I rarely write about my social or political beliefs (unless I’m fan-girling over uncle Bernie) on here because I tend to focus on sports, fashion, and my daily activities. However, social justice is a key passion of mine and I think it’s time for me to speak up on my blog. This website is a safe space for me to write about what’s most important to me and these issues are at the top of my list, even though I haven’t shared them before. Criminal justice, police brutality, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, protecting the environment and the ʻāina, ending mass incarceration are all extremely important to me and staying silent on these issues on my blog is like hiding a part of myself. In an effort to be my truest self, I need to start speaking up when I can about these topics, even if that means losing readers.
Philando Castile was murdered on July 6, 2016 by a police offer in St. Paul, MN. He was a food service worker at J. J. Hill Montessori Magnet School where he served around 500 elementary school students every day and knew every one of their names and food allergies. Philando was a father to a four-year-old daughter, a boyfriend, a son, a brother, and a friend. He was 32-years-old when he was murdered and, prior to his death, had been pulled over over 46 times by cops for minor infractions. Philando was driving with his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and his daughter in the backseat when he was pulled over by officer Jeronimo Yanez in Falcon Heights on July 6. Yanez claimed he recognized Castile’s nose as the nose of a robbery suspect. When Yanez asked for Castile’s license and registration, Philando announced that he was a licensed gun-owner, but was reaching for his wallet, not his gun. Yanez quickly became panicked and held his gun on Castile, continuously screaming at him not to reach for his gun, to which Castile calmly replied that he wasn’t. Reynolds live-streamed the ordeal on Facebook as her terror increased. She also told Yanez that Castile wasn’t reaching for his gun and not to shoot. Yanez shot Philando seven times in front of his four-year-old daughter and aimed the gun toward Reynolds immediately after, sounding belligerent and distraught the whole time. Reynolds, still live-taping the situation, was arrested and separated from her daughter after watching Castile bleed out in the car. Today, over one year later, Jeronimo Yanez was cleared of all charges and Philando Castile’s murder goes down as another case of police brutality without justice.
I remember watching Philando’s murder on Facebook last year during my lunch break at Macy’s. I watched in horror as another innocent black man was gunned down by a police officer one day after Alton Sterling’s murder in Baton Rouge, LA. Just like Philando, Alton Sterling was brutally killed by two cops on video tape. Unfortunately just like Philando, Sterling’s murderers were acquitted of all charges on May 3, 2017. I saw the video of Alton’s death where the two officers held his body to the ground and shot him in the head. I witnessed it. Just as I watched Eric Garner’s body go limp after being put in a chokehold (which was ruled illegal in NYC) by officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17, 2014. With multiple officers surrounding him, Garner screamed the now iconic phrase “I can’t breathe”. His hands were up in the air as Pantaleo jumped him and crushed his body. Because it affected me so greatly, I wrote about Eric Garner’s murder for a stream of consciousness assignment in senior year AP English:
I saw him lying on the ground his large body,
realing in the pressur of the man on to p of mim. he was a large man, black, fat,
obese, with a heart aching at the sight of the police officers, I watched him
being pushed to the ground, his head shoved to the pavement. my eyes watered I
couldn’t see anything he couldn’t breath. they killed him. he killed him. how
can this happen? I feel nothing. I feel pain. I feel anguish. now I can’t
breathe. it’s all too real. it’s all too messed up and broken and I feel
broken. I feel angry and sad and frsturated and hurt for the man who didn’t do
anything wrong and was killed for simply being who he was. a balck man. he had
a wife. he had children and they’ll never see his face again or feel the warmth
of the palm of his hand on the ir faces. I want to tell them that I’m so sorry
for the things they are feeling right now and the horrible experience that they
suffered through. I’m sorry eric garner. I’m sorry that they failed you. I’m
sorry that they killed you. I love you. I’ll breathe for you.
iPhones and social media have made capturing devastating events easy and although video evidence should be enough to convict these murderers, time and time again, they haven’t. Videos weren’t enough to bring justice to Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, or Walter Scott- a black man who fled from officer Michael Slager. As Scott ran away from the officer’s weapons, video evidence showed Slager shooting at him eight times, striking him with five rounds and killing him on the scene. Slager reported that Scott grabbed his taser and he feared for his life, justifying the shooting. However, the video taken by an eyewitness showed otherwise. Although Slager eventually pled guilty to the charges, he wasn’t held responsible and all charges were dismissed on May 2, 2017.
Sandra Bland was a black woman who was pulled over by state trooper Brian Encinia on July 10, 2015 because she failed to signal a lane change. Encinia’s dash cam recorded their interaction become hostile and aggressive as he forcefully grabbed her and threw her body to the ground. Encinia moves Bland to an area where the dash cam can’t see them as Bland’s screaming and crying echoes throughout the video. Sandra Bland was an outspoken advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement and spoke out against police brutality. Three days after he arrest, she was found hanging in her jail cell, dying of Asphyxiation on July 13, 2015, which was ruled a suicide. However, video evidence of Bland’s jail cell revealed discrepancies throughout her incarceration from the addition of a trash can and trash bags to the video and extremely high levels of weed in her system found in the autopsy. No charges were filed against the jail or correctional officers and Sandra Bland’s death is referred to as a suicide.
On April 12, 2015, Freddie Gray, a black man, was arrested by six officers from the Baltimore Police Department for possessing an illegal switchblade. He was placed in a police van for transportation where he suffered brutal spinal injuries that caused him to fall in a coma before he died seven days later. Although video evidence showed Gray’s arrest by unnecessary force, video of Gray’s actual experiences in the van will never be known. However, a medical investigation revealed that Gray’s death was due to the officers’ failure to follow safety procedures. Although four of the officers were charged with manslaughter and second degree depraved-heart murder, all charges were dropped on the officers by June 23, 2016 and Gray’s murder would go without justice.
12-year-old Tamir Rice was a black boy who was murdered by officer Timothy Loehmann in Cleveland, OH on November 22, 2014 because the officer believed Rice was going to shoot him. Rice was playing with an Airsoft gun with his friends in the Cudell Recreation Center before an anonymous witness called 911 and reported that someone was pointing a pistol at bystanders. Surveillance video revealed that Loehmann sped up to the gazebo Rice was sitting under and immediately shot the 12-year-old twice, killing him a day later. Neither of the officers on scene administered aid to Rice’s injuries as he laid on the ground for four minutes before being treated. Rice’s 14-year-old sister was tackled and handcuffed as she ran toward her injured brother. Tamir Rice died of his injuries on November 23, 2015 at MetroHealth Medical Center. Prior to Loehmann’s stint at the Cuyahoga County Police Department, he was deemed an emotionally unstable recruit and unfit for duty as an officer with the Independence County Police Department. On December 28, 2015, Loehmann was acquitted by a grand jury.
Michael Brown’s murder by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO on August 9, 2014 sparked extreme protests in the city, which gained national attention. As one of the first shootings of an unarmed black man by police that received media cooperation throughout America. Wilson responded to a report that Brown forcefully stole a box of cigarettes and shoved a convenience store clerk. After approaching Brown, Wilson stated that Brown reached into the police car and tried to grab the officer’s gun. The two struggled and when Brown and his friend fled the scene, Wilson pursued them and shot unarmed Brown six times, killing him on the scene. Brown’s body laid on the ground in the street for nearly four hours before being taken to the morgue. Witnesses stated that Brown held his hands up before being killed by Wilson, sparking popularity for the phrase “Hands up, don’t shoot” at protests. However, the US Department of Justice discredited all witness accounts as Wilson’s story became heralded as “truth”, despite discrepancies between his words and his injuries (or lack thereof). The Ferguson protests lasted one week as outrage spread across America over Brown’s killing. On March 4, 2015, the US Department of Justice relayed that Wilson would not be charged, citing a lack of true evidence.
Historically, police officers who murder innocent and/or unarmed black people are not held responsible for their actions, leaving the victims’ families without justice and with more pain. It’s no secret that police brutality is a massive issue in America (and around the world), but the justice system never rules in favor of PoC, specifically, black and brown men and women. Taystee Jefferson from Orange is the New Black said it best when she announced, “Our fight is with a system that don’t give a damn about poor people and brown people and poor brown people.” With every killing, I’m exhausted by the continuous lack of justice for black and brown bodies murdered and oppressed by the system. You see, the justice system isn’t broken. It’s working exactly the way it was set up: to prevent justice for PoC, to imprison them, to witness their murders and let their killers walk free. I don’t have any solutions for my and others’ pain. I don’t have any words for Philando Castile’s mother, for Alton Sterling’s mother, for Eric Garner’s mother, for Sandra Bland’s mother, for Tamir Rice’s mother, for Walter Scott’s mother, for Michael Brown’s mother, for Freddie Gray’s mother, and for all of the mothers whose children were stolen from them without justice. So for now, march, riot, cry, fight for Philando, for Eric, for Sandra, for Tamir, for Alton, for Walter, for Michael, for Freddie, for all of the lost children. Because that’s all we can do.