Lessons and Thoughts about Philando Castile and Justice


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Philando Castile had a license to carry. Philando Castile told the officer he had a weapon in the car. Philando Castile told the officer he was not reaching for his weapon. Philando Castile reassured the officer he was reaching for his identification. Philando Castile was then shot at 7 times. Philando’s girlfriend starts to live stream after the shooting, showing a bloody Philando Castile in his last hours. Philando’s daughter is in the backseat. The young girl, probably not old enough to process the full weight of what exactly happened, tries to comfort her mother. It comes to light that Philando was pulled over due to an alert out on a robbery suspect. Apparently, Philando matched the suspect’s description. Philando allegedly was high as the officer said he smelled marijuana. The officer believes he’s in danger and must open fire. The officer does. Philando dies. A trial ensues. 11 months later, no conviction. Same story, different city. Lather, rinse, repeat. Here on some thoughts I’ve wrestled and come to terms with as I processed this past week with tears, anger, and the smallest glimmer of hope.

God is Justice

God is justice. For justice is the response to sin. All sin. And only God can fully mitigate out proper justice for sin. And He did so in His Son Jesus Christ. Justice is His. Vengeance is His. God is holy and righteousness and therefore only true justice will satisfy His wrath. And He will bring it. He will soon rid the earth of all injustice and those who perform it. Only those who have faith in the work of His Son will be safe from His justice. I cannot fight for justice here and not talk about the universal justice the Lord will one day bring. My grace in these scenarios is not some weak, passive engagement but rather a desire to be God-gloryfing above all, even when I’m angry and upset. And I don’t do that well. But I must, in all things, bring glory to Him. And one way I do that is by pursuing justice in all things.

I’m No More Protected Than Philando

Philando followed every command given to him. I haven’t seen one piece of evidence that without of doubt proves anything but that. Most kids are taught to respect police officers because they are there to help and it is what good citizens do. I was taught that same lesson, but it was more for my own survival than a citizenship award. My parents saw Rodney King. They know what can happen to non-compliant black people when they are pulled over. I’ll admit my respect for officers comes more from a desire to not give them any reason to harm me than from a respect for the position itself. When you can do all the right things and still have your life taken, you learn quickly, then, that survival isn’t just about doing the right things. Eric Garner was choked on video. Trayvon Martin was killed by an over-zealous neighborhood watchmen. Amadou Diallo was shot at 41 times, 19 of them hit. Sean Bell and 2 others were shot 50 times the day before his wedding. Oscar Grant was shot in the back, handcuffed, on a subway platform. What do all these, and countless others tell me? That my life can be taken simply for looking like it should be taken. I look suspicious of a crime, therefore I have committed it. And not just me. My grandfather, my father, by two little brothers, uncles, cousins, and so forth. Basically, I am a Philando Castile that might or might not happen.

Police Reform Must Happen

I have police officer friends. I know that sounds like the trivial “I can’t be racist because I have black friends”, but being friends with officers has allowed me to see the other side of the coin. They are just as much afraid of not coming home to their loved ones as I am when I get pulled over. I understand, respect that, sympathize with that and affirm that. But, and I tread lightly but purposely here, it is my belief that police officers are here to protect and to serve. And a lot of them do that everyday, very well, without any thanks. But there are times where officers don’t do that. And when that happens, there should be justice. It is no different than a citizen who commits a crime. Good citizenship can be argued to be doing anything that doesn’t directly take away from the wellness and flourishing of the place of citizenship. So a crime would be something that falls into the opposite of that category. And when crimes are committed, justice should be had. Similarly, when a police officer does something other than protect or serve, that should be noted. I’m not asking for a police witch hunt or police perfectionism, but I am asking for change. When something like what happened to Philando Castile can be seen as normal procedure, then normal procedure should be questioned. No police officer would want what happened to Philando to happen to their child and have the courts basically say that it is just business as usual. As a citizen in America, I want to affirm the good that so many police everywhere do, and also challenge the opposite that is very rarely addressed.

The Church Must Make Up It’s Mind

Church, I love you. I love you because Jesus created you and adopted me into you. But I’m wrestling with the thought that churches in America (yes, specifically the predominately white churches) are dead-set on becoming irrelevant, specifically when it comes to issues on race and justice. The question to ask is, do you truly believe justice is being served in this area? I’m not asking that churches always make a public statement for every injustice it sees (churches would never be able to shut up, if so). But if you can cry out for the unborn, if you can fight against sex trafficking, then why the silence on Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Walter Scott? My opinion is that the church in America hasn’t fully made up it’s mind on whether these things are actual injustices. Sure, they are tragedies and travesties. But injustices? The jury is still on that one. So, church, as your POC congregants sit in the pews, listen to your sermons, do community with you, allow you into their hurt and pain when things like this happen, just know that we are all wondering, “Do they really get it?” And I’m not sure if you do. And until you are willing to see that actual injustices are taking place in these events, I’m not sure if you will. But know this: the role of the church is to show the current kingdom of God has already taken residence on earth. Which means when injustice happens, we should speak. If not, then what are we really doing here? My prayer, in the midst of the somewhat pointed rebuke, is that we would not be divided over this but that the pursuit of justice would unify us as a church; as His church. The fact that there is still a black church and a white church, separated by more than just cultural preferences, is an issue. What a beautiful opportunity we have been given in America to withstand the divisive plans of the enemy and join together in pursuing justice in all areas, specifically race.

Let Justice Roll Down

I’m a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and as such I believe that His kingdom has already come and will come more fully in His second coming. But His kingdom being here already means that we should fight for justice in every public arena, if we really want the Father’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. I cannot look to man to give me justice without the holy conviction that I serve a God who is Justice Himself. It is from that conviction that I must press on in the fight of justice, specifically surrounding race, and know that I am fighting for what is right even when it feels like I might be the only one doing so. Ultimately, it is God’s just nature and character that should affirm my feelings towards and pursuits of justice, not my own. And it is in that conviction that I can press forward. So, let justice roll down like waters from a mighty stream! Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.

Gospel Music And Fighting to Feel

Today the verdict to the case regarding the killing of Philando Castile was handed down. Not Guilty. No surprise. And yesterday was the culmination of the #SBC17 drama, where a vote declined the passing of a resolution that resolved to denounce all alt-right and white supremacy groups. It was later found out that the reason for the motion not passing was due to uneasiness regarding the wording of the resolution, as well as some ignorance regarding what “alt-right” meant. Still, black and white evangelicals all over social media took to their keyboards and the firestorm ensued. I was angry at the SBC17 controversy. But after the news of Philando Castile, I felt nothing. Not because I didn’t actually have feelings about it. I remember the video. I remember the words Philando’s girlfriend spoke on the video before bursting into tears. I remember hearing their daughter in the background try to console her mother, as she probably had no real way to process what she just witnessed. When I think about what kind of repressed trauma that little girl might have, its hard to not feel anything. And I felt a lot when the video was first released.

But now, I don’t feel much. I can’t feel much. If I cried every time an injustice toward black skin was overlooked and unpunished, I’d be dehydrated from the tears I could cry. If I allowed myself to get angry every time I had to defend the dignity of my black brothers and sisters to my white brothers and sisters after a tragedy like this happens, I would probably have no ability to have any close white friends. If I allowed the stress to overwhelm me every time I looked to the church to be vocal about these events, when all I get in return is abortion rhetoric used, essentially, to “all lives matter” my hurt, I might not be here today. (News flash: black people care about the unborn too; we just seem to be a little preoccupied making sure those unborn don’t grow up to one day get shot for having a toy gun on the playground).

So no, I don’t always allow myself to have emotions. I don’t allow myself to feel because I’m afraid to. I’m afraid of having to walk around with the pain of what it means to be black in America. So I sometimes choose to not feel, so I can survive. I’m not saying its right, or smart, or the healthy thing to do. But I choose it. And even still amidst the struggle to not struggle, against the backdrop of closing my eyes as the world around me seems to burn, I’m reminded that I must feel. For feeling keeps me human, it keeps me in the fight against injustice and, more importantly, it keeps my need for God in plain view.

There’s a reason why I will always prefer old gospel music over any genre of Christian music to come out. Gospel music was cooked in the furnace of struggle, oppression, and unwavering hope. It is the only genre of music that allows me to struggle with both despair and hope. And when I listen to it, when I hear the struggle in the beauty, when I can feel the hope fighting through the despair, when every note climbs up and down like the path of struggle for freedom itself, I’m reminded of three things: God is good and will always be, injustice is sin and sin must be destroyed, and this will not be how it always is. Gospel music helps me feel again. Gospel music helps me hope again. Gospel music lifts my eyes off of my struggle and onto the One who will one day do away with injustice. Gospel music helps fight the feeling to not feel.

There will be another Philando Castile. I pray to God it won’t be so, but I can’t put hope in that. There will be another SBC controversy (they are 0-2 this year, so far). There will be another argument with a white friend who just can’t get it. There will be another instance of indifference in the church on this issue. But God is good; and so is the music that talks about Him. So, I’m fighting to feel.