Philando, Laquan, and the Way Ahead

This week, I attend my first Community Engagement Commission meeting at the City of Falcon Heights.

The Commission is new, formed in response to the killing of Philando Castile in the officer-involved shooting two summers ago. The city was shocked by the incident; this first-ring suburb of 5,000 people had previously been known more as the site of the Ag Campus of the University of MN, the MN State Fairgrounds, and a drive-through municipality.

I am far from an authority on officer-involved shootings of unarmed black men. But since I moved to the Twin Cities and began at Falcon Heights Church nearly a year ago, I’ve watched and learned from what happened with Philando’s shooting. And as a former Chicago resident, I’ve been watching that city’s response to the Laquan McDonald shooting.

The verdict was a victory for proponents of policing reforms needed regarding unarmed black men. But whether it’s a trend or an aberration remains to be seen.

Office Van Dyke would likely not have been convicted without video evidence and the community’s persistent demand for justice. The city kept the video footage of the shooting from public view for more than a year before civil rights lawyers were able to have it brought to light and used in the case.

The community also kept up pressure on authorities. We need to see victims like Philando and Laquan in their full humanity, not as symbols or tropes or memes in the media or some politician’s pawn in getting reelected.

Through the remembrance events in Falcon Heights, I’ve come to know Mr. Castile more as the person he was through his family and friends, and this has fueled the movement to ensure the response goes beyond simply grief and outrage. Although Officer Yanez was acquitted, the outcry by the Castile family and St Paul area citizens turned a tragedy into change.

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