I'm going to do something I don't normally do in this column today, I'm going to take off the filter and just speak from the heart. June 16th was the day that Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of all charges connected to his brutal murder of Philando Castile. Since Philando Castile was murdered July 6th 2016 his horrifying demise has haunted me in ways I find difficult to put into works. I have to go all the way back to 9/11 to find an incident that left me feeling as crushed and hopeless. Like all of you I watched the footage taken by Diamond Reynolds, and while watching it the feeling was as if we too were in that car wondering if an out-of-control racist cop would finish what he started. Watching that incident now one cannot help but be stunned by the preternatural calm of Diamond Reynolds, a woman as strong as her namesake, as she explains to the murderer in even tones what he just did and that she will comply by "keeping her hands visible". Also like all of you I thought: surely with unambiguous footage there can be no doubt as to the guilt of the police officer...
Then Jeronimo Yanez was found to be innocent and released on June 16th. Oddly it was on that same day in 1858 that no less than Abraham Lincoln stated that "a house divided against itself cannot stand". The simple truth of the matter is that the promise of America for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is a sick joke now. Maybe for the black community it always was and this white liberal is just now seeing what they always saw going all the way back to Europeans staging nothing less than the largest mass-kidnapping in history with the beginning of the slave trade centuries ago. Like many, I deluded myself into thinking that we had turned a corner on racism in America with the ascension of President Barack Obama in 2008. I still remember after his victory when Al Sharpton was asked "Is this now the end of racism in America?" His quipped, "One brother in public housing doesn't negate centuries of injustice.
He was, of course, right. The meat-hook reality is that there is nothing that can be done about the crimes of the past and that was never the point. The point is that by minimizing and ignoring the crimes of the past whites dehumanize all African-Americans both past and present and plant the seeds of more deaths like Philando Castile's in the increasingly grim future we now face. That the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter actually became controversial at all shows just how we as a nation have to go. All the patronizing reassurances of politicians and police chiefs are obliterated by the words of Diamond Reynolds' 4 year old daughter, who right after Philando Castile was murdered said to her chained up mother: "I wish this town was safer...I don't want it to be like this anymore." Every single time I hear her say those words it shatters me. When a child must bare witness to such atrocities and is forced to comfort their own mother who herself committed no crime then we know we as a country have failed.
I wish we as a nation could hold that little girl and assure her somehow. But for the black community there is no assurance, there is no justice, and there is no peace of mind. When the jury let Jeronimo Yanez walk away from his deeds they sent a message that could not have been more clear:
"If you are black you are not and never will be safe."
When Civil Rights leaders and African-Americans talk about institutionalized racism they are not talking about some vague abstract. They are talking about Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Grey, Walter Scott, Eric Garner and the many others murdered for no other reason than that they existed at all. Their deaths prove that our system is broken, corrupt and capable of monstrous deeds without any check or balance at all. This is not the America of the 1860's or the 1960's... This is happening now and if we do not stop it then it will be our end. The very word 'civilization' implies the need above all for CIVILITY, because when that's gone then we revert back to the ugly past. We cannot allow apathy, despair and laziness to rule us.
"Find out what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them."