Investigators process the scene of where a St. Anthony Police officer shot and killed 32-year-old Philando Castile in Minnesota, on July 6, 2016.
I am a US citizen but I didn’t come to live in the US until I was 18 years old and all I really knew about the place was that it was mostly clean, they spoke English, their milk tasted pretty good, they had good hamburgers, I wasn’t allowed to drink alcohol even though I had been drinking legally for several years in Europe, it was a big country, and a few other things I can’t remember.
I quickly learned they didn’t like black people, they didn’t like foreign people, and they certainly didn’t like people who were different. They really had a hard time figuring me out. At the time I called Nigeria home but before that I had lived in Burma, Mexico and Colombia. I had been to boarding school in Switzerland. I had travelled a lot, I spoke Spanish fluently and I didn’t fit into anybody’s box.
I had never consciously been exposed to racism. I guess I was pretty naive but it just didn’t occur to me. People were people and it didn’t matter what they looked like. Either I liked them or I didn’t. I had grown up in a mixed race environment and had friends from all over the world. Okay, I was privileged and I was white and sometimes it could be uncomfortable to be the only white person in the room, but it was never scary.
This was all a new experience for me and it was confusing. One day soon after arriving at college, I went to lunch in the cafeteria and I saw a long empty table and I decided to sit there thinking I would meet some new people since it was in a different part of the building than where I usually sat.
As the lunch progressed people did sit around me but they were all Black and none of them would speak to me. The next day I commented on it to somebody and they told me whites are not “allowed” to sit at that table. It was for the black girls only. Black and white did not mingle. On another occasion I tried to go to a dance on campus that was sponsored by a black student organization. I was laughed at and told I could not go in.
I soon learned that it was not about the color of anybody’s skin. It was cultural. It had become cultural. I learned that there had been segregation in the US as recently as the 1960’s. And even though there was no longer overt segregation, things hadn’t really changed all that much. The Blacks were angry and had every right to be.
Last year I moved to Minnesota from Washington, DC. They are pretty different places. The DC area is very diverse and DC itself has problems with poverty and crime although it is better than it used to be. I loved the diversity and international population of the area. But it was time to move.
Minnesota seemed to be a safe, progressive, easy going kind of place. Hey, it’s The North. Last November Jamar Clark (an African-American) was shot and killed by a policeman in Minneapolis. There are conflicting stories about what happened but it ended with Jamar being shot in the head. That sparked ongoing protests throughout the winter. Last month, in June of this year, federal prosecutors announced they would not pursue federal civil rights charges against the Minneapolis police officers involved. However an internal investigation continues.
Two nights ago Philando Castile (an African-American) was pulled over in St Paul, for having a tail light out on his car. This is my neighborhood. This is close to home. His girlfriend was in the car with him along with her four year old child. She pulled out her cellphone and started filming. She also provides a running commentary. According to her, Philando was asked to provide his ID but when he reached into his pocket to get it, the policeman shot him four times. Philando had a gun and a concealed carry permit. According to the video, he did nothing wrong. The policeman did not have a body camera so we can’t see it from his perspective.
Bottom line is there are way to many guns in this country and way to many nervous people with access to them. As an expat you watch CNN or BBC or some other world news and hear a lot about the violence in the US. I always felt much safer wherever I was. But, of course, as an expat you don’t always know a lot about local news unless it affects you directly. Yes, there is crime everywhere but are there this many guns everywhere?
We all need to work towards getting rid of all these guns. Hunting is one thing but the only thing a handgun or an assault rifle is used for is killing people. Guns do kill people. And policemen are people with guns.
The police in this country are scared. They get nervous and scared. And they are trained to shoot to kill. Always. This makes no sense to me. In 2015, 1186 people were killed by police. About 500 were white, 200 were Latino, and 346 were African-American. Of those 346, 102 were unarmed.
Photo Credit: Tony Webster