely at cops during stops (yeah, I speed too), we’ve never made small talk. I was pulled over for a broken headlight, some years ago, and when the cop (white, male) asked me for my registration, I reached unthinkingly for the glove compartment. The cop tensed. “What are you doing,” he said, loud and quick.
I froze, arrested by his change in tone. “Getting my registration.”
“…Okay. Go ahead.”
I did. The stop proceeded uneventfully. As it should have.
I’m a smallish Asian female, and as such I don’t think I’ve ever poked anyone’s threat assessment buttons. That probably worked in my favor, in the instinctual hindbrain where racism lives. Because if I were a black male, there’s a much larger chance that I’d be dead.
I’m not sure what I can really add, but like everyone I feel the need to say something. Although White, my experience with police is different than Scalzi because i grew up in a poor, under privileged lower class neighborhood in Chicago. I have experienced a distinct difference between how a cop on patrol in the inner city treats me versus the police officer in a richer suburb.
It’s interesting that you point out that we don’t know everything about the Philando Situation. A blogger whom is pretty much the Anti-Scalzi said as much regarding Alton Sterling. I do agree that when these things happen the first thing to do is not to jump to any conclusions until all the facts come in. We probably also shouldn’t jump to during mass shootings either. I’ll hang up and wait for both political sides to get on board with those ideas.
It is hard not to notice that none of the people claiming that everyone has a God given right to own a firearm is coming to the defense of a man exercising his God given right to legally own a firearm.
It seems like these events are occurring more and more, but the reality is that we are just hearing about them faster because of technology and social media.
Finally, “If these incidents have taught us anything, it’s that an officer has to be caught red-handed by someone with a phone, a good camera angle and the smarts to get away clean for them to face any sort of discipline in these cases. ” http://nancynall.com/2015/07/23/bullies/
Well said. Philando Castile was murdered when complying with the cops’ instructions – who the hell tells the cop he has a gun, then trys to shoot the cop?
I’m hoping there is body or car cam cop footage, and the cop is charged with murder, as this is utterly ridiculous.
James Holmes wasn’t shot. Robert Lewis Dear Jr wasn’t shot.
Lets play spot the difference.
One of many things I hate about all this is that even if you’re doing everything right you can get pulled over and harassed (or shot) if you’re not white. Everyone tells you (and you’re taught) to move slowly, be respectful (which in my experience means subservient) and you *might* be allowed to go about your business. But even if that were actually true, doesn’t it becomes a race to the bottom? If the norm is respectful-to-subservient to a cop, then any deviation becomes disrespect which becomes detention or violent encounter – how soon are we back at Jim Crow in all but name? When am I allowed to act like a normal human being and not get pulled over for driving while brown? Or stopped on the street as I am walking to work? When am I allowed my right as an American to live my life of liberty and the pursuit of happiness without wondering “is today is the day”?
I heard first thing this morning. I cannot articulate how sick this makes me feel.
For four of the last five years, I lived within a block of where Philandro Castile was killed. I split the time between two different apartment buildings, both with a view of the intersection where this happened. It’s right by the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities St. Paul campus, and the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. There’s a gas station on the corner, a liquor store, a sandwich shop, a chiropractor, multiple bus stops.
I had to call the police a few times in my first apartment there. They were usually polite and respectful. I wouldn’t say our interactions were enjoyable, but they weren’t traumatizing either.
I moved to a bigger apartment down the street. I had to call the police a couple times. They were angry. Aggressive. I was shocked by the change in demeanor. Their body language always made them bigger and more intimidating than they actually were – squared shoulders, feet farther apart than required for balance. Hands on their hips, or their tasers.
If they weren’t aggressive, they were fearful. I think they were always afraid and the aggression was used to cover that fear. Once they asked to come into my apartment, and their body language was so aggressive I kept moving to keep furniture and cabinets between myself and the officers because they made me afraid.
There were a couple of officers, detectives mostly, who responded without being aggressive. It was rare.
I’ve had more than a year since I left the area, and I’ve thought about it a lot. I had a lot of issues with the cops at my second building. There were flashing lights in the parking lot all times of the day and night. And other than size, there was only one big difference.
My first building was mostly students like me. People going to the U, as the University of Minnesota is called in the Twin Cities region, or to Hamline University a little way away. A few people were older, getting back on their feet after divorce or whatever else life did to them along the way.
My second apartment was home to a lot more black bodies. Many of them were refugees who moved to the US from Somalia. They sounded and looked different than the stereotypical Minnesotan.
I witnessed arrests in the common hallway of my second apartment building. I saw white bodies walked out of the building with one hand on the elbow of a handcuffed arm. I saw black bodies dragged and forced to march while gloved hands twisted and pulled and pushed with force. I was terrified – not that something would happen to me; I was protected by my paleness. But to my neighbors, who were just people like me. I complained about the police and how they behaved to my neighbors to anyone who would listen (which was usually not the police themselves).
It made me think. It still makes me think. Why did I witness police officers one building two blocks down the street behave one way, and so differently in the second one?
Now a man is dead, and all the things I saw and experienced in those buildings, on those streets, will never fade away.
I’m not male. Gender has never protected me. But I am white. I experience only a fraction of the difference in behavior that my neighbors dealt with, a threat that cost a man his life while he sat in his car during a traffic stop.
Thank you for posting this. Very well said. I’ll be sharing it around in the hopes it gets even more notice. It’s a ridiculous and heartbreaking situation and you are completely right on all points.
My belief is that fear is the culprit, that the very color of Philando Castile’s skin was enough, in and of itself, to make the officer nervous, and allowed him to panic. PLEASE don’t read that as excusing the shooting. I want to understand, and nothing about Castile’s death makes any sense. I can’t believe the officer actually WANTED to shoot someone; but he did shoot someone; so I reason he must have been afraid. Of what? Were it me sitting where Castile was sitting, I would have behaved exactly as he did, and, like you, not expected to get shot. The only difference I can see in the immediate situation is that I’m white, and Castile was not. Conclusion: the officer was actually afraid of the man’s skin color! How screwed up is that??
@ Theophylact – as an NRA member, I am also struck by the organization’s silence.
In general, I read a fair number of gun-related sites, and there seems to be a focus in them on cases where a police officer lost a gunfight. I wonder if it’s creating a “Lord Jim” effect – overreacting to every perceived threat. One also sees a tendency to “see” the black guy as Superman. In the Ferguson MO shooting, the cop and his victim were both the same height and the cop was arguably in better shape, yet the cop kept describing the other guy as if he were a giant.
I am a white 39 year-old female unpublished author (read= poor) and I am afraid of the police. I am afraid of the police because I have been brutalized by the police, more than once, and I know I have been brutalized by the police because the police who brutalized me thought they could get away with it. They thought they could get away with it because they think my voice means nothing, because I am a woman, and I don’t usually look like I can afford an attorney.
I have panic attacks every time I hear another news story about someone being killed by a policeman. Then I tell myself to think, maybe this time, maybe this time, things will change. None of these people deserved to die. No one deserves to be shot. The public deserves a police force that serves and protects. Not a corrupt institution that bullies and murders.
I think John said it quite well so I’m offering no further commentary regarding this terrible tragedy. And I don’t mean to make light of it, but the level of obsequiousness I would express to my wife were I to come home stumbling drunk smelling like strippers at 3 am is nowhere near the level I display to the police when I’m pulled over (which hasn’t occurred for many years). However, like John, I’m am and have always been a white guy, and have never feared the police a day in my life.
Random thoughts: These sorts of things have become expected and will only change systemically. I won’t address the fundamental issue of underlying racism in this country except to say that anyone who pays the least bit of attention–or takes a half second to pull their ostrich head out of denial–knows that’s what happens here.
Better training and philosophical rethinking for policing–the hyper-aggressive paramilitary school of thought needs to stop. Cops who cross the lines need to be punished. Hard.
Speaking of training, that cop in the video sounds like he’s going nuts–the dead man’s girlfriend is far more composed than the shooter? How does a guy like that ever get a badge? They don’t stress test these guys?
Cops who cling to the “thin blue line” morality need to understand that in defending the worst of their “brothers” they are hurting the entire nation.
More resources need to be directed to compensating professional law enforcement officers rather than dumping cash on more and more sophisticated and destructive firepower. Maybe if officers were elevated in both socioeconomic status and education, rather than low-wage washouts with power complexes a newer, better caliber of officer might emerge.
White people need to realize that this isn’t a black people problem. It’s going to destroy us all.
Cops who kill need to be treated with greater transparency. If I execute a stranger my name is in the news, I’m perp-walked in front of the hungry media, and my life is dissected nine different ways before I’m ever even fingerprinted. Cops get names withheld and “leave with pay.”
Finally, and a little off the subject: will the NRA have the courage to stand up and put their considerable weight behind the push for justice due a law-abiding citizen who by all accounts was doing exactly what that law and common logic dictates?
I wanted to provide this perspective, from a white, male professional who dresses and acts the part. Like you, I’ve never been stopped for anything more than a traffic violation – and that rarely.
But unlike you, I am afraid of the police. As a citizen, I respect the law, but I also respect the principle set forth by John Dalberg-Acton that “power tends to corrupt.”
Police have power, and this is why I’m afraid of them. Certainly this does not mean all police abuse this power – the vast majority, I’m sure, do not. But it means the opportunity is there. The fact that some officers have so frequently and egregiously violated the rights of law-abiding citizens scares me. The fact that I’m not a person of color doesn’t reassure me, because a person’s skin color or ethnic background aren’t the problem.
Of course they aren’t.
The problem is the predisposition of some people in power to abuse that power by violating the rights of people they perceive to be different. What if a police officer who pulls me over were to find something “different” about me he didn’t happen to like? Maybe a bumper sticker on my car. Maybe something else about me that triggered a prejudice I had no way of knowing about.
This is far less likely to happen to me because I am a white male professional. But that doesn’t mean I’m immune, and that realization helps inform my conclusion that we should all be appalled whenever someone’s rights are violated simply because he or she is “different.”
Martin Niemöller’s remarks on the Nazi’s persecution of various minority groups comes to mind. All prejudice is ugly, and actions spurred by prejudice are even uglier. Thank you for speaking out.
Your thoughts accurately describe a reality that has been empirically described as implicit prejudice and bias. I haven’t kept up on the literature, but a quick search found this article as an example http://www.psych.uncc.edu/pagoolka/cdps287.pdf Pedants will argue that the Philando Catile case wasn’t weapon bias, but it was essentially the same thing — misidentification of a non-threatening action as threatening. The fact that this is a very real, consistently verified bias does NOT excuse it or make its end results less tragic. What it does is say that we need to recognize it and DO SOMETHING to mitigate the effects. Sweeping these events away with rationalization and cover ups has gone on for much too long.
Just to show how being white can save a life, this article presents 8 cases where guns, criminals and police DIDN’T lead to the gun wagger being gunned down by the police.
This happened a couple miles from my home. Less than a mile from where I go to church. In a neighborhood I drive through multiple times a week. Philando Castilo work at the school my daughter attended. He died in the hospital where she was born.
Someone on Twitter tried talking about how dangerous it is in “certain” neighborhoods and clubs in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metro area. Maybe, if you have a limited life experience. But even then, Falcon Heights is not one of those areas.
Falcon Heights is so tiny. A little, ignored suburb known for housing the state fair grounds and a campus of the U of M. It is damn near Lake Wobegon.
I wish I could say this is not who we are. But the facts say otherwise.
Funny how those apologists for every other homicide-by-cop are silent on this. It doesn’t fit their narrative.
I was once pulled over for speeding in Atlanta (under 10 mph over) and the cop told me “I only pulled you over because I thought you were a Ni—-.”
You can’t tell me it isn’t systematic.
Very well written Sir (not at all surprising, just wanting to say it).
As a (Mostly) White boy, I too know no fear when stopped by Police, and when I was younger I often thought incidents reported like this must have skipped the part where the Black male did something to deserve it to sell news papers. The belief that the people who protect and serve could do something so unjustified was alien to me.
Then I grew up, or rather my Cousins and friends of other Skin tones grew up.. it became a common theme in conversations, Native guys pulled over and asked to open their containers to prove they weren’t drinking in public, Black cousins pulled over for Driving while Black, and more recently Middle Easterners and Pakistani friends being “Randomly selected for additional screening”.
It is frustrating seeing people express the sentiment I would have made as a teenager, especially from adults, and wondering how they could still believe such a thing, what isolated world do they live in..
anyway, Thanks for writing your thoughts.
I’m not American, the place where I live has very few armed police and simply having them around is a middling political controversy, so I know I’m the outsider here, but what struck me in the bit of video I was able to watch before I was too horrified to continue was that the police officer seemed more terrified of his own gun than the victim’s partner.
I mean first let me offer, as hollow as it always sounds on such occasions, my deepest condolences to Mister Castile’s family, loved ones, and friends, for their terrible loss and to say Ms Reynold’s level of composure is amazing. I wish I had half as much strength of character as she appears to have.
Having said that, how on Earth can armed police be let out on the streets while being so terrified of their own weapons and members of the public? I do not excuse the officer at all, and I hope a trial is in his future for such reckless behaviour, but what system is this that allows such lack of training to happen? He sounded more like a high school kid who had just crashed his dad’s car than a police officer armed with a deadly weapon and employed to assist and protect the public. It is just horrific. I struggle to see what excuses could be made for that behaviour. Black people should not have to live in fear that their mere existence should make a police officer scared enough to leap straight to shooting them as the first response. People should stop making excuses for police officers who behave badly.
I lived in a high crime, mostly black neighborhood in Virginia and I carried a gun for protection. Even though I’m Puerto Rican, I was so much lighter than the majority of my neighbors that I got a little bit of privilege from it. Enough privilege that when four cops came to my rented house looking for a previous tenant to arrest on outstanding warrants, with hands on guns… they visibly relaxed when I answered the door even though I had a pistol on my hip because I’m not black. Enough privilege that cops passed me and waved while I was walking my dog and open carrying a pistol and extra magazines.
Cops see unarmed black men as a bigger threat than armed white/white passing men. That’s what the studies say, and that matches my experience. Anyone trying to get around the inherent racism of that reality need to take more than a moment and examine their own biases.
Well spoken. I agree wholeheartedly.
My father was a gunsmith and a gun safety instructor. He also had a concealed carry permit from the moment he left the military to the moment he passed away. When I was a kid, my father got pulled over (I’m not sure for what). The officer asked for my father’s license and registration. My father retrieved them, handed them over, and as the officer leaned down to take them, he saw the grip of my dad’s .45 peeking out from under the passenger seat. At this point, my father hadn’t mentioned his CCP at all.
The police officer drew his gun and ordered my father out of the vehicle. My father raised his hands and complied. The officer told him to lay on the ground and put his hands behind his head. My father complied. The officer handcuffed my father, then holstered his weapon and called in a report of a weapon on the scene. He then had a conversation with my father, who revealed his CCP, which the officer checked, and after a few deep breaths and confirmation of the CCP’s legitimacy and my father’s identity, he let my father go.
The first thing that officer told my father after that incident was to have his CCP ready when an officer approached his car and to identify that there was a weapon in the vehicle to avoid any further situations like he’d encountered here.
Just like Philando Castile did.
My father didn’t get shot. The officer took perhaps slightly overzealous, but mostly reasonable steps to preserve his own safety in the face of a visible weapon. He de-escalated the situation without the need for violence, and the worst that happened to my dad was having to sit with handcuffs for 10 or 15 minutes.
From that point forward, whenever my father got pulled over (only a couple more times in his life), the first thing he did was get his license and CCP, and put them in his hands on the steering wheel of his car, then hand them to the officer when that officer approached. He always had a gun in the car, and always informed the officer of such.
Just like Philando Castile did.
But my father never got shot.
Having close experience with police de-escalating a tense situation without the use of deadly force, I can’t imagine an argument justifying what happened to Philando Castile. And I certainly can’t imagine an explanation of what happened to him that doesn’t hinge on his race.
I think the crappy part of being a police officer is that no matter how much they may not want to, they end up leaning pretty heavily on stereotypes. To not stereotype could lead to a situation that endangers their life. Every situation a cop approaches is unique and full of challenges, be it a routine traffic stop or a more dangerous encounter. It’s in the best interest of self preservation for the mind to generalize and categorize similarities over time, which leads to tragedies like this one.
Maybe we really do need Robocop. A completely objective enforcer. Unfortunately, you won’t talk your way out of traffic tickets ever again, but it’d be worth avoiding these kinds of tragedies.
I am 57, white,male. From rural California. I have always been afraid of the police. I have a concealed carry permit, and have been stopped while carrying. Telling the officers (as required) that I was armed one of the most nerve wracking experiences of my life. And yes, at least here in Ohio, the first thing out of your mouth, before the officers say ANYTHING has to be “I hold a license to carry a concealed handgun, and I am armed”. That is by law.
I don’t carry anymore.
When I was in college, I was mutual friends with another white girl, and a set of black female twins. The twins had a car, the other white girl and I did not. When either of the twins drove their car, they could count on being pulled over at least once, regardless of the length of their trip, or where they were going to/coming from. When the white girl drove their car, she almost never got pulled over. This was in the early/mid ’90s, and that was my first introduction to the concept of Driving While Black (DWB).
I was pulled over two nights ago, driving home from work. I had an outstanding work order, and was driving on a six-weeks-expired registration sticker. (I am in fact spectacularly bad at tending to administrative matters in a timely fashion.)
It was almost midnight. I was pulled over on a very dark street.
I was certainly nervous.
But I’m a 50 year old white female. I was never for one instant afraid for my life. Certainly, I was cautious — kept my hands visible and outside the car until he asked for my ID, and then asked permission to reach for it. Moved slowly. All that.
But the cop was kind, respectful — even gentle. Went so far as to encourage me to take the one ticket he actually wrote me to court — said if I got the paperwork tended to promptly, the judge would likely reduce the fine.
That is privilege. The fact that I didn’t need to be afraid, is privilege. The fact that he treated me gently, is privilege.
Good post by John and good comments in general.
My first thought is that the victim did everything according to the law and he still got shot. This means that there is something wrong with the way police are trained. If one complies with the officer, he or she should not be shot or abused in any manner.
Apparently there is some police training that encourages police to be fearful and to shoot people. http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/psychologist-openly-admits-he-trains-police-officers-shoot-first-and-ask-questions
The rationale is that the police should take no risks and shoot to kill at the slightest provocation or insecure feeling on the part of the cop. There are problems with this. First, as John’s post explains, there is nothing that the victim should have done differently. The comment by Luke M. is good, to have your license and permit visible. But you run the risk of appearing to go for a gun while the cop approaches the car. Second, being a cop is a risky job. If you are unwilling to perform that job well because of the risk, don’t be a cop. Third, police departments know who the bad cops are, they should get rid of them. That doesn’t seem to be the problem in this case, but it happens a lot that bad cops are retained. Fourth, cops today tend to shoot to kill (see training) as standard practice.
Then there are the cops who shoot and kill somebody who is pinned down (and thus not a risk) by other cops. Or who sic their dog on a man who is pinned down or unconscious (again not a risk) to the cops. Those are just plain murder.
I’m a white male in my late forties who’s never carried a gun, but I can tell you that being pulled over is the only situation where I’m uneasy about interacting with police. Decades ago, I was told that upon being pulled over, you should keep your hands on the steering wheel until asked to do otherwise by the cop so that they don’t think you’re going for a weapon. Since then, I’ve always thought of that as being a cop’s mindset during a traffic stop and it makes me uneasy. Add a gun to the situation, and I can understand the cop getting a bit jumpy. Usually, that doesn’t lead to the motorist being shot. Sadly, in Castile’s case, adding his race to the situation may well have been what tipped the scale toward opening fire as the cop weighed the situation in his mind. I really do think things are better than they used to be, but until people are really over the mindset that black people are scarier than white people (among other things), we won’t be able to say that racism is gone.
Great post-John. I live in Oklahoma- Where open carry is a big thing. I’m friends with a lot of cops, go to church with them, they are good guys. But this past year the Oklahoma House passed a bill that allows individuals to carry a gun in the open without training or a permit. Now I’m a conservative- And a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment. But even I thought this legislation was bad. It puts cops in a difficult position- Who has the right to carry, who shouldn’t be carrying.
I think in both shootings this week there are a lot of unanswered questions and the media doesn’t always help much. But I agree, had this been me, a white 38-year-old male that got pulled over, I probably wouldn’t have gotten shot.
I always tell people- When you get pulled over, have your license, registration / insurance verification, and concealed carry permits out and hands on the steering wheels. Not all cops of impulsive and reactionary, but there are those that are, and sometimes it’s best to just keep your hands where they can see them, and have all papers already in those hands before informing them about a weapon. Very sad situation regardless…
I live in Albuquerque, which is home to a police department that isn’t racist – they’ll shoot anyone, white or brown (our black population is extremely small.) I am afraid of my police, for the same reasons (I believe) many black people are – I don’t trust them to protect me. I have never had a good interaction with a police officer, and have never felt safe around them. And I am a straight white male.
One recent interaction with a state trooper outside Roswell involved him asking me to step out of the car and insisting that I keep my hands out of my pockets “for safety”. He touched his gun more than once, and I feared for my life every moment he made me stand there while he looked things up, then double-checked on things (in a position that I could audibly hear him doing so, which may be why he asked me to exit the vehicle). He seemed to be eagerly searching for something more than “mere” speeding, and seemed upset when that’s all he could cite me for.
Police aren’t my friends, and it isn’t a uniquely black experience.
I was doing over a hundred as I was passing a semi-truck and didn’t want to dilly-dally in the oncoming lane as another car could pop up over a distant rise. Sure enough, a car did. A cop car. Out here in wild west, the cop cars all have Fast_As_Light speed guns and as he passed by me I saw his brake lights come on. Knowing he would be turning around to pursue, I found a place to safely pull over and waited for him. Sure enough a minute or two later he pulls in behind me. He comes up to the window and looks at my middle-aged white face and says, “you know why I pulled you over, so I’ll just give you a short warning; be more careful.”, and with that he went back to his car and left. He didn’t run my license plate, he didn’t ask for my driver’s license or registration. I dunno, maybe he had a hot date or was late for an appointment but it was 1:30 in the afternoon. I was surprised by how easily I was let off. As I drove away I imagined how that same encounter might have gone had I been hispanic or black. I very much doubt it would have been anything like what I had just experienced.
Thank you for this
Most of my limited experiences with the police are neutral or positive, but I still felt fear during those encounters. Perhaps because I lived in an “urban environment” in my youth. Perhaps because I am personally allergic to displays of authority. Who knows?
I noted the NRA’s silence on the Ohio Walmart case. Where was all the posturing about American’s God given Right to Bear Arms then? Yeah. That’s what I thought. They cannot even be bothered to fake their way through the motions.
After the shooting in Baton Rouge, I said to my wife: I don’t want to hear any more people on the news say that cops need to know they will get home safe at the end of the shift. I just don’t want to hear it anymore. If you cannot deal with the complicated situations an LEO faces routinely without resort to “preventative” violence, then quit. Just QUIT! If you don’t have the judgement it takes to handle the job, quit. Just QUIT!
Farmers, firefighters and cab drivers all have higher occupation related death rates. A cab driver has a lot more to fear, but he cannot just gun down people on suspicion so he can “get home safe at the end of his shift.” Firefighters routinely go into situations that make it more likely they won’t come home safe and they don’t bully people unless those people are almost literally about to catch fire.
The police need education and training and screening programs. If there isn’t money for that in the budget, delay the next set of military grade “improvements” to the force until you have enough for the training. Discipline police caught red handed in conspiracies to perjure or bamboozle the courts. Discipline the prosecutors who encourage this behavior themselves. Stop automatically giving preference to prosecutors for judicial appointments.
I know in some ways it is a linguistic think, but the thoughts behind words are meaningful too. So please stop calling this white privilege or luxury. Call them rights, which is what they are supposed to be and demand everyone in your community receives them.
Well said, as usual. One of my friends posted this her timeline. I will be writing similar letters, this weekend.
“I’ve now emailed versions of the following letter to my state representative, my state senator, my senators and congressman. ‘I am no longer able to sit quietly and watch the amount of police violence that is happening in our country so I am writing to you. Honestly I wanted to address the police directly but I didn’t want to get them pissed at me. Its not good that I have to live in fear of the police instead of being comfortable calling on them if something goes wrong. And I’m white.
I want to know where you stand on the legislative agenda of Campaign Zero. A campaign that aims to end police violence in the US. They offer 10 legislative ideas to help combat police violence including training, demilitarization, community oversight, etc. See their website here http://www.joincampaignzero.org/action
I hope to hear back from you soon.
For those of us who carry the privilege of white skin, it’s not enough to be sad and outraged on behalf of our black friends. We MUST leverage our privilege to speak out (Thank you, John) and at least TRY to make a difference.
Related to Stephen Provost’s post, there are upper-class, respectable white men who are afraid of the police, because the police can remind them that the law is not always on their side. My mom weaponized this fear that her respectable and yet alcoholic and violent male partners had, the fear of being exposed for their actions. She used it to get these men, men who had so much power and privilege, to do what she wanted. It’s why one of them never laid a hand on her again, after a night in the local jail. So to me growing up the police meant safety when there was violence at home.
Thus when my college friend related to me how the police had arrested her as a child because they thought she had done something, I didn’t believe her at first. I literally could not understand how anyone could think her a troublemaker. I think that’s when I started to realize how messed up our country was, and how much I benefited from being read as white.
“Nor, I rather strongly suspect, does it occur to anyone who looks like me — white, male, visibly part of the mainstream of American culture — to be afraid of the cops.”
I completely and utterly disagree. I’ve never experienced your blasée attitude to the police, and it only reduced to feeling cautious when I was reporting a crime myself. Police officers have guns, and are only typically put through 19 weeks of training. ( http://discoverpolicing.org/what_does_take/?fa=training_academy_life )
That doesn’t inspire confidence or trust.
Scalzi, (and in line with what digitalatheist said) you could *SHOOT* at a cop and still have a decent chance of not winding up dead.
Not at all criticizing the officer in this case. But the disparity is depressingly instructive.
1) Pizza delivery is more dangerous than police work.
2) I’m surprised to see all the advice to get your paperwork out before the cop asks you to; whenever I’ve done that they’ve requested to search the vehicle. Pull over with both hands on the wheel, turn off the engine with your right hand, return it to the wheel, lower the window with your left hand, and wait for the cop to tell you what to do next. A friend in LA got different instructions from his brother on how to get pulled over while black: turn off the car, roll down the window, throw your keys out the window, leave your hands sticking out the window.
For those of my fellow white guys who note that they’re also afraid when pulled over by police:
1) It’s not the same.
2) A large part of *why* the police in the US have been militarized up the wazoo (and why too many of them too often act like it) is that the whole “War on Crime” attitude has been motivated by and sold with racism. What you’re getting is just the spillover effect.
3) It’s *really* not the same. It’s barely even similar, squinting.
I was on a comment thread that was mostly non-USA’ans and we were discussing Peter Watts’ situation. Some of them pointed out that in many countries, the customary behavior during a stop is to LEAVE the vehicle. Why? Because the vehicle is what presents the most danger to the LEO. Consider how many situations there are where a foreign visitor might run dangerously afoul of American police/agents for having a different cooperation ritual than an American would.
But if we did not have the current culture surrounding law enforcement in this country, I could responsibly edit the “dangerously” out of that last sentence. When can I expect that moment?
You don’t have to be a “Social Justice Warrior” to be upset about this particular bit of injustice – and many more like it.
A friend and I were just having this exact conversation.
We’re both white. Nervous when pulled over, just because cop = authority figure.
Also, we’re both female, so there’s an unfortunate fear, in the dark recesses of our minds, of being pulled over by a male cop who sees minor traffic stops as good opportunities for forced booty calls. Small fear, as this has never happened to either of us.
She’s the buxom blond one, so she’s as likely to drive away with just a warning as she is to get a ticket.
But the point is: we’re both nearly 100% certain that we’ll be able to drive away, ticket or no.
Our mothers didn’t have to train us and prep us for how to survive an encounter with the police. It’s not something we ever really even contemplated until we started seeing these videos and stories in social media.
I know there are some in the African American community calling for an end to airing these videos. I understand the argument. I would only offer this: as John noted in his post, most white folks have no concept of the danger that a simple traffic stop can represent to a person of color, especially an African American man. These stories, and, yes, these horrifying videos, show us the problem in graphic detail, much as the footage of US soldiers coming home in coffins helped drive home the senseless horror of the Vietnam conflict (and, by some calculations, helped bring that unsanctioned “war” to an end).
Communities of color already know the problem far too well; unfortunately, most of the folks in a position to help are white, and, unfortunately, most react the way John described because there’s no correlation between their own experience with law enforcement and the experiences of people of color. Most simply do not understand. Seeing the “other side” of the story may be the thing that gets through, helps people understand, and helps galvanize those in positions to do something.
Mother Jones published a really interesting piece in 2014 about internalized biases. Researchers found that it wasn’t terribly difficult to course-correct, at least in the short-term setting of the study. (here’s the link: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/11/science-of-racism-prejudice) I hope more people will keep thinking seriously about this issue and looking for solutions.
@Bearpaw: Maybe don’t tell people what their own experiences are. Especially as a “fellow white guy”.
Here is a pro-2A guy defending Philandro Castile:
Here are more:
And issuing the police with military weapons probably isn’t going to improve matters…
Whatever the role prejudice played in that officer’s willingness to use deadly force, he was clearly juiced on adrenaline.
Adrenaline is a funny thing: It enables aggressive behavior, but seriously distorts perception in the process.
Adrenalized cops are like coiled rattlesnakes. They may bite you even if you don’t mean any harm.
Which brings up conceal and carry: If you are considering carrying a weapon, please get wise to the risks and please get trained. (Weapon safety and target practice is necessary but not sufficient.)
The only thing worse than an adrenalized cop is an adrenalized amateur.
I was pulled over a year or so ago for speeding on my way to the grocery store, late at night on a deserted country road (I wasn’t speeding, had the cruise control set and everything) and I got MAD at the deputy who pulled me over. She didn’t shoot me. I argued. Loudly. And wouldn’t budge because I was NOT speeding. Still not shot. My purse – with my license – was in the back seat along with my grocery bags. She had me get out of the car to get it, while I muttered about a bullshit traffic stop the whole time. Still not shot. I had my back to her, reached into my backseat/bags to fetch my wallet and she surely couldn’t see both of my hands as I did so, then I turned back to her. Still not shot.
I remained verbally aggravated but compliant to her requests, and never once did the deputy reach for her weapon, let alone point it at me or shoot me with it. I’m a middle aged white woman from rural Iowa, but it shouldn’t have made a damn difference. NO ONE who complies with a traffic stop should get shot. NO ONE.
@Bearpaw: it depends on whether you think certain white people receiving more of the “spillover” than others is accidental or not. Plus pretending that every white person is the same is how the game got started in the first place, though they change the content of “white person” plus its attendant perks every few decades as needs must.
More productively, if white people are experiencing this, even to a lesser degree, then it should promote integration of purpose and help elevate the profile of this issue. Call me old fashioned, but I think it is better if we consider this country’s problems “our problems” and not some other person’s problems, no matter how deeply I might “sympathize” with that other person.
Except of course that some white people don’t get this spillover; so then we have to wait until they have their epiphany and seriously, objectively analyze it for us all. Hint, one of my “white guy” epiphanies, was when I realized that the same behavior in a suburban school a mile away got very different coverage or no coverage at all than said behavior in my inner city school. How I rued the accidental spillover that day, I can tell you.
I’d like to respectfully suggest that there is another option on the table. The officer may have been ill-trained and/or may have just been a bad cop independent of racial issues. Could race of have been a factor? Yup. Could have been a problem independent of race? Also, yup.
At least, we should acknowledge that other, similar situations have ended quite differently.
Waiting for a little more information is always valuable. Sage advice in almost every situation…not just this one.
While I am not the NRA, I fully support the right of a law abiding citizen to keep and bear arms. Assuming that the little we know is true, then it sounds like the cop was probably in the wrong.
As suggested above, I’m waiting for more info. Perhaps dash-cam video/audio. Perhaps personal-cam video/audio.
I deliberately haven’t watched any of the video because I know it will only reinforce my bad opinion of humanity in general and current police training in specific. Which is sad because my relationship to the police and getting stopped by them are even more genial that Scalzi’s.
Mine began with a school-based field trip to a police station, at least two Officer Friendly Visits at school from the local cops (explaining this is who we are and what we do) and having one on-duty officer act as a taxi for a bunch of pre-teen girls at a sleepover on a very cold winter day. Yes, I have been stopped and did what Scalzi’s done and gotten away with it, but I’m a white female and grew up in an all white rural community. My (white) father once got stopped on purpose so he could meet the new cop in the county. The two of them wound up chatting for over 20 minutes. This was about 30 years ago. Things have changed — a lot. One of my sisters was a police dispatcher (over 15 years). She had stories, too. One of them was why the sheriff paired older, local cops and new cops for the first few months of the new hire’s employment. The new cops were too jumpy and would overreact to situations/people like my dad. (remember, this is still white-on-white). Where I grew up, a lot of people are like my dad – curious in a bad way about the new guy on patrol. Once the new guys were trained in what to expect from the community and the individuals that make it up, they were turned loose to patrol on their own.
If I were the ruler of the universe, anyone who applied to be a policeman would be required to live in the communities they police and have at least one year’s worth of mandatory social interaction with the residents before they get their badges. The biggest thing driving all of the shootings is fear of Others Not Like Me. Teaching a law enforcement officer to de-escalate a tense situation is important. Having them not fearing in the first place is essential to effective, non-lethal policing.
Systemic and culturally embedded racism affects us without our conscious knowledge. I’m absolutely positive that I have behavior patterns, thoughts, and “instincts” (learned over 38 years of being a white woman) that are racist.
I doubt that officer was thinking, oh a black man I should fear and kill him. But what’s embedded in his psyche was SCREAMING it.
I have to wonder how long this has been so prevalent (cops shoot unarmed black man, claim he was armed/dangerous) before cell phone video cameras were everywhere? And I’m pretty sure that this kind of thing was not at all what FaceBook Live was intended for, but now many, many people have the ability not only to video a police stop, but to instantly upload it to the Internet where it can’t be deleted (by the cops). It’s deeply depressing that we need such technology, but good to know it’s there.
Quote: “I have literally been pulled over by the cops with an actual skinhead neo-Nazi in my car…”
You certainly have an interesting life. I urge you to write more…
Chris Rock tweeted today that the violence is not new. The cameras are new.
Oh, John. Don’t you know that when everyone has a “luxury and privilege” it ceases to be either luxury or privilege? The obvious response would be for people who look like you and me to never be pulled over at all, but to have notifications sent to our phones, so that someone (white men) still has some privilege.
The last time I was pulled over, by the way, was for expired tags. As it turns out, they were EXPIRED expired, twenty-seven months out of date, and I simply had had no idea (don’t I mail those things in when I get the renewal letter?). No ticket, just “Get that taken care of today.” (Of course, it helped that I could show my insurance was up to date, but mostly, I’m a forty-something white man.)
I have been a jerk to a police officer before. He pulled me over for going 53 in a 50 mph zone. He thought it was a 45mph zone. I got annoyed and he let me off with a “warning.” White privilege right there.
John – I think it is certainly possible that we seek a reason to blame Mr. Castile because we (whites) cannot truly imagine a scenario in which a police officer would shoot a citizen without a good reason.
But I also think it’s possible that we seek a reason to blame Mr. Castile because blaming the police officer, while possibly justified in this instance, implies quite strongly that all police officers (or even most police officers) would have this reaction to all black people (or even most black people). Many of us (black and white) know that this isn’t true, and so we guard against the implication by suggesting that perhaps something other than racism was at play.
Thousands of police officers interact with thousands of black Americans every single day, including, but not limited to, traffic stops. In almost 100% of those cases, both the officer and the citizen treat each other with respect and the interaction ends without even the suggestion of violence. Those stories are never reported (nor should they be).
My (white) teenage son just got his driver’s permit. This is what I told him about dealing with the police on his very first day behind the wheel: if you are pulled over by the police, you are to treat the officer with the upmost respect at all times – even if he/she was wrong to pull you over. You are not to raise your voice, make sudden movements, disobey his/her requests, or argue with him/her about anything at all. You need to remember that he/she has an impossibly difficult job, and that every time he/she approaches a stopped car, he/she knows that there is a non-zero chance that it will be the last thing he/she ever does.
I am not afraid of the police and I don’t want my children to be afraid of them either. I understand that others may fear them, and even that they may have good reason to fear them. My fervent hope is that this changes for the better over time.
But I do have enough of a whiff of an understanding of the unrelenting pressure involved in that job, and I bristle at the implication that “white cop shoots black man” is the norm. It isn’t. And that may lead me to have an over-reaction to statements like “we live in a racist society.” That doesn’t make it a correct over-reaction, but to me, it’s a better explanation for it than the one you suggest.
Thanks for such a fresh perspective. I hope this reaches a lot of people. I keep thinking about the little 4 year old girl in the back seat being taken away while her mother gets cuffed and thrown into the back of a cop car while this man is dying. That was very hard to accept. The aftermath for everyone close to this situation is just unimaginable.
A couple of points:
1. I think if you’re a licensed gun owner, the procedure is to say that you are a gun owner, whether you have a gun on you or your vehicle, premises, etc., and then say something like, “I’m going to reach in my pocket and hand you my ID, is that OK?” So that the officer knows what you’re going to do, and you’ve told him/her you’re not going for your weapon. Beyond that, the officer has to go with a quick judgement call of whether you’re doing what you said, or whether you’re going for a weapon, and the officer has to act on that. As I understand it, ti’s key that you say you want to get your ID and show it to him/her, so they know you’re not reaching for a weapon. I get that police officers and military people can get jumpy from recent or past experience. But with that comes an expectation of control and thought, not letting things get to them.
That does not excuse an officer from shooting a man reaching in his pocket after saying something in compliance with the law.
OK, so his car might not have been in the best shape. Maybe he looked a little outside of the mainstream, how he dressed, hair, grooming, personal decoration, whatever. But that should not be allowed to be a deciding factor that would make an officer shoot a person. Just because you are not in the mainstream appearance or beliefs, or if you’re not middle-class or well-off, if you’re poor, or just because you are not white or male (or disabled or not so straight or follow another religion or….) Those things must not be allowed to determine whether an officer is going to shoot someone. Non-violent misdemeanors included. Still not enough. Subdue and disarm, don’t shoot the person dead, just for a traffic stop.
2. My life experience and perspective are different these days. I was raised to trust authority figures, to believe they would do what’s right, they’d be friendly and helpful. The truth is that most are worthy of that trust, they’ll be helpful and friendly, they’re not crooked. But the truth is also that a few will take advantage if they can, if someone is prone to be taken advantage of. Some are crooked, outright. But that is true of ordinary people, as much as any authority figure. When you’ve experienced this in your own life or seen it happen to a friend, your position becomed different. You learn that you have to risk trusting someone, yet they might not be trustworthy. You learn you should be careful, yet you still have to take that risk in order to get through life. It is not something you wanted to learn or live with, but you do.
I’m a white male. I’m also handicapped and I’m gay. This means I’m a less visible or hidden minority. My eyesight puts me at a disadvantage for certain situations or with some people. Being gay isn’t something you’re likely to know by meeting me (at least, I don’t think so, though some people seem to know). Not being middle class anymore has its costs (pun intended). Things like these mean that, although I was raised to be friendly and to trust people, I have always seen, even if I didn’t always want to admit it, that some few people will cause trouble, take advantage, do wrong, because they can, and people in authority are not immune to that, they do it too, because they can.
Once I was out on my own, I began to see my home life had *not* prepared me for what’s out there in the real world. I came to realize my parents had their faults too, as well as their good points. And, oh, shock, I wasn’t always perfect, didn’t always live up to my expectations either. Basic interactions of daily life, as well as the more upper-level situations, or how we put ourselves out there, at risk, every day without thinking of it, because, well, we have to in order to live. Life can be messy. It can be very good. It can sometimes be very bad. Getting out of a mess, making a new life, can be terribly hard. Growing up, even into young adulthood, without knowing enough of how the real world really works, how people really are, good and bad, and not being prepared for it? I think a great many people are not prepared for the reality of things.
We are seeing a lot of that lately, how people are discovering that the way they thought things worked isn’t always so true after all. It does not mean that they are wrong to be friendly or to trust or believe. It does mean, though, that we all have to adjust our thinking and our actions to how the world (and people) really work, and we ought to teach and learn, to prepare ourselves and the ones we love, to deal with those realities better. It also means we should not have to put up with what’s wrong. We ought to work to make things better. This includes standing up for what’s right, for speaking out, and for voting, or volunteering, to make things better.
And dang it, I am just as much in need of listening to my own advice as anyone else. I wish I had good answers how to get myself out of my own current circumstances (no longer middle class, not enough income, rising back debts/taxes), or whatever other personal dilemmas.
I live in a very diverse city. But this means, while most people do OK, most authorities do OK, there are some who do not. People make mistakes. Some people outright take advantage of others or abuse them. Most people get along, but there are prejudices still. There are people prone to act out of fear or anger or desperation for themselves, the ones they love, the things they think they believe in. (Note the qualification, what they *think* they believe in.) Circumstances, whether random chance or natural events or people’s actions and words, can fan those differences, until they’re blown up into a wildfire or a single action. So it’s vital for the majority who want what’s good and right to find ways to get along, to make things right, to solve problems, before they get so bad that something awful happens. And it’s vital for us all to change, so that accidents or wrongful actions don’t take place.
We’re not truly equal until the minority is as equal as the majority. If you’re not as equal or as safe because your skin isn’t pinkish-tannish lily white, then frankly, that white person isn’t really as safe or equal as they think either.
Look, if a cop is too tired or too jumpy, if he or she has had recent / past experiences that make him/her too prone to act before thinking, or if that cop is prejudiced or downright crooked, then in each of those (very different) cases, then something needs to happen to correct what’s wrong with that situation.
But that means that a cop who’s too tired, or too jumpy, or too prejudiced, or too crooked, might not act (in error) against a minority person. Pushed just a tiny bit more, and that cop might act against someone in the majority groups, someone just as innocent. (Or at least, just as much entitled to a fair trial, rather than getting shot dead.)
Please note, if a cop’s too tired, he or she needs rest, so he or she can do the job right. That doesn’t make the cop wrong for being tired, it only means his or her judgment is unfairly impaired. The officer needs rest. Too jumpy? Again, the officer needs time to sort through things, get back their sense of judgment and control, the ability to think while acting, to ensure they don’t act wrongly because they’re jumpy. As for prejudice? Most people have a little bit of preconceived ideas about something, but that doesn’t mean they should let themselves act on that. If they are strongly prejudiced about something or someone, then possibly, they need to be in another line of work. The ones who would take advantage because they can? The ones who are crooked? They need to be out of there. Just so what I was trying to say is clear.
I think honestly, most police officers and military personnel are just people like anyone else. This means they can be just as honorable and worthy as the next person. Or just as ordinary. Or in a few cases, just as tempted or just as prone to wrongdoing as anyone else. That’s just reality again. But a just society has to do its best to guard against the crooked or the ones who’d use their position to take advantage. In other words, I have no beef with most police officers or military personnel. Many are good folks, trying hard to do what’s right and help people out. Good. It’s the rotten ones that need to be weeded out of the system instead.
Again, if a brown person isn’t equal, isn’t safe, then ultimately, neither is a white person, because somewhere in there, the one who’d do wrong against that brown person will also do wrong against that white person. (Or substitute any other minority group in there.)
“he’ll just let me off with a warning. ”
I would argue that this is the first problem.
Any time that the cops pull you over, they need to be forced to write the ticket, period.
This is how the cops learn to be judge, jury and executioner.
It’s a trivial step to white folk get a pass and black folk get what they deserve.
Alas, we aren’t even pretending to fix this problem. We haven’t even begun talking about.
What can be pieced together from the aftermath video is that the officer asked him to pull out his ID (extremely common in a traffic stop to be with probability 1 that they will if they stop you), and the man informed the officer that he had a gun *while* reaching for his back pocket. Now, I’m a gun owner and EVERY SINGLE gun safety class I’ve attended says that you inform the officer that you have a gun *while* your hands are out and in the air so to not confuse the situation and the officer. To me, this has more to do with the paranoid culture anti-gun nuts have fostered for a quarter century than any “racism”.
“But I also think it’s possible that we seek a reason to blame Mr. Castile because blaming the police officer, while possibly justified in this instance, implies quite strongly that all police officers (or even most police officers) would have this reaction to all black people (or even most black people). ”
You appear to be saying that we can’t criticize a single actor for fear that this will criticize all actors. So, for instance, I can’t call one Senator an idiot without calling all Senators idiots. (Insert joke here). If I cannot say “this cop did a bad thing probably inflected by race” under any circumstances for fear of tagging all cops, then … then it’s a remarkably silly assertion, that’s what.
Many serving policemen are behaving as though any criticism of a single police act is ipso facto a criticism of all policemen. They need to grow thicker skins. There is no profession — and that includes nursing and teaching and being a nun — that doesn’t have bad actors.
When I heard about how often Castile had been pulled over, my thought was that he’s always cooperated, always led off with ‘I have a carry permit, the gun is at x’ and things worked out as they should, maybe a ticket, but no shooting. But this time he had the bad luck to be pulled over by the cop who flipped out. He probably thought this was just going to be a delay and a warning again.
The whole thing is sickening. That poor little girl is going to grow up with some serious PTSD.
((Pull up a chair, this will take a while))
I’m a middle-aged white male, doing okay for myself (now) and I am still afraid of the cops, and probably always will be.
I grew up in a hard scrabble, self-contained subdivision out on the edge of the county, the kind of place where your teachers would call you white trash to your face and your classmates would say it under their breath, hoping mostly that you wouldn’t hear them.
When the cops would come to my ‘hood they generally came two or three cars at a time and always seemed pretty pissed off about being there at all. If they were there to roust you and your friends about something, you could usually count on some fairly rough treatment, tossed against a car or a wall, legs kicked way out, their hands up in your shirts and coats and down your pants, etc. Some folks got worse and a few over the years got dead, so I reckon I was pretty lucky, overall.
When I was twelve or so I walked to a friend’s house on the other side of the neighborhood (it was split in two, built in phases) and found nobody there. It was far enough that I didn’t want to walk all the way back home in the summer heat, and you just didn’t hang out at someone’s house if they weren’t home, so I walked over to the elementary school (he lived on the yard’s edge) and hunkered down on the back porch, leaning back against the metal door in the shade, where it was significantly cooler, not knowing it was rigged with a silent alarm.
Soon enough, a police car came squealing around the building’s corner and out jumped a cop, gun drawn and aimed across his hood at me, yelling “freeze’ as loud as he could, which was kind of unnecessary, seeing as how I was already scared stiff. He hassled me for a while, finally putting his gun away once the second car arrived, but once he forced me to say who I was going to see (bad idea that) they insisted on locking me in one of the cars while they ran me for priors, etc. All of this, more or less, completely out of view of anyone else. I was pretty glad when they finally cut me loose, and sure as hell wasn’t going to tell my folks.
Around seventeen I convinced my parents to let me take the car out to the fancy multiplex across town, along with a couple of my friends. We got there really early, so after scoping out exactly which theater we’d be using (there was no central lobby back then) and wandering around the others, we went back to the car to jam out for a while and wait. Sure enough, three cruisers came squalling up in a ‘box you in’ maneuver, and while my jaw was wagging over that, my door was jerked open and I was facing a very close gun held by a youngish female officer. I’d like to think she was just as scared as I was, but who am I kidding? She had the gun, no matter how badly her hand was shaking. They tossed us and the car pretty hard and gave us some story about car break-ins around there lately, and us and the car (it wasn’t that bad, just old) looking out of place, then let us go.
I share these two maybe humorous, ‘all’s well that ends well’ stories (and spare you others) to make two points. One, look how easily I could have died, in either one of those situations, simply by making the wrong move, while really doing nothing wrong. Two, being white will not save you, so don’t kid yourself on that score. Just being poor, or looking so, or out of place in the wrong place, is still quite enough to put you in very real danger from the cops these days.
Just a couple months ago, my wife and I were on our way to Home Depot, in our 2015 Ford Escape, wearing our grungy ‘work around the house’ clothes, when we got pulled over. Our crime, it was almost dusk and my headlights weren’t on. The two cops approached the car on either side with holsters undone and pistols half pulled free, and at first I couldn’t tell what their body language was saying, until the one on my side started talking. As I gave him ‘my papers’ I laughingly told him the car had been at the dealership that day and they must have shut off my automatic headlights, but he was having none of it. He badgered and pushed and low level disrespected me for a good ten minutes, and I could tell he was hoping, really hoping, that I would crack wise or lose my cool and give him any reason to pull me out of that car. My real crime? My hair is pretty long and my ‘look’ will likely never fully lose the edge it acquired in my semi-misspent youth. His disappointment was pretty plain when he ran me and nothing came up. At least he didn’t write me a ticket.
Now luckily, I have always been and will always be a “yes sir” and “no sir (or ma’am)” kind of guy when it comes to dealing with the police. They have a tough and dangerous job as it is, and they sure don’t need me cracking wise, nor do I need them cracking my head open. But what if, on that day, that cop would have yanked me out of the car and ordered me face down on the still blazing Florida asphalt that would probably have singed my flesh, and for no reason at all, other than he told me to. Would I have complied, or would I have resisted, or argued, and wound up beat on, or DRT (dead right there)?
Because that’s the way it is now, white or black or even green. The police have absolutely zero tolerance for any other opinions or actions than what they specifically demand, and your absolute compliance best be immediate. And while most are good folks just trying to do a tough job, enough of them nowadays seem to really relish this new way, and go out of their way, to push peoples’ buttons and rub them the wrong way and just be absolute ass hats, in any and every way that they can. And if you don’t do exactly what they say, they will bring the pain.
That’s what has to change. They have to improve their training and their selection process and most of all their internal regulations, to get rid of these ‘roided out, belligerent douche bags (and if you’re a cop, and deny these guys are out there, you’re either kidding or lying to yourself), as well as the folks who are just a bit too scared to really do such a scary job (and again, you know of these folks too). But most of all, they have to change their professional psychology. ‘We’ are not the enemy, no more than ‘they’ are, but increasingly, like everything else in our endlessly polarized world, they have developed a monumental ‘us vs them’ mentality that views all of ‘us’ in general and young male POC in particular as the ‘other’, and their often mortal enemy.
I’m all for the police going home safe and sound at the end of their watch, almost as much as I wish to do the same. And I will generally do my part. It’s time they returned to doing theirs.
Your “Jesus” comment did kind of sum it up, actually. Notwitstanding the lengthy discussion that followed it in this thread. “Jesus”. That a human being doing exactly what he was supposed to do was blown away for pretty much zero reason because he was the wrong shade of skin for doing what he was supposed to do…
Look, I had my baptism of fire in hte cauldron of the VERY WORST of South Africa in the throes of rebirth. I’ll tell you freely, my response to ANY sort of gun is a visceral recoil (and yes, before anyone weighs in about how I clearly don’t know anything about them, please read what I just said, My family HAD a gun, back in that cauldron, because my father decided that it might be necessary. He and I both had training with it. My mother refused to touch it. And after a short while, AFTER we had gone to the range and gained a certain proficiency with the weapon, the family sat down together and decided that owning that weapon was entirely irrelevant in our case because none of us could possibly actualy shoot at a real human being, at anything that wasn’t that paper target at the range. So dad sold the gun and no more was ever said. But I had a gun (or at least I had acess to one) and i know how to shoot one and I am not yawping because I am a complete idiot on the subject.
Here’s what I know and where I’m coming from: guns klll, and I don’t want anything to do with them.
That said, in the situation as described – being pulled over for a broken tail light – I am perfectly certain that I myself (white female, now with silver hair) would probably be in zero danger of being drilled with bullets if I tried to reach for my registration in the glove comparrment (I mean – you know – if they ask for reg then that’s where most people keep it and how on earth do they expect anyone to comply without REACHING FOR THE GLOVE COMPARTMENT? Do people really have to do taht at gunpoint???) That alone makes me almost want to curl up in silence because what can I say that can add anything to what we all know is the situation? What can I say that doesn’t come from a position of knowing – to a reasonable degree of certainty – that if I get stopped by a cop for a minor traffic violation I would probably be called “ma’am” by that cop and treated (at least on teh surface) with kid gloves and “respect” (and i put those quotes on there studiedly). I can only imagine what must go through the mind of anyone not of my particular gender or color if that same cop flags THEM down. How does any black person stop for a cop stop these days and not have heart failure from stress and fear long before the cop gets to come to a stop beside the driver’s door? Is there anything, in this situation, that the driver can actually do which won’t aggravate the situation? If you’re deferential and deeply respectful there is a good chance that a certain kind of officer might take it as if you’re taking the mickey on him – if you daren’t meet his eyes he’ll wonder why – if you do meet his eyes there’s a chance that you won’t be deemed to have been respectful ENOUGH, and after that… I mean, what do you do? I have seen a somewhat jaundiced piece of advice that the only way to avoid the consequences of being stopped by a cop while black is to actually be white. Yes I know. It makes no sense. It was an internet meme trying to address an unaddressable thing.
I don’t live in that particular skin, the one that is dangerous in this country. I cannot do other than just go “Jesus” on social media when i read of yet another case of a shooting in a situation which subsequently proves to be an officer over-reacting and doing things from which there is no comeback. Sure, there are cases where genuine bad guys have reached for guns in pockets and shot police before they had a chance to respond. But of the last slew of shootings that i’ve seen… none of them fall into that category. Is it even possible to simply STOP? To stop and to think and to stop being trigger-happy frightened lunatics who shoot first and leave no room, after, for anything other than “Jesus!” …?
“To me, this has more to do with the paranoid culture anti-gun nuts have fostered for a quarter century than any ‘racism’.”
Leaving aside putting the word racism in scare quotes doesn’t exactly put you in the best light: Well, and? For not following exact gun class protocol, he deserves death? The cop could have just as easily not shot him and still had his gun trained on him for (his own) safety, and at no point was Castile not complying with the officer, as far as we know. Lack of exact gun class protocol does not merit a death sentence.
Also, what does ostensibly not following a gun class protocol have to do with anti-gun nuts? “He didn’t follow rules laid out in a gun class, I blame people who hate guns?” Be aware, incidentally, that in Minnesota a gun safety class is not required by the state, so your blaming the fellow for not following a protocol he might not have known and was not legally required to know makes your comment even less impressive. Note well, of course, that lack of compelled firearm safety classes is not likely to have been something that the folks who prefer gun control would be jubilant about. So, yeah, tell me again how this is their fault.
Or, actually, don’t, because this comment of yours in itself is evidence you’re just soapboxing, and looking for something, anything to put the blame on the man who got shot. Thanks for sharing, Doc Stat. Take a break from the rest of the thread.
This is from the New York Times article
““My boyfriend carries all his information in a thick wallet in his right side back pocket. As he’s reaching for his back pocket wallet, he lets the officer know, ‘Officer, I have a firearm on me.’ I began to yell, ‘But he’s licensed to carry.’ After that, he began to take off shots — bah, bah, bah, bah, ‘Don’t move! Don’t move!’ But how can you not move when you’re asking for license and registration? It’s either you want my hands in the air or you want my identification.”
I think Diamond Reynolds, the woman who filmed the shooting’s aftermath, is absolutely right. You shouldn’t have to get your words and movements micrometrically precise to avoid getting shot. “Officer, I have a firearm on me” is what you’re supposed to say; reaching for your back pocket, where your ID is, is what he told you to do. I don’t think many of us could be sure that in that situation we would be able to make it absolutely and unambiguously clear that (1) we were complying and (2) we had a weapon and (3) we had no intention of using it.
A fine Scalzi post as per usual.
I would just add that, in all honesty, it gets harder to extend benefit of the doubt the more absurd the rationalizations get. Philando Castile is one case in point, but an even clearer one is Alton Sterling: there is video in the public sphere of the guy having rounds pumped into him at point-blank range — while prone, pinned, immobile and unarmed — and there are people trying to reach of explanations of why he probably deserved it. Once one is seen in public torturing logic to that much of an extreme, the parsimonious explanation is not that the person offering up this tortured logic is doing so in good faith, but that they’re rationalizing an entirely different impulse that they cannot really justify and don’t want to openly admit to. And it doesn’t take many guesses to figure out what that impulse might be.
Past a certain threshold, making excuses for obvious murder just looks a certain way, and very probably for good reason. And it’s probably something people should factor in.
Another white male here. I was raised on Dragnet, Adam 12, Perry Mason and CHiPs. Police are the good guys and the justice system works. I am older now and have come to the conclusion that both the police and the justice system are human and run by humans and therefore flawed.
I suspect police training instills more fear than is warranted. Yes it is a dangerous job. However I wonder what the statistics would tell us. How many officers are shot in the line of duty and how many suspects are shot. Of those suspects shot how many were actually a threat. Personally I would rather be dead than live with having killed someone who turned out to not be a threat.
The officer assumed he was reaching for the gun. (because of course a bad guy will announce he has a gun just before pulling it out of his back pocket while seated in a car, right?) The officer was probably suffering from a massive adrenaline jolt, because OBVIOUSLY “BLACK MAN + GUN” = THREAT.
I wish there was a way to break that cycle. The cop was flat wrong in his assumption. I’d like to know what made him jump to that conclusion–was it past experience? Was it how he was trained? The culture of that police department? Why are the cops so terrified of blacks that they shoot first?
(I can’t claim to be totally free of racist reactions. My only claim to mitigation is that at least I try to be aware of it and stop doing whatever it is. It’s not much, I know.)
I’m betting there’s no such thing as an Officer Friendly in the black neighborhoods of that city.
I live in Minnesota. I pass that corner often. I sat at that corner for an hour today (along with a lot of other very silent people). I hope and pray that Mr. Castile’s senseless death is a game changer. I also wrote the NRA asking for their help to address the violation of Mr. Castile’s 2nd amendment rights. I have not heard back.
“I also wrote the NRA asking for their help to address the violation of Mr. Castile’s 2nd amendment rights.”
Come now. We all know 2nd Amendment Rights are for white males. (I mean, don’t hold your breath is what I’m saying…)
I absolutely loved this piece. It is very well written, and challenges the reader to look at him/herself and recognize how their own privilege has shaped the way that they experience law enforcement in our racialized American society. The author crafts a very sharp argument that asks the reader not to try to justify the killing of this (or other) Black men and women through encounters with police. And for those of you who still continue to try to shame the victim or blame him for his own murder, I say shame on you. In doing so, you also are part of the problem that helps incidents such as this to continue and for there to be no justice whenever they do.
I will say one thing though, in the “update” to the story from NBC news, it references that “Castile was pulled over numerous times since 2002 for various traffic violations, including speeding and driving without a muffler. They note: “All were for misdemeanors and none were for violent crimes…” which is a shady way to imply that he may have been at fault for his death. If you have taken the time to actually view the video, Mr Castile was positioned in the passenger seat when he was shot which makes me wonder how any of his driving history is even pertinent to this case other than as an attempt to blame/slander the victim and exonerate the police in this case.
As a heads up to folks, I’ll be turning off comments here when I head to sleep. Probably not for at least another hour or so.
“I also wrote the NRA asking for their help to address the violation of Mr. Castile’s 2nd amendment rights.”
Ian: Come now. We all know 2nd Amendment Rights are for white males. (I mean, don’t hold your breath is what I’m saying…)
I don’t expect a response from the NRA. I am allowing them to make that choice. Gov. Dayton is a decent man, I will watch his response, but my jogging his elbow will not help at this point. So I do what I can. Sit quietly at a corner, inviting commuters to ponder the corner, write to my politicians, talk to friends.
Good words Mr Scalzi. Good words indeed.
Here in Minnesota, we sure could use a new kitten picture. Again.
Your choice of the word in the tweet is also interesting because I interpret it as an endorsement of the idea that Philando Castile IS Jesus, or embodies Jesus in the sense that he was an innocent man killed by the Powers That Be. This also demonstrates Mr Castile, as a human, carries the imago dei in death as he did in life.
The hope Mr Castile may be rewarded in the realms above does not diminish the sin and depravity against his person here. This is also just me in theological reflection, not presuming Mr Scalzi’s religious affiliations or points of view.
They didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt that the Oregon State Police did LaVoy Finicum. Jesus.
(If you look at the video of the Finicum shooting, not only did that SOB peel out at high speed rather than comply with police directions, but after he buried his truck in a snowbank, he climbed out and reached for his coat pocket twice before they shot him. Shit. So Mr. Castile did not get anywhere near the benefit of the doubt that LaVoy Finicum–a man who had openly said he would have to be shot to surrender–got. ARRGH)
I have absolutely shared this piece on facebook. Everyone should read it.
There are two issues I want to bring that absolutely bother me, and are being used extensively in defense of the police online:
1. There is apparently a statistic that says that a lot more white men get shot than black man. I have not seen this statistic, despite having asked people who pull out this claim to share a link on it. It is being used in defense of cops shooting black men to suggest that white men are more likely to die at the hands of police. I have problems with this, because even if this statistic is true, we do not know the context of each particular shooting whether “black” or “white”.
2. Why does the media immediately bring a black man’s arrest record up as a defense of the police officer shooting that man? Whether black OR white, it should make no difference what a person’s record is or has been. Each and every situation should be unique to that event, to that exchange.
Why did the cop pull out their gun and shoot that person? That should be the only question asked by the media, and it is the only relevant question to ask while seeking justice.
And, as a point of emphasis, I want to share a traffice stop I was in to compare and contrast with what has already been posted. One night, it was past 2 AM, I got pulled over for speeding on a rural country road in Tennessee. I was not drunk, but I was extremely tired, suffering severe depression at the time, and generally unaware of my surrounding. While not impaired chemically, I was impaired mentally you could say. Before the stop, oncoming traffic flashed their headlights at me, to warn me of the impending police care running radar. I ignored the warning, because of the state of mind I was in. During the stop two sherriff’s deputies approached my car from either side, with hands on gun holsters. I was asked what I was doing, where I lived and where I was going. I mumbled an answer that in retrospect was completely incoherent. Yet, since the deputies could not tell that I was impaired (no smell of alcohol, or other smells, nothing unusual inside the car), and since I WAS WHITE, I got away by just getting a ticket wrote for my speeding. A ticket that DID NOT go on my record, because I went to traffic school. What saved me? The fact that I am white, There is no other explanation for a traffice stop, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, rural Tennessee.
Thanks for posting this.
I’d just like to add, like Beverly Diehl wrote earlier: Let’s do more than just talk about this here. If this matters to you, if you’re upset about it, if you think people shouldn’t be shot during routine traffic stops, take some action.
Find out if your local police jurisdiction has citizen oversight of the police. Find out what kind of accountability is in place now. And, especially if you don’t like the answers to these kinds of question: Write to your city council, county council, mayor, county executive, state representative, state senator, governor, federal representative, federal senators, president.
Ask them what they’re doing to make ALL our citizens safer when they interact with police, particularly the ones who are less safe now (e.g. those defined as “not white males” by American culture).
Tell them that this is important to you and that you intend to keep lobbying them about it until it changes.
I’m sure you can think of what else to add. I suspect that a lot of us vote regularly and maybe even donate to political campaigns. We have a lot of leverage to put toward changing the system. Let’s do it.
Yes, when something bad happens to a member of any marginalized group, the reaction from many members of the oppressor group (white, male, straight men for the most part — they’re the *drivers*) is always, “Well they must have done something to deserve it.” Then, when you try to talk about this, they say, “You’re playing victim.” The dishonesty and gas lighting are just breathtaking.
Like several others here I have a long story relating my very direct understanding of how white privilege shields me from things like this.
I have a lifelong love of martial arts and related weapons, have studied four styles of art and have usually been a weightlifter or bodybuilder at various times throughout my life; I’m still in pretty good solid shape today. In particular I have spent a lot of quality time with the katana, the sword of the samurai warrior class of feudal Japan. In college I used to go out to the park across from campus at night to practice in the wide open space under the sky. One night, I was out at the park and noticed some lights moving along the shore from the north, coming my way. So I sheathed my sword – an unsharpened practice blade – and placed it back into the slipcover I carried it outside in, set it against the trunk of a tree (I mean, really; a guy with a sword in the park at night might look a bit weird to some people), and sat down on the shore to wait for the lights to pass so that I could resume my patterns.
They didn’t. The owners of the lights, a young couple, college-age like me, instead sat down on a nearby bench and chatted. And chatted. And kept looking increasingly comfortable where they were, so after a while I shrugged to myself, stood, up, plucked my sword from the shadow of the tree where I had placed it, and walked back toward my dorm. As I walked I glanced back over my shoulder at the couple who had claimed that space – and saw that they were running madly from the bench to the edge of the park where there were automobile lights.
I thought “That’s weird,” and kept walking. Then I saw colored lights begin to swirl from behind me; the car was a police car, out locking up the gates to the park as they typically did around that time. I still kept walking but stopped when the car pulled up alongside my path on the sidewalk. I kept my hand on the hilt of the sword under the slipcover, butt-end of the scabbard on the sidewalk, and the single cop in the vehicle exited his car but kept low behind the roof on his side with his hand at his holster.
What I was thinking was “What the HELL?!?!”; what I said was, “Is… there a problem, Officer?”
The cop grimly said, “Why don’t I have a look at what you’ve got there?” and I could hear the snap of his holster opening.
“Uh, sure. It’s a katana, a replica of a traditional Japanese blade. This particular sword is just a practice blade, unsharpened. Let me show you –“ I unwrapped the slipcover, pulled the blade partway out of the scabbard, and ran my forearm along its edge, holding up my arm up to show that I was undamaged by the demonstration.
And the cop’s face *fell*. Which was weird. And then he straightened up to a normal posture and said “Huh. I was told that you were out here with a shotgun.”
“Oh.” I glanced back at where the young couple had been, and couldn’t help laughing. “Uh, well, I’m… not. I just wanted some outdoor practice space but didn’t want to be swinging a sword around in front of other people, so I decided to go back to my dorm room. Can I do that?”
“No,” and the cop looked rather embarrassed now, “You can’t just yet because I already called it in. And they’re on the way.”
“They” turned out to be about a dozen police cars that raced to a stop in front of myself and the cop from both ends of the street at exactly that moment, cartoonishly perfect timing. Doors opened, doors slammed, radios chattered, and a whole bunch of cops moved to crouch low behind their vehicles but started standing up when the first cop on the scene gave them all reassuring waves. I stood there with what must have been the most priceless look of surprise I’ve ever worn and thought “You have GOT to be kidding.” I may have said it aloud, too, but I honestly don’t remember.
Cop Number One started explaining that it was a false alarm, but then another vehicle arrived and disgorged a cop in a white uniform who just strode past him towards me. He had close-buzzed white hair and looked to be in his late fifties, and wore the sort of expression that suggested he spent hours per day in front of the mirror practicing his “I am not amused” face. He stopped in front of me about two meters away.
And let me make sure this picture is clear. I was a twenty-one year old man, obviously very athletic, trim-waisted with a broad back and shoulders, strong arms and longish dark hair, wearing ripped jeans and a black tank top. And holding a sword. I looked like the lead villain in every cheese-filled direct-to-video street fight movie produced in the Eighties; if the young James Spader lay at my feet with a black eye and a bloody nose nobody would have blinked.
That’s what these cops saw. That’s what their Chief of Police, standing right in front of me, saw.
I cleared my throat and tried to keep my voice steady. “Good evening, officer. I am a student at the university here, and a martial artist. I was doing sword practice alone in the park, and left when other people showed up because I didn’t want to alarm anyone. I was just walking back home when I was stopped. The sword in question –“ I slowly pulled it partway from the scabbard again as I took a needed breath, “- is Not A Shotgun, and is an unsharpened practice blade.” I ran my forearm over the edge of the blade again and held it out for inspection.
The Chief glanced at my arm, glanced at the blade, and looked me up and down. “Haven’t we had trouble with you before?”
And I knew *exactly* what – and who – that question meant, and this time I grinned confidently. “No, sir; you’re thinking of a fellow named Bill Winegar. Everyone calls him “Ninja Bill” and he carries weapons around in broad daylight because he wants people to look at him funny. My name is *not* Bill, and here’s my ID to prove that, and I went somewhere alone at night because I wanted to be outdoors but did *not* want to alarm anyone.”
“Nope, it sure didn’t. But I’m going back home.”
“Not yet.” He turned back to the other officers and gave orders in a low voice; I glanced at the cop who had stopped me with a question mark on my face and he held up his hand and waggled it in a clear “It’s cool, just wait,” gesture. So I waited. Within moments the other cars started packing up and driving away, the chief exchanged a few words with Cop Number One and then headed back to his car after a last glance at me. Cop Number One then had me sit with him for a few minutes while he filled out a report of the incident, then he wished me a good evening and went on his way. I went back to my room, put the katana back up on the wall, sat on my bed and quietly said “Holy shit” a couple of dozen times.
Okay. That’s actually kind of funny, isn’t it? Hell, I was smiling and chuckling while typing it out here.
Now, tell the same story but make me a black man.
Decades of history are replete with more than enough examples to make it very clear how differently this would have unfolded. At the very least, I would have been greeted with a drawn sidearm and a bellowed command to drop the shotgun. I would have hesitated in confusion; after all, I didn’t have a shotgun. I could very easily have been gunned down right there at that moment of confusion. If I was lucky, I would have had a moment to realize that the officer mistakenly thought the sword was a shotgun and dropped that, only to be then ordered to my knees and handcuffed as the other cars pulled up, and probably beaten. After the sword was discovered to be not a shotgun and not sharpened, I might very well still be arrested, hauled off to the station for more beating, and then charged with whatever weapons violations the officers were in a mood for. If at any point I tried to pull out the sword to demonstrate that it was not sharpened, my remains might well not even be identifiable.
Or I could have had the same kind of interaction with the first cop that I actually did – only to then be faced with the arrival of the other dozen cops who pulled up and saw one cop behind the protection of his vehicle and a Scary Black Man With What We Have Been Told Is A Shotgun Who Needs To Be Stopped. And with a dozen or more itchy trigger fingers, my chances of finishing the night unharmed would be a bit on the low side.
Nothing bad happened to me. I’m a white guy. If I was a black guy who had just purchased a souvenir replica sword from a gift shop like that guy in Utah a couple of years ago, I could be shot. If I was a black man in the toy section of Walmart holding a toy gun, pointed at the floor, sold by that same Walmart and talking on my cell phone before I went to the checkout line, I could be shot.
I didn’t get shot. I just got really weirded out. Because I’m white. Even when the cops thought that I was a different guy that they *knew about* and that they *knew was trouble*, I was in no danger of being shot, or beaten, or wrongly arrested. I wasn’t driven to run for my life in desperate fear of the way I know cops treat people like me… because I’m a white guy and they don’t usually treat us the way they practically *always* treat black people.
That’s an example of white privilege. It’s not complicated.
[Deleted because Doc Stat was already invited off the thread — JS]
Great piece. I was directed to your site via a dailykos reference to your brilliant 2012 analogy re life’s lowest difficulty setting.
I’m a middle-aged back woman who grew up in the south. As a teen, I was pulled over a few times as a driver and as a passenger in cars with black young men driving as well.
I have to say, the treatment is so different, much more tense today, than it was then. Why, I have to wonder.
Indeed it seems we’ve regressed at an astounding rate culturally.
I came across this article about an FBI study from 2006, stating a problem of white supremacist groups infiltrating police departments.
If that article is true, why hasn’t more light been shed on this?
Why are we not demanding that this official federal study be taken seriously?
Isn’t there something to be done to root out the bad seeds before they grow even more vicious, undeterred within the PDs that are supposed to be there to protect and serve? I’m so done right now, I can barely type these words without tears continually welling up in my eyes. My very soul hurts.
“Plus pretending that every white person is the same is how the game got started in the first place, though they change the content of ‘white person’ plus its attendant perks every few decades as needs must.”
No, that’s not how “the game got started in the first place.” Racism – specifically, white supremacy — is how “the game got started in the first place.” But it’s a typical racist tactic to pretend that black resistance to racism is the problem, that our colored were perfectly happy until these carpetbaggers came down from Jew York and stirred them up.
Now, I do not pretend or imagine or say that every white person is the same, nor do the serious writers about racism whom I read do such a thing. Some sloppy thinkers perhaps do. I’ve already noticed myself that a significant number of white people are shot by cops, though apparently not in such numbers, or usually in such blatantly brutal circumstances. There was also police violence against the Occupy protesters of a few years back, and most though not all of the victims were also white. Just as now, the police lied about the events, and were exposed as liars by cell phone video. But the same white people who blame Philando Castile for being executed while black tended to support the police. I’ve found myself wondering why these victims’ families and friends don’t organize protests and other actions. But their quiescence isn’t black people’s fault. Since the problem of police violence does affect white people too, it would seem a good idea for white people to reach out to black victims and their families, instead of whining that their pain as white people is deeper and more important than the families of black victims, let alone that black people somehow “started the game in the first place.”
I’m a black ex-cop, and this is the real truth about race and policing.
[Deleted for replying to deleted comment. No worries, Josh, you’re good — JS]
Comments off for the evening. Be back tomorrow. Good night!
Update: On second thought, comments will stay off today. Lots of work today, and for various reasons including what went down in Dallas last night, I’m not up to refereeing threads right at the moment.
With that noted, this has generally been an excellent and substantive comment thread, and I thank everyone for that. You guys rock.