Philando Castile

castile

NY Daily photo credit

I recently told a friend of mine I have sometime wished I was black, and as the words left my mouth, the expression on his face indicated to me he was immediately offended. I knew I’d made a horrific presumption, and felt compelled to find him a little later on to continue our dialogue.  I wasn’t really sure what I was asking, but he sat me down and asked me a question.

He said, ‘as you sit in that chair, do you feel like you would be where you are, as a black man, including your personality and everything you are today?’

I had to think about the question. I had to get past trying to find the right answer and really think about how I was going to respond. I did not know what my answer could possibly be because I have never been a person of color. I have always been white.

This afternoon, when I first heard the news of the verdict in the shooting of Philando Castile, I felt immediately sick to my stomach. For a year I have replayed that viral video in my mind, imagining only one outcome. I believed the officer would be found guilty of manslaughter. I thought it was an easily defined case. I felt like I had come to know Philando through all the news reports and the expose’s of his life and the stories his community had expressed of who he was in our society. But I forgot one simple truth. He was a black man pulled over for a routine traffic stop. He was suspected of being involved in a robbery based upon his description. The only solid evidence that suggested he had been involved in the burglary was the color of his skin.

If that had been me, a white guy, with a gun pointed at my body by a peace officer, I am willing to bet, I could have said everything Philando expressed in the final minutes of his life, and I could have reached with my right arm and found my I.D. without the officer feeling compelled to discharge seven bullets into my body. This officer didn’t simply fire a couple of rounds, He fired seven times at point blank range. And there in that moment, while his girlfriend recorded the whole incident, Philando Castile died.

Justice seemed evident in this case, I didn’t even imagine the jury would take as long as they did to come back with a verdict. I only imagined it would be an open and shut case. That was until I saw the jury selection. I knew that when we had a jury of over 20 white people and two people of color, the case for Philando had taken a dangerous turn. I knew that when the officer was coached to cry in the witness stand, Philando’s integrity was in trouble.

I also knew I couldn’t get out of my car as a white man and express my sorrow and rage to any person of color without coming off patronizing. So instead, I called another friend, and told him he was the first person that came to my mind. Now this friend asked me if I was surprised by the verdict. I think I waffled my answer and said something like, “Well, yeah, I guess, well no, well I’m just sad.”

He agreed with my sentiments, and then began to speak of the systemic failure of our society to recognize the inherent discrimination of the African- American culture. Interestingly, he didn’t blame the cop that gunned down an innocent man. Instead he talked about how our society (his African-American culture) has to become proactive in changing the mindset of how we cope with our discrimination. He immediately prayed that there would be no acting out and a peaceful protest might occur.

I agreed with him and thanked him for letting me listen to his ideals, those of which I have always respected and believed. I finished the call, and sat in my car, and thought about what I would do next. All I could think about was how sad I was with the outcome of the day’s events. All I could do was feel like a white guy trying to wrap my head around this horrific tragedy. I still don’t have any answers, except only to say I’m sorry Philando, I am truly sorry this happened to you.

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When Childhood Seemed Innocent

We would play, for hours in May,

anticipating the summer day,

those opportunities ahead that contained

no worries, no stress, no school remained.

 

I remember our time spent on the court

the roundball, and later building a fort

we camped in the woods across the fields,

we lived for all the beauty that nature yields.

 

I remember thinking the sun would last

forever as we our own artist’s sketch cast,

running through the day light hours with ease

only needing to answer with occasional pleas.

 

I remember thinking that nothing really bothered

me in my neighborhood, love was always preferred.

I recall knowing there was a life away from mine,

saw it on the news, the fights, the police siren whine.

 

They were fighting in the streets all of everyone

throwing bricks and callous names toward anyone

who seemed to be indifferent to wanting to love

we couldn’t ever the hate we felt rise above.

 

I was ten years old when I first experienced ugliness

I received only confusion to be the answer nonetheless

I kept thinking about all the things I cared about

and suddenly my love for distraction became devout

 

In the meantime though the sidewalks began to fill

with all the hopes and dreams of those who will

eventually want to know the same things I do,

the same freedoms, the similar romances to woo.

 

Yet there in the quiet night of a sunset on strife

we can all realize we’re the sole cause of this life

While Understanding Matters

In speaking out loud,

one suggested,

there is little that matters,

mixing paint,

the blend is a natural course of

a process,

one that’s surely been in place,

long before our own,

personal reaction.

We sometimes play with dye,

adjusting colors for our own

benefit, philosophy, comfort zone.

For when the artist,

will display their work,

their pigment will be the final product,

not their initial choice perhaps,

just,

when the paint dries,

the tempered mood in tone survives.

Race Dialogue Matters

Hear that,

disparaging commentary,

confront it today,

walk away tomorrow,

tonight,

every day we hear something,

close eyes, and imagine a beautiful sunrise,

anything to move me,

my mind, my attitude, my conscience,

elsewhere.

If we don’t talk about it, maybe it doesn’t matter

as much,

well, as much as,

in a manner of speaking, have you asked the question,

to those that do care about each other’s

well-being, freedom, respect,

a desire to feel intrigue about who I am,

in the light of others, them.

What matters is acceptance,

not just of you and me,

understanding the conversation is important,

helps, makes sense, builds bridges,

builds a passionate embrace

who we are,

why we need to have this

understanding,

in the light of not getting it,

we didn’t want to,

talk about it,

if we do, then it becomes an issue.

What a crock of shit.

when we choose to pretend it needs no discussion,

we then,

lose control of

the possibility

freedom to engage,

no sabotage,

instead scrutiny,

the sort the matters,

the kind creates a collective

eloquence, oh, I mean,

love.

A White Man’s Struggle

I spoke of this in my classroom today,

it didn’t make sense,

I still haven’t figured out a way,

to not seem utterly dense.

I’m a White man trying to be understanding,

yet every time I try

I end up again, landing

square upon my own ignorance and cry.

I’m a White man rocked with privilege,

and I still manage to find a way

to put myself out on a ledge,

bringing attention to my own self-righteous dismay.

It’s Black History Month,

a friend of mine posted this recently

suggested it is the shortest month

of the year, well he said it decently.

I have felt a lot of pause, trying to find the right word,

not to sound correct, but to clearly feel ok.

My World A Ruthless Shame

I grew up with certain freedoms,

Though I was never really told,

I only understood a world of fiefdoms

From books I read. I wasn’t bold.

~

My dreams were made with managed

Challenge, the bounty being compassion

Beyond a society of greed is the adage

Spoke a loud in a personal fashion.

~

The limits began when in later life

What we discovered together in name

Became the seedling of confusion’s strife

The sort leaves my eyes seeing shame.

~

We are a world driven by our insanity

If we believe this our lovely reality.

A Rising Fire

There’s a frightening reality exists around our lives

we’d like to believe it isn’t the panic our mind derives.

~

Yet, how else can we explain the mounting tension,

the averted eyes, the tarnished world we mention.

~

Would that it mattered our own lives hang in the balance

that we imagine we might never have to take a chance

~

at living on the edge, at realizing any moment we could

be sacrificed in the eyes of the majority that would.

~

If they might allow the world to crumble into mediocrity

than perhaps we ought to recognize some new civility.

~

I once believed that everyone could always get along

I didn’t know soon there’d be a man who didn’t belong.

~

A woman who might have tears at the loss of her own

ability to protect herself, after the stitches have been sewn.

~

I wonder about the man whose scrutiny became passe

until a friend or a colleague or a family – you know the way.

~

We are a populace of similar mind and quiet fortitude

so alike we would laugh if we ever embraced our attitude.

~

Take a minute to glance around you tonight, tomorrow, now,

see the world in a day as it stands nearby as societies allow.

~

We measure our lives too easily by the growing masses,

Little thought reminds us we are really quite the asses.