I sat on the bed with my four-week-old son in my arms, cell phone in hand, aimlessly scrolling while my husband was out running an errand. We only had two weeks left in the quiet Minnesota suburb we’d called home for the past year; in just a few days, we’d pack up our belongings and our newborn and head down south to live in my husband Phillip’s tiny hometown.
Phillip had gone out to get something to eat, and I was awaiting his return when the hashtag “Philando Castille” lit up my Twitter feed, and a link led me to the Facebook Live video broadcasting his death.
This shooting wasn’t just something that happened “out there.” It happened in my neighborhood, and I read about it while my own (black) husband was riding the same streets where Castille was pulled over by an officer.
When I heard of Jeronimo Yanez’s acquittal, I’ll admit, my heart sank. But I’ll further admit that it sank, not just because of the death of Philando Castille, because of the militarization of police in our country, or because another snuffed-out black life has been catapulted into the media spotlight. Though all of those reasons played a part in my sinking heart, the reason that most surprised me was my fatigue.
I am tired of seeing black lives turned into hashtags and leveraged for movements.
The Problem With The Media
The details of Philando Castille’s case are readily available to anyone who wants to search for them. I am far from a trained journalist, but others have done their jobs well.
Or… not so well, depending on who you ask.
Media bias is a reality that we face every time we turn on the news. This is nothing new. In the case of any name that has been uttered next to a “#blacklivesmatter” hashtag, we know all too well how details can be shifted and pulled to support an agenda. We so easily become pawns in this game of “he said, she said.” We so readily draw lines in the sand, take a stance, and raise our voices and our ideological picket signs.
And sometimes we should. Sometimes, justice isn’t being carried out. Sometimes, police officers are just trying to serve and protect, just like sometimes, unarmed black men are victimized by police brutality.
But, every single time, you can be sure that the media will have something to say about it, and the point of view will be shouting, “Pick a side, pick a side, pick the right side!”
The Problem With The Movement
If it’s not the media we’re decrying, it’s the movement.
There are those who have responded to generations of systemic oppression by using their ethnicities as a battering ram to flatten any and all who would dare disagree with them. You are either for them or against them, you are either marching or you’re tripping, you are either right, or you’re wrong.
And, on the opposite side, there are those who refuse any and all interpretations of any and all events that might remotely hint and the slightest bit of racism. MLK marched and fixed that ideology, everyone has equal rights now, stop whining about equality like a little millennial crybaby and make something of yourself.
Then, there are people interspersed in the middle. People who see facts and statistics, problems and solutions, but stand stricken into silence, afraid to be lumped with either camp and sick of that fear.
The Problem Within Us
But I don’t blame the media for our inability to process these things well. Nor do I blame hashtag warriors on either side of the aisle. I blame our sin natures.
Philando was shot seven times in my neighborhood in Minnesota. The officer who shot him just walked free. If these events don’t give us pause, might I suggest that we have been so conditioned to guard ourselves against certain ideologies that we’ve conditioned ourselves right out of genuine compassion?
Philando was shot while he rode in the car with his girlfriend and his daughter. The officer who shot him was acquitted. If these events drive us straight to Twitter, and not to our knees, might I suggest that we have been so conditioned to vomit our opinions into social media for validation that we’ve conditioned ourselves right out of real compassion?
We are broken. We prefer battle lines to the complexity of human nature, and we prefer false peace over difficult conversations. We prefer our police officers to be blameless heroes, and the creeps they shoot to be ruthless thugs. Or we prefer our police officers to be villains and the guys they shoot to be blameless victims. All the time. We don’t want to make any room in our narratives for the fact that some police officers are the good guys, and some of them aren’t; that some of the men who have fallen were simply not at fault.
Philando Castille’s death is a tragedy.
Having looked at these facts and wrestled and weighed them, I am grieved over today’s verdict.
I’m also grieved by the hordes of people who will treat Philando like just another statistic — either in their war against systemic racism — where names are cynically collected as tallies that prove white supremacy’s bloodlust. Or in the war against that war, where we are so tired of the battle lines of injustice that we explain away every casualty that could prove us wrong.
The only cure for this battle is the Gospel of Christ. And if you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that that isn’t something that I say lightly, to brush off real pain. I hope to say it with a willingness to press as deeply into that truth as the occasion calls for it. Our allegiance isn’t to BLM -so we’re free to depart from their platform. Our allegiance isn’t to the boys in blue -so we’re free to question their methods.
Our allegiance is to Christ. He alone equips us to grieve properly when the life of an image-bearer is snuffed out. And he alone equips us to lay our bias at the foot of the Cross. He equips us not to leverage a man’s death for one platform, or to ignore a man’s death for another.
He equips us to handle the complexity that is the racial landscape in America today because he frees us from trying to toe any party line that there is.
I am mourning today. Lump that mourning with a platform if you feel the need, but know that I mourn in allegiance to my King alone.