Two days ago, police shot and killed another Black man — the latest victim in an epidemic of state-sanctioned gun violence against Black bodies that has already claimed 136 Black lives in 2016. Philando Castile, 32, was driving in a car with his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter when their car was pulled over by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota for a broken tail light. Castile, who was licensed to conceal-and-carry, notified the officer that he was armed and that he was reaching for his wallet to retrieve his ID and registration, as per the cop’s instructions. He did everything that young Black boys are taught to do in the Talk. The officer fired four shots anyways, killing Castile before his horrified family — all over a burned out light bulb.
National attention is focused today on Minnesota as we mourn Castile’s death. Unlike the vast majority of Black and Brown men shot and killed by police every day — whose deaths receive scant attention or outrage — we cannot help but be confronted by the pain of Castile’s murder. Just minutes after the still unnamed police officer shot and killed Castile, Reynolds began streaming the killing’s aftermath live on Facebook. An understandably distraught Reynolds broadcast the full trauma of a racialized police encounter turned deadly, using her video to pray, ask for help, and to record important details about the incident.
One important detail is Reynolds’ description of the police officer who killed Castile. Recounted from the backseat of a police cruiser while she was still handcuffed, Reynolds narrated in her video that the police officer who killed Philando Castile was a “heavyset” “Chinese” man. That officer was later identified as Jeronimo Yanez, whose race and ethnicity has not been revealed.
Frankly, I don’t think it matters if Castile’s killer was non-White, or if he is indeed Asian American. Black lives matter. Black lives matter when a White police officer shoots and kills Alton Sterling on Tuesday for selling CDs in a parking lot, and Black lives matter when a non-White police officer shoots and kills Philando Castile on Wednesday. Black lives matter regardless of the race of the person who takes them. Hours after Castile’s death, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton confirmed that race played a role in the shooting, saying that Castile likely would not be dead were he White.
The deaths of Philando Castile and of Alton Sterling — killed less than 24 hours earlier by police for selling CDs in a parking lot — demonstrates the value that society still fails to place on Black lives. Asian Americans cannot afford to be bystanders in this fight, because this is our fight, too. All of America stands at a crossroads, staring down a quintessential moral choice: what kind of society do we want to live in? Do we choose a society where the lives of Black and Brown people — including Black and Brown Asian Americans — has value? Or, do we continue to uphold a system that places no value in the lives of non-White people, including our own; and wherein only some can place their trust in our law enforcement?
What side will we choose?