In the past two days, we have been rocked by two very public, very familiar tragedies. The deaths of Alton Sterling, 37, and Philando Castile, 32, two black men from Louisiana and Minnesota, respectively, have inspired protests, made national headlines, and once again set the tone for a summer, a year, a lifetime of mourning.
In 2016, 136 black people have been killed by police to date—almost as many people as days have passed so far this year. Video footage of these killings are so common that we’re all experiencing PTSD. When the last thing you see before bed is a video of a black man being shot to death by police, and the first thing you see in the morning is a video of another black man being shot to death by police, what else can you dream of, and will you ever wake?
In the nightmarish moments just after Castile was shot by a Minnesota police officer on Wednesday evening, his girlfriend Lavish Reynolds began a Facebook Live videostream. "Stay with me," are the first words we hear. "We got pulled over for a busted tail light in the back," she explains. The video shows Reynolds sitting in the passenger seat, as composed as she can possibly be, as her boyfriend bleeds out next to her and her young daughter cries in the background.
“Please no, don’t let him be gone. Why?!” Reynolds says as Castile slumps back in the driver’s seat, his white shirt turning red.
The St. Anthony police officer who shot Castile stands outside the car, gun still drawn. He yells “Fuck!” repeatedly. “I told him not to reach for it,” he says as he keeps his gun on Castile. “I told him to get his hand off it.”
“Keep your hands where they are,” he yells at Reynolds.
“Yes, I will, sir,” she responds. “I’ll keep my hands where they are ... Please, officer, don’t tell me that you just did this to him. You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir.”
You can hear Castile struggling to breathe as Reynolds punctuates her sentences with “sir,” somehow levying a term of respect at the man who just shot her boyfriend four times and is still brandishing a gun while angrily yelling profanity.
“Get the female passenger out,” the cop screams. Reynolds remains calm during what must be the most harrowing moment of her life and gets on her knees on the sidewalk. You can hear her daughter crying in the background. Sirens wail. This is the last we see of Castile: breathing hard, bleeding out, still buckled in. The officer again screams, “Fuck!”
In this unprecedented live-stream of police brutality, of the shattering of yet another black family, there is no censorship of gore or grief. It’s gruesome and beyond upsetting—but it’s also the mirror we need to hold up to America today.
This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that cops can break the law with impunity. And Louisiana, where Alton Sterling was shot and killed for selling CDs on the street, recently implemented a “Blue Lives Matter” bill that needlessly expanded the state’s hate crime statute to protect cops, equating a chosen profession with one's race. It’s been two years since Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson thrust police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement into national spotlight, but we’ve seen countless acquittals of cops who violated human rights.
Toward the end of her video, we see Reynolds crying as she sits handcuffed in the back of a police car. “It’s okay, Mama,” her daughter says, comforting her. “It’s okay, I’m right here with you.” In this sick American inversion, Castile was killed over a busted taillight. Reynolds must be consoled by her young child. Reynolds must call her boyfriend’s murderer “sir.” We need protection from those meant to protect us.