Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by private security dick George Zimmerman back in 2012. His death, while not at the hands of the police, gave rise to much public outrage and focused attention on the common theme of Black people being killed for wearing hoodies or for walking in white neighborhoods after dark among other such reasons.  Martin’s death resulted in demonstrations across the country.  Subsequently, the killings of Black men at the hands of the police – Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Dante Parker to name a few – gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement, a protest movement directed against the deaths of Black men, woman and children at the hands of the police. 

In 2015, unarmed Black men were killed at a rate 5 times that of unarmed White men and of the 102 such cases only 10 resulted in criminal charges against the police.   Of these 10 only 2 resulted in convictions of any kind.  Given this background, let’s say four years of the highly publicized, highly controversial and much discussed issue of Black people being killed by police around the country, one would think that every single police department in the United States of America would both know of this situation and would have alerted their employees, the cops, to exercise particular attention and caution in situations that raise the specter of unarmed Black men being killed by police officers.

One would think.  But apparently the Baton Rouge Police Department and the St. Anthony, Minnesota, Police Department didn’t get the memo. 

Yesterday the bystander video of two Baton Rouge cops pinning Alton Sterling to the ground and then being shot to death, was not definitive due to the angle of the video.  This morning, however, another video has surfaced which gives a much clearer picture of what happened.   What it looks like, at least in my view, is that this White cop simply shot Sterling four times for no particularly good reason. 

The question of why this killing was necessary, given that the two cops had basically immobilized Sterling, is the issue.  By all accounts, Sterling, was a convicted felon but was a common fixture on the neighborhood’s streets selling CD’s and thus far no one has described him as anything other than a pretty normal, non-violent, friendly guy, and the father of several children. 

On this morning’s news, apparently the Falcon Heights police department too, like Baton Rouge’s, weren’t aware of the Black Lives Matter movement nor aware of the deaths of 102 unarmed Black people at the hands of the police in 2015 alone.  A particularly chilling video, taken by Philando Castile’s girlfriend in the car at the time, shows Philando just after being shot by a cop as he was reaching for ID.  Yes, he was carrying a gun.  Wisconsin is an “open carry” state and there is no indication that Castile was doing anything illegal when he was shot.   Philando Castile, 32, was also was an employee of St. Paul Schools.   His girlfriend was sitting in the passenger seat of the car (her young daughter was in the back seat) during the shooting and began to live stream on Facebook after Castile was already struck by gun fire approximately 4 times.

"Stay with me," are the first words heard in her video. "We got pulled over for a busted tail light in the back."

In watching this video, you have just watched Philando Castile die.

There is something particularly chilling about this entire incident.  What is one supposed to do when you are pulled over for a broken taillight and asked to produce identification?  Most of us men carry our driver’s licenses in our wallets and unless you are equipped with supernatural powers of some sort, you are obligated to reach into your pocket to retrieve your permit in order to show it to the officer who has demanded that you produce it.  I’m sure that most of us have had to do this at one time or another in our lives.  So if you are Black, what is the lessen here?  Frankly, I can’t think of a single thing Philando should or could have done differently to avoid being shot and killed by this police officer.  Maybe it will emerge that prior to the video something happened that would have made the officer fearful for his life.

But I sincerely doubt it.    

If there is a single person across the broad reaches of the United States who isn’t aware of the years-long controversy surrounding the killing of Black people at the hands of the police (Blacks make up 13% of the U.S. population but account for 37% of unarmed killings by police officers) that person must have been in a coma for the past five years.  Why the Falcon Heights and Baton Rouge police departments don’t seem to have been clued into the facts of unarmed Black men being killed y police, is beyond me.  And why in both cases was it necessary to use such extreme measures under their respective circumstances is also open to question.  Neither Black man was running from a just looted bank nor fleeing the scene of a murder.  I cannot think of a rational reason that either of these two Black men should be dead.  Unless, of course, our police departments are using the “in Black, shoot first, ask questions later” mode of public protection and public service. 

The Baton Rouge Police Chief and District Attorney did the right thing by turning over the investigation into the death of Sterling to the Justice Department.  What Falcon Heights police department will do remains unknown. 

What is raised each time we see some bystander video of what appears to be unjustified homicide at the hands of the police, is the random nature of the incidents.  Sure, we see the rare instance of someone being in the right place at the right time with a cell phone, but what about the rest of the deaths at the hands of the police that we don’t see?  That, for me, is the real mystery. 


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