What happened to Alton Sterling is NOT the same as what happened to Philando Castile!
There has been a rush to present both tragedies as identical by far too many on both sides of the political spectrum. Our president, and much of the media, has presented both incidents as identical examples of unjustified police shootings and a pattern of police abuse against our black citizens, neighbors, and friends (even before the evidence is in). Their irresponsible, unjustified, and hate-filled response to these tragedies has only served only to widen an already growing division in our country and has escalated violence against the men and women who put their life on the line to serve and protect our citizens every day. Now some conservative sources have begun responding with the same irresponsible, unjustified, and hate-filled tactics, vilifying both men who were shot (again before the evidence is in), and placing the blame for both of these deaths on the shoulders of the men who were shot and killed. Doing this serves no one and only hurts our neighbors who, regardless of their political leanings, need our love now more than ever. ENOUGH ALREADY, JUST STOP!!!
Portraying these two incidents, that are so very different, as if they were the same is unjust and leads only to distrust, hurt, and anger that further divides us all. While it is still early in both investigations, and it is possible that new information could come to light in either of these investigations that would paint a very different picture than what is known today, it doesn’t seem likely. Without new evidence, justice requires that we look at each of these incidents very differently. If we, as a nation, continue to huddle into our own political corners, looking for “facts” to fit “our” narrative, while ignoring the facts that don’t, we will only exasperate the problems that continue to further divide our country.
Why are they different?
Philando Castile had no criminal record and apparently was legally carrying a firearm and informed the officer of this fact. His girlfriend, after the shooting, was completely compliant with the officers and there is currently no reason to believe that Mr. Castile was not also fully compliant with the officer’s orders before the shooting took place. While there are some rumors that suggest that he may have been pulled over based on a case of mistaken identity, that alone does not justify the shooting. Having been in a similar situation where I was held at gunpoint by officers who believed I was a criminal fleeing from a crime scene, I am very thankful that most officers do not shoot their suspects with such ease. In this situation, not only was someone shot without cause but after the shooting took place, neither officer handled the situation appropriately. Neither officer made any attempt to administer medical aid to the person whom they had just shot, but instead they arrested, handcuffed, and transported the girlfriend to the police station, treating her as a criminal. She was not permitted to be with her boyfriend who was shot and dying, nor was she permitted to be with her daughter who had just witnessed this tragedy. While I would not conclude, based on the evidence we have today, that this shooting was motivated by race, I do believe that it is an example of extremely gross negligence by both officers, and if what we know now proves to be true, both officers should be fired, and the one who pulled the trigger should be charged with felony manslaughter.
Alton Sterling was a felon with an illegal firearm and was unwilling to comply with the officer’s orders. Because of his unwillingness to comply, he was wrestled to the ground by the officers and was still fighting them when one officer believed that he was attempting to use his gun against them. While, given the evidence we have at the moment, it is unclear whether the officer was mistaken, there is little doubt that this is what he believed at the moment he fired his weapon. In the midst of a struggle, like the one that was taking place, it is entirely understandable that something could have been miss-perceived but such a miss-perception (if it was a miss-perception) would not change the circumstance of this case. People need to put themselves in the shoes of the officers involved and recognize that if the officer was right and had hesitated for even a tiny fraction of a second, one or more of the officers could have been killed. Officers, who put their lives on the line daily to protect and serve their community, deserve to come home to their families at night, and the constraints that many desire to place on them would mean than many more of them would not make it home. While it is horrible tragedy when anyone is killed, the blame for this killing must lie on the shoulders of the one who initiated the situation and, in this case, that person was Mr. Sterling. Regardless of the color of a person’s skin, anyone who chooses to become physically violent with a police officer should understand that he is putting his own life at risk when he chooses to do this.
Please, please, let us step out of our political corners and come together to look for real solutions to the real problems that confront our nation! If we are going to survive as a nation, we must be willing to truly listen to those on all sides and set aside our own misconceptions. Ultimately this begins when we are willing to look at everyone through they eyes of the one who created us all and who loves each of us so dearly. Only then will we begin to understand the value of each life that has been lost and weep, as God does, for each and every one of them.
Note: For those who will automatically assume that I wasn’t shot only because I am white, I can assure you that the officer in my case could not have known the color of my skin until after the perceived threat was over. He saw only a man in a car with his high beams aimed at him. Additionally, while I was completely unaware, the officer had more reason to believe that I was acting aggressively towards him than it appears that the officer who shot Mr. Castile did.