Lavish Reynolds. Learn her name. She’s the brave woman who recorded the aftermath of her boyfriend Philando Castile’s murder at the hands of a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minn. And she is a hero. With her young daughter in the backseat and her boyfriend bleeding out in the driver’s seat, not to mention a gun still pointed at her, Reynolds acted calmly and courageously by taking out her phone—something that could have been enough to get herself shot—and recording the scene on Facebook Live. The video was broadcasted directly to her page for public view, so that even if her phone were to be confiscated (and she does get cuffed at the end), it would already be out there. The cop wouldn’t be able to erase it off her phone. (If you’d rather not watch the graphic video, the transcript is available here.)
Imagine the strength she had to muster.
If you watch the video, Reynolds is level-headed. Not a single tear is shed. She doesn’t cry out in rage. Her tone, as she speaks to the police officer (who yells an endless stream of expletives), is relatively calm and collected. But that doesn’t paint her as emotionless or cold. It’s haunting. It’s heartbreaking. And it speaks volumes about black people’s knowledge that their fate lies in the hands of white officials, and that the justice system is almost always tilted against them. It speaks volumes about the fact that black people have adapted to a system that murders them and then lets off their killers. Castile’s girlfriend was unable to save his life—he was reported dead early this morning—but she knew exactly how to react because she’s seen what’s happened to Michael Brown. To Eric Garner. To Sandra Bland. Just the day before, to Alton Sterling. To hundreds more before them. She’s fully aware that whatever small chance she has in fighting injustice—if there even is one—can be found in recorded evidence. So she records the video, even if that means risking her life.
Reynolds explains exactly what happened in the clip. She doesn’t do it for herself, or even for the police officer. She does it so the whole world can see, and most importantly, so that the court of law might recognize what the officer did as a crime. “We got pulled over for a busted tail light in the back,” she says. “They killed my boyfriend. He’s licensed to carry. He was trying to get out his ID and his wallet out his pocket and he let the officer know that he was that he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet and the officer just shot him in his arm.” Philando Castile is unconscious, possibly already dead at this point, and Reynolds cannot even attend to him. She knows that if she disobeys the officer (“Ma’am, keep your hands where they are”), she could share the same fate as her boyfriend. All she can say is, “Oh my god please don’t tell me he’s dead. Please don’t tell me my boyfriend just went like that.” It’s absolutely heartbreaking.
Michael Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, was not convicted. Neither was Daniel Pantaleo, who was responsible for Eric Garner’s death. And Garner’s case even had video evidence of what was unquestionably homicide. It’s bleak to consider if Reynolds’ video will even be enough to indict the officer who shot and killed Philando Castile (especially since it only captured the aftermath and not the actual shooting). The officer could easily spin it as self-defense, just like Darren Wilson did. On the other hand, Walter Scott’s killer, officer Michael Slager, was charged for violation of civil rights and obstruction of justice, mostly because there was video evidence. Reynolds did all she could do in panic and tragedy. Her bravery will certainly not go unnoticed. What we can see, regardless of what happened before the video or what we believe, is that an officer held a gun on an unarmed, unconscious citizen instead of rushing to save him. That’s not what cops do. That’s not serving nor protecting. It’s killing. Without Lavish Reynolds’ courage, justice for Philando Castile wouldn’t even have a shot.