It was one of those warm, narcotic nights that gives us hope when the days are cold and raw, a night that cons us into thinking we live in the best place in the world. We had gone out for a short drive to get a hot dog, and, like most American families, we had returned home, safe, sound and content. It was about 9 p.m., so we sat on our balcony and watched the skies turn orange.
“I love nights like this,” said my wife.
Across town in Falcon Heights another family was out for a drive, unaware that they were about to add broken car light to the list of crimes — selling single cigarettes or music CDs outside a grocery store, reaching for your driver’s license — that get you killed. They are simple, mundane actions that can get you killed by police, especially if you are black — perhaps only if you are black.
“Please don’t tell me this Lord, please Jesus don’t tell me that he’s gone,” Diamond Reynolds pleaded to a police officer who had just shot her boyfriend. “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.”
So here we are again, another young black man dead at the hands of an officer under shocking circumstances. Philando Castile didn’t leave home Wednesday night looking to put his name next to those such as Jamar Clark and Alton Sterling and Eric Garner and, well, too many to name.
Nor did he intend to underscore, yet again, that the place we brag about, the place that wins honors for everything that’s good, has a serious, undeniable problem. Is it inherent racism? Mutual fear between cops and people of color? Poor training? An increasingly militarized police force? A public hostile toward authority?
I have no idea. I just know that a black man who appeared to be cooperating with police, even telling them that he had a permit to carry and was armed, is dead.
I asked a former cop I trust if Castile should have told the officer he had a permit and a gun. My source said he always appreciated it because the last thing you want as a cop is to see a gun when the driver reaches for his license. So, according to his girlfriend, Castile gave the officer a warning and was shot multiple times.
So now what?
More rallies. More assurances this will not happen again. Another investigation. Another surreal discussion over whether “incompetent” or “reckless” equals “murder.” More justifications by police for shooting a man sitting behind the wheel of his car, a young man who reportedly excelled in school and who had held a steady job for several years, a man with no felonies on his record.
Of course, the officer didn’t know any of this. All he knew was that Castile had a car light out and that he was black. Was that enough for him? We will never know.
Reynolds’ video of the moments after the shooting is terrifying and haunting: a dying man, covered in blood while a panicked officer screams obscenities, seemingly horrified at what he has just done.
“Stay with me,” Reynolds pleads. “Please don’t tell me my boyfriend is gone. Please don’t tell me he’s gone. Please Jesus no.”
I wrote nine columns about the Jamar Clark case, the latest one just three months ago, and frankly, I’m sick of it. Many readers wrote or called to encourage me to be “a voice of reason,” but that is getting harder all the time. There is no reason evident in Reynolds’ heartbreaking video, no reason at all.
While I was writing this, a public relations professional sent me a story idea. Apparently we are among the best places to live if you are a music fan.
Please, Jesus, no.
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin