I’ve seen the place where Philando Castile died on the Internet many times. But I set my feet on that ground in a recent trip to Minneapolis. On the day America watched him bleed to death in front of his family, I committed to invest my mind, time, and body into the struggle for racial justice in America. So going to the place he breathed his last was very meaningful for me.
At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, the news of another police-involved death would be met with chants or posts of “Justice for [name of victim]!” Justice for Trayvon Martin! Justice for Sandra. Bland! Justice for Philando Castile!
In the years since Mr. Castile’s death, I’ve wondered what justice for any of these victims of state violence may be. For some, justice looks like incarcerating officers who use lethal force on civilians when its clearly unwarranted. For others, justice looks like abandoning our current criminal justice systems and institutions, replacing them with practices of restorative justice.
For me, I’ve often felt that the only justice for those unnecessarily killed by police brutality is to change our society. To me, justice for all of those who’ve been lynched looks like a world where death by racial profiling is no longer normal. That is what has been fueling the intellectual quest I’ve been on these past years for insight about social change
Full disclosure: I’ve second-guessed my position from time to time. I’ve wondered if it were appropriate to feel so connected to an event that happened so far away from me, involving people I’ve never met. I’ve wondered if I’m centering myself in a tragedy that robbed a mother of her son, a woman of her partner, and a child of her father. Am I politicizing someone’s loss?
I already know the answer to these questions: the personal is political. Mr. Castile and his family experienced the political and social forces we’ve been protesting for centuries on July 6, 2016: pulled over for driving while black, executed without due process, and criminalized after his death.
Nevertheless, being able to put my feet on that ground where he died was more important than I’d imagined. There is a memorial there. And there are two statements that are sitting with me as confirmation.
The first is a quote from Nelson Mandela, engraved on a wooden monument, planted there in his honor:
The second is written on a ribbon, tied to a structure holding many other ribbons that speak of how the community should honor Castile’s death:
Both statements state that justice for Philando is to change the world, and I’m listening to that.