Commentary: What should we do now?

Michael Kleber-Diggs

Michael Kleber-Diggs

By Michael Kleber-Diggs

Philando Castile was killed on an avenue many of us travel as part of our routines. The world watched his life leak away. Castile was a child of our city, our state. He was our neighbor and probably knew someone you know. His loved ones say he was a beautiful man, respectful and kind, loved by classmates and colleagues and the children he served in his work at a nearby elementary school. We believe them. We see their truth on their faces. It looks like grief.

The day he died, Philando Castile was with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds. Reynolds’s daughter was also in the car. The hasty bullets missed them both, for that let’s give thanks. But the child was still there. We know this. She saw Philando’s white t-shirt overrun by crimson; she heard his anguished cry and endured somehow as her mother’s calm succumbed to grief. She carried on while authority obliterated every notion of Officer Friendly for her, then stunned us with her strength and poise. But she was wounded that day. We know this.

So neighbors, what should we do now?

Let’s honor the memory of Philando Castile by supporting his family to extent we can. Let’s send condolences to his loved ones and donate to the fund for Diamond Reynolds and her daughter. Let’s leave ideas at his memorial. Let’s take in ideas left by others. Let’s look for ways to help. As we do so, let us not trade in low gossip about Castile’s past, such speculation should also be silenced by the gun. No more character assassinations, please. No more eulogies spat out like hate.

Let’s leave room in our hearts for the friends and family of Officer Jeronimo Yanez. Let’s comfort them if we meet them. They deserve our compassion and empathy. As for Officer Yanez, I hope for him what I hope for my daughter when she makes a mistake: may he have helpful consequences. May we hold him accountable with strength and compassion. May his consequences offer him, and those who should learn from his tragic mistakes, the best chance for growth and redemption.

Then, let’s look inward. At Philando Castile’s memorial site, you’ll find expressions of wisdom. You might find a cardboard sign on which was written “if you don’t understand, listen.” In the wake of this tragedy we have had and we will have many opportunities to listen and grow. We can learn about Philando’s difficulties in our neighborhoods and places like them. We might hear stories from friends who recount similar experiences. We might hold conversations with neighbors who disagree with us. In response, let us listen. If anything frustrates our ability to listen, if we harbor any hate or intolerance, may we admit it and challenge it and open our ears and hearts.

Then, let’s look outward. Let’s be candid about our neighborhoods. Do they welcome unfamiliar faces or do they repel them? As you work and worship, as you study and play, as you dance and dine, when you survey the photos of friends on Facebook, how many of the people look like you? How many of them live like you?

Let’s do research. As we study the events of July 6th, when difficult truths emerge, let’s acknowledge them. Let’s find the will to do better. No more spider-web policing here, please. No more racial profiling. No more unwarranted stops. Let’s share unimpeachable core values then make sure our public servants reflect those values, not undermine them. When we tire in this work, and we will, let’s lift each other up and press on. Let’s hold each other accountable for the communities we desire.

And let’s never forget this tragedy. At the site where Philando Castile died, there is a sign hanging on one of the canopy tents. It reads, “What would Phil Castile want us to learn from his death?”

I won’t speak for Philando Castile. As a black man who has lived most of my life in white spaces, I know the ways of the wary. I know when I’m not welcome. I have been followed without just cause. I also saw Officer Friendly erased. So I believe I know something of Philando Castile’s struggle, feeling trapped in a web, unable to free yourself, bound up while the venom does its agonizing work. But no, I won’t speak for him. Instead, I’ll tell you that if it were me, shot down on the streets of a city I considered my home, a city I go on loving in spite of myself, if it were me, I would hope my memory would be for a blessing. I would want you would learn at least two things from my death: we invite what we allow, and none of this has to happen here.


Michael Kleber-Diggs is a poet and essayist. He lives in Como Park.

3 Responses

  1. Michael Kleber-Diggs

    Thank you for your comment. I gave serious consideration to not making a reply (the Park Bugle was kind enough to give me “pen and ink” and we’ve heard from me already).

    Still, I think dialogue is important, and I’d like to share some of how I see the incident differently. I think the following considerations matter:

    Philando Castile was carrying a gun lawfully. He informed the officer that he had a permit to carry a gun (as allowed by the Minnesota Personal Protection Act). He informed the officer that he was in lawful possession of a firearm in the exact way he was taught to inform an officer in his conceal-carry class. Since the passage of the Minnesota Personal Protection Act, one might imagine that thousands of permit holders have been stopped by police officers, have indicated that they are in possession of a firearm as allowed by Minnesota law, and not been shot. Castile’s death is distinguishable from all those stops that did not (immediately) end with a citizen being killed.

    Castile’s death also exists within a larger context. We know now that there are issues with policing in Falcon Heights and similar suburbs. We’ve learned that racial profiling is an issue. We’ve learned that net-widening is an issue (“net-widening” is a term that those in the Criminal Justice field use to describe the criminalization of everyday life). Since Castile’s death, no shortage of (white) neighbors have come forward with stories of how long their brake lights have been out for a long time. Two days ago at the Falcon Heights City Council meeting, one speaker shared that Larpenteur Ave is a notorious avenue for police abuses.

    This is also consistent with a larger national trend. Institutional violence is a concern and that violence has a disproportionate impact on people of color. Those considerations matter here.

    You start by noting common stereotypes about blacks. You note that there are no positive role models for blacks (I can easily think of hundreds, four of them live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue). You note that those stereotypes do not apply to Castile (why mention them at all then?) on your way to concluding that if he was white he would have been shot. You know about the stereotypes and the bias. What gives you such confidence that there were not a factor here when there are so many indications that it did? What changes in your life if you acknowledge that race was a factor here, and racism sources this epidemic?

  2. John

    Has officer Yanez admitted his error? Has he shown public remorse? Has he asked families to forgive him? Or has he retreated into defensive blue righteousness? The reality is that cops kill rather than protect; fine rather than serve; fear rather than love. But they are just instruments of a larger society that values security and money rather than life and joy. They are just trained to kill what they fear, trained to fear people based on a false concept of race. They are hired to enforce community racism: to discourage persons of color from even driving through communities with race-traps. Isn’t it time that communities renounced this form of bigotry?

  3. John Allison

    the suspicion surrounding young black males as it applies to police is a stereotype based on and glorified by thug culture , it is a culture that portrays violence , anger , misogyny , distrust of police as normal behavior . It is not normal , it is learned behavior brought about by years of hopelessness and despair as a result of policies that separate, segregate minorities into lower level citizens . Having millions of people , generations, totally dependent on government for housing , food stamps etc., has led to a breakdown of values because of the destruction of the nuclear family and no positive role models . This man was a model citizen; in part doomed by a stereotype conveyed to a nervous , rookie cop , who after being informed that the man in the car did have a gun refused to stop showing his hands to the cop ! If a white , Asian or Hispanic person did the same thing the result may have been the same . It does not matter that he was black , he ignored the order to stop what he was doing and show his hands after informing the cop he had a gun. The cop can not take the chance and just assume the guy was telling the truth . He may have been a felon who was going to jail for just possessing a gun if not potentially using it on the cop or other citizens in an attempt to avoid being arrested and doing 20 years in jail or whatever. It never should have happened but as the spouse of a cop you can not take the chance as it may endanger yourself or other citizens.

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