Philando Castile: As My Friend Marco Said, Killed Twice. Once By A Police Officer. Once By The Judicial System.

26 Jun

Philando CastileI look at you, and don’t know what to say. Well, it’s not exactly you, but your likeness. The color photo I found of you when I Googled your image after you and Alton got shot and killed by police officers. Alton on July 5th, 2016, and you the very next day on July 6th, 2016. I cut the background out of both of your likenesses and gently taped them onto the umbrella I decorated for the Second Line Memorial organized here in Providence, Rhode Island last summer.

You were surrounded by white lace that draped the umbrella’s panels. You and Alton were regal kings. But I immediately felt profoundly sad that this object without words told the world that your life was cut short. Cut short at the hands of a police officer. I thought of your girlfriend, and her four year-old daughter who had to watch you be killed.

After the memorial that started at the Providence River and finished at India Point Park by the water, I kept the umbrella in my living room. It was propped up on our window seat, a shrine I wasn’t ready to dismantle. When I finally did two weeks later, unraveling the lace trim that edged each panel, and wrapped around the handle, I carefully pulled your photo off as well. I placed your and Alton’s images on the glass side table by the couch, with a candle, not lit, but as a symbolic indoor memorial. The candle also reminded me of how in my religion of Judaism, we light what’s called a yahrzeit candle on the anniversary of the death of our loved ones.  The one year anniversary of your passing is approaching.  I will light a candle for Alton, on July 5th, and for you, Philando, on July 6th.

From the table, I moved your image to my writing desk. First you laid flat right by my computer screen, and soon after, beside the mini-easel displaying my daughter Darla’s artwork on the upper ledge of the desk. It’s where you still are perched. Alton on the left, the Dread Scott print that reads: Why Do We Assume That You Are Racist, and you. When I look at the images of the both of you, Alton is smiling, looking straight ahead, but you, your face, your eyes hold a more serious gaze. When I look at you, your eyes meet mine, and seem as they will meet the eyes of anyone that looks in your direction.

This is the social media poem I created on Facebook (something I did daily for five years) from my friends’ Status Updates, the day Philando Castile was killed:





woke up to this.

crying again

before work

literally, before

the ink dried

on my

#altonsterling post

this happened

have a

broken tail light – you die (#philandocastile)

these shootings.

I have

no words.

my soul aches.

and once again

I was overcome

by the reality

that no matter

how much we

contribute and

build america,

our lives

do not matter

land of the

free, but we

have to

shed tears

and live in

constant fear

because we

have black brothers,

black nephews,

black children

“we love

our children…

they’re brutalized.

it’s too much…

it’s too much.”

I want

to holler,

want to scream,

want to cry…

I am raising a

strong young male

his race

is #human

when I get

pulled over…

will I die uncle?

only some

will understand

my pain.

I cry out

to God,

to keep

my son safe

oh, my very heart

is just so

very sad

to learn this

…as her

4 year

old daughter

who witnessed

it all screams

“I’m here

for you mommy.”


I have been looking back at you these last eleven months. Sometimes I talk to you. Sometimes I’ve imagined you saying to me, what are we going to do? How are you all going to abolish this supremacist system? Something needs to be done. And I imagine you saying this in a calm voice, not a bowing, polite, forgiving tone that white American media likes to pin on Black folks. But, like the tone you used with the officer, who still didn’t care that you were doing everything so perfectly right, but because you were Black, all he saw was: wrong, criminal, cop killer. I imagined your voice like the voice you used caring for all of the 500 school children who you worked with in the school cafeteria, who you knew by first name, and whose food allergies you knew, too. You were a protector. Who protected you?

Your girlfriend, a shining Diamond, reflecting her given name, tried to protect you, to give your death honor, to at last, win you justice, when she, with solid footing, streamed the aftermath of your shooting death. She spoke to the officer with decorum right after watching him kill you. She knew what she needed to do to not be the second one dead that day, to be able to return to, and comfort your fiance’s daughter who was sitting in the back seat of the car, and who also witnessed you get shot and killed.

And the jury came back to us with this mess. Not Guilty. And I wept. And the country wept. And I looked you straight in the eye, and said I was sorry, which wasn’t nearly enough. And I watched your mother, Valerie Castile, right after the verdict, make a statement. She was at first indignant that the reporter asked her for one, but then, in grief, and anger, she spoke her truth, and the truth of this nation. “…the system continues to fail Black people..My son loved this city, and this city killed my son…and you’re next…they will come after you, and you, and you…we’re not evolving as a civilization..we’re devolving…we’re going back to 1969..what is it going to take?”

And I keep glancing at you as I write this. On the eve of the release of the police dash cam video my heart broke all over again, and the heart of millions of people in this country, and around the world, their hearts broke, too. I will not give space here to the deniers of this injustice that was as plain as day on July 6th, 2016, and even clearer on June 20, 2017, the day this video was released. But I would like to ask the deniers to look me in the eye after watching the video of Diamond right after the shooting, handcuffed in the back seat of the police car with her four year-old daughter sobbing, and telling her mother to leave the handcuffs on because “I don’t want you to get shooted, too.” A four year-old girl was forced to be the protector. I’d like to ask you how well do you think this four year-old will fare living with the traumatic memory of her mother’s fiance killed right before her eyes? And, what about Diamond? You can hear an officer on the dash cam video say “have her in custody..” as if she is a suspect in a wrongdoing. She is casually, without feeling, told Philando is dead while at the police station. Where is our humanity? Where is their justice?

I look at you, Philando, and I see you want to have faith in all of us who mourn you. Faith that Black, Brown and White people will come together, because it will only work if we all do, and want to have faith we will do whatever it takes to liberate Black people. You want to have faith that we will reform policing, hold police accountable for their actions, and fix this broken court system. Faith that we will do this for your mother, Valerie, for your fiance, Diamond, and for her daughter.Faith that we will do what needs to be done so that every boy, girl, woman, and man with Brown skin can live free, and not wonder if they will die today.

I look at you and reach for your photo. I curl back the paper’s edge where  over time, it’s turned inward at your shoulder. I straighten out where your ear got bent. I notice the faint, vertical lines streaming down your face, your shirt pink instead of it’s original blue, because my printer was running low on ink on that day. I notice again that you are wearing your work lanyard around your neck. You are not smiling, but your eyes are, or one seems to be trying to. The other is pleading, like your mother pleaded to all of us, to do something.

I place your photo back on the desk next to the Dread Scott print, next to Alton. I say, good night.

I think of friends and acquaintances of color, close at hand, who have shared in my presence their  life experiences with looming threat, with lack of protection. In a meeting last week to reflect and organize actions after the return of the Not Guilty verdict, Black Studies scholar, and community activist, Marco McWilliams said, “..with the Philando Castile verdict…and we know this is not something new, but a continuum…we know that we, as Black people have no consent over our own bodies.” He moved his hands across his torso, and over his tee shirt that listed in bold white letters on black, the names of Trayvon, Tamir, Sandra, Eric, and on, and on. Having demonstrated and exclaimed that he and others that look like him are open game, are not able to protect themselves, Marco continued, “They might say slavery ended..chattel slavery, maybe, ..but we know there are other means of enslaving Black people…” The group of long-term and newer advocates for justice, sitting around the table, nodded their heads knowingly.

When I shared Marco’s words with a new friend, Maxwell, who is in his 20’s, he said that he doesn’t become vocal, because if he did, he’d become a target. He added that his dark skin puts his odds higher for encounters with police–at least once a week–making his percentage a little higher than the average Black man, of getting shot by police.

We know change,  and the dismantling of all of the systems that allow all of this to happen over and over again, is bigger than this heart-breaking event, but change must come because the psychic pain and fear and danger that comes with this, on top of the 400 years of history that comes before July 5, 2016, and June 16, 2017, for Black and Brown people in this country, has got to remedied. Please listen to Philando Castile, to Valerie Castile, to Diamond Reynolds, and Diamond’s four year-old daughter. Please do something.


Social Media Poem written on June 16, 2017




I’m trying right now to

find the right words

to articulate the

surreal inevitability of

police-involved killings

like this and the

verdicts that follow.

and I am not

able to do it without

repeating the

millions of words

I and countless others

have already said when

trying to find the right words to

articulate the surreal inevitability

of police-involved killings like

this and the verdicts that follow.

officer jeronimo yanez

fatally shot Castile

during a traffic stop

last year

dead for

driving while black

yet another hideous

failure of our ‘justice’ system

the state killed Philando Castile

twice: once with bullets,

then with legal injustice

Philando Castile’s mother responds:

“I’m mad as hell right now.

yes I am!”

there is no

“#alllivesmatter” people. just

racist people who

don’t want others

to have the

same rights, benefits,

safety and quality of

life as them

no worries, trumpasaurs

and trumpolodytes

you never have to worry

black lives don’t matter

It’s a hell of an existence

to know that when you

walk out the door

in the morning that

you can be killed because

someone who

doesn’t know you

at all is

“In Fear For Their Life.”

because your dark skin

labels you a THREAT

if that is the standard

for killing an innocent person

then riddle me this

we are in fear of our lives

every minute and

we aren’t killing you





Poem 7/6/16 Contributors: Ericka R. Gomes, Marco A. McWilliams, Tory Bullock, Shemika L. Moore, Allyson Brathwaite-Gardner, Desiree Mcknight, The Root (D.L. Hughley quote), Charles M. Blow, Korlu Young, Ari Brisbon, Kym Williams, Sherry Gordon, Ken Harge

Poem 6/16/17 Contributors:  Donald King (title),, HuffPost Black Voices, Dred-Scott Keyes, Kristina Contreras Fox via Jim Vincent, Marco A. McWilliams, Christopher Johnson, Warren Leach,





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