A human’s life was needlessly taken on July 6th, 2016. Philando was a child to his mother Valerie Castile, a son to a father, a loved one to his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and a father figure to a legion of children at J. J. Hill Montessori School where he did his best to encourage students as he provided daily nourishment for over 500 children. He was one of us; someone who was doing his best to live out his dreams even as he encountered his occasional setbacks. His death caused at the hands of the very entity that was supposed to protect him should be a rallying cry for accountability for those entrusted with power but also be an occasion to mourn the passing of a life and a fellow human being.
Instead, the day after officer Jeronimo Yanez was exonerated and his hands washed clean after he took Philando’s life, America is yet again turning a horrific incident into a means of airing either enduring grievance or abject indifference. The usual crowds gather in their corners and point fingers; the memory of a slain man being used to further ideologies and perpetuate yet more animosity. Political ideologies and racial identities trump humanity as a frenzy sets in and the death of an innocent life is used as a flag to wave antipathy and animus into the public square. Justice is reduced to memes and a hashtags as social activists and political nihilists alike are more intent on vilifying the other side more than they care about due process.
Anger is a useless emotion for people who have it in their hearts to make a difference and to stand up for fairness. Those who take to the streets with rage are reactionaries who will not make a nick, let alone a dent, in the pervasive injustice that is oppressing all without regard to the endless ways we keep dividing ourselves as a people. If a message of unity cannot be arrived at and if we are not able to extend hands instead of pointing fingers, we end up contributing to the very injustices we supposedly speak against. Those who take to social media to rage against “white oppression” and “white privilege” are no better in this context than those who try to tar all “black” people with a broad brush. Ascribing the sins of a few to the whole is not only unfair and untrue, it is counterproductive—an adversary cannot be won over nor a friend gained by hurling pejoratives and casting aspersions at one another.
The sad thing is that various sides of this debate are outraged about the same things. An overgrown system of governance that has militarized our nation’s police is one that victimizes “white” folk and “black” folk and all races and ethnicity alike. When park rangers restrict the ability of farmers to let their cattle graze on public lands, when Federal agents shoot up a family in Boise, Idaho or a child’s life is snuffed out by a trigger happy cop in the south side of Chicago, all of us should see miscarriages of justice irrespective of the skin hue of the victims. Yet we, as as society, are so programmed to see iniquities through tribal prisms that we end up letting situations dictate our moral responses.
“White” folk in Alabama and Alaska should be just as shocked when a “black life” is erased whether the perpetrator had a badge or was wearing a hoodie. “Black” folks in Baltimore and Minneapolis should be equally outraged when a “white” life is taken by authorities in Texas or Tennessee and equally be stirred to action when a “black” life is taken by someone who looks like him. The true outrage is that we even have to assign labels to an injustice—a life is a life whether or not that life is “black” or “white”. We keep thinking that we are advancing justice by putting an adjective in front of it, in reality we are devolving further into the abyss the more we see ourselves through our differences instead of realizing our common humanity.
I don’t meant to sound insensitive to the plight of people nor is it my intention to be pious. When I speak of taking on hate with anger and how frivolous that is, it’s only because I too once walked that walk and know the folly of letting passion dictate our response to injustice. Look I get it, when people feel hopeless and are mobbed by generational maltreatment, they naturally turn towards resentment. It’s easy, after all, to preach turning the other cheek unless you are the one taking uppercuts to the jaw. But to let animosity and bitterness into our hearts is to be twice victims—we lose all the time when we allow enmity be our map.
This moment calls for love, compassion and empathy the most. Philando’s life can’t be brought back regardless of what we do next nor can anything but time and God’s grace heal the heart of Philando’s loved ones who miss his smile and his presence. But at the very least, can we not turn his death into an occasion to peddle yet more divisiveness into the air? Stop pointing fingers at each other and instead realize that all sides are walking this walk together. Stop vilifying one another and turning to childish memes to score points. Stop blaming all for the vices of a few and realize that monopolizing pain does nothing to alleviate suffering.
Above all, have grace towards one another. Stop berating each other; not all “white people” have privilege, not all “black” folk act the same, and not all police (link) are out to inflict injustice upon us. I believe in my heart that most people have goodness in their hearts even as we occasionally turn towards our baser demons. We can either feed each other’s demons by denigrating one another or we can nurture our better angels and inspire the same angels into the hearts of others by letting grace, not antagonism, be our moral compass. This is how you honor the life of Philando, be more like him and feed love to this broken world the same way he once fed students at J. J. Hill Montessori School with love. Rest in eternal peace young brother Philando #Requiem4Philando
None are greater than the other, we all are greater when we love and help one another::
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A song for Philando and all we keep losing to mindless violence, tears in heaven are shed for those who keep perishing here on earth.
Check out the Ghion Cast below about LOVE.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.