By Earl Smith, PhD and Angela J. Hattery, PhD
Since August 26, 2016 when Colin Kaepernick (who at that time was a San Francisco 49er quarterback) started taking a knee during the National Anthem, police have killed approximately more than 780 people. Approximately 193 of those killed have been Black.
And, while the numbers may not be complete, they alone do not tell the whole story. Here we talk about the “ordinariness” of these killings especially those that involve Black men like Philando Castile in Minnesota. Black men have been in America since the founding of the Nation State. Some are fathers; some are professionals such as lawyers, Wall Street bankers; some are incarcerated and some play NCAA and NFL football. What binds all these men together is that across all demographics that defines them – members of these categories have been killed by the police.
Just recently (June 14, 2017) officer Jeronimo Yanezthe the Minnesota police officer who killed Mr., Castile was acquitted by a jury on all counts. While love ones and others were looking for a conviction the outcome was not surprising. In our data we looked at the 10 highest profile killing of unarmed Black men killed by police officers and all of them–from Trevyon Martin to Michael Brown to Sean Bell to Amadou Diallo–the officers were not charged.
Looking carefully at the prior activities of some of these men we learn that they were involved in simple, ordinary activities just prior to their deaths. In the case of Mr. Castile he was out with his girlfriend, her 4-yesr old daughter shopping for groceries. The video of the death was widely circulated first on FACEBOOK then the police officially released it June 20, 2017.
The “ordinariness” of police killings of Black men does not stop unfortunately with Mr. Castile. Young Tamir Rice was killed in a Cleveland playground November 22, 2014. He was twelve years old. And, like most pre-teens he was playing some type of boy-game with a toy gun.
These ordinary activities that lead to premature deaths are incredible for their ordinariness! White males do not face death after completing ordinary activities.
Several commentaries have railed about the silence of the National Rifle Association (NRA) on the killing of Mr. castile who had a legal license to carry a concealed handgun. Who, even telling officer Yanezthe that he had a gun on him was killed anyway reaching for his wallet.
This violence in not new. Under JIM CROW (the system of law commonoly know as de jure segregation and the illegal practice known as de facto segregation both mandated the segregation of public schools, public places, and public transportation, housing and the segregation of restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains for whites and Blacks) often resulting in violence to maintain separateness between whites and Blacks. The practices were heavily policed.
In all of the talk about “Constitutional Rights” the NRA over the years–and especially after the Columbine school killing (1999) it maintained that Americans have 2nd Amendment rights to arm themselves. The NRA fights to make this message clear at every turn. In commentaries after the Castile murder it is being said that this right does not extend to Black people. That is, had Castile been white he would have never been shot. This sentiment was strongly echoed by
“an appalled Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton who said that police wouldn’t have shot and killed Philando Castile if he’d been white and called for justice with the greatest sense of time urgency.”
Let us not fool ourselves, with all the police killings of Black unarmed men these murders are not random. There is something going on in 21st Century America that renders ordinary Black lives less than the lives of other racial/ethnic American citizens.
For Black men it is, to be sure, the “ordinariness.”
To read more of our work, go to: