Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that Trayvon Martin had iced tea with him on the night of his death. He had a can of Arizona Watermelon Fruit Juice Cocktail. This version been updated.
Yet another jury has affirmed an intolerable yet persistent reality of life in America: If a black man frightens you, you may kill him with impunity.
The killer of Trayvon Martin, who was armed only with Skittles and a can of Arizona Watermelon Fruit Juice Cocktail, got off. The police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, who had no weapon, was not charged. The trial of the officer who shot unarmed Walter Scott in the back while he was slowly running away ended with a hung jury.
And now there has been an exoneration in the case of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old cafeteria worker who was killed last year during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb. The aftermath of Castile’s killing was streamed on Facebook Live by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds. On Friday, a jury acquitted the officer who shot Castile of manslaughter and all other charges — rendering a judgment that the officer did nothing wrong.
Black lives must be made to matter. They still do not.
Castile, unlike other recent victims whose deaths made the headlines, was armed. When the officer pulled him over — in my view, part of a pattern of routine harassment of black and brown men in far too many communities — Castile announced immediately that he had a weapon and was licensed to carry it. Castile was no “thug.” He was just a regular working-class citizen — a “good guy with a gun.”
But he was African American. The officer asked to see his identification; when he began to pull it out, the officer feared he was going for the gun. At least that’s what the officer testified, and the jury believed him. Castile was shot dead. Fortune saved Reynolds’s 4-year-old daughter, who was in the back seat, from injury.
As I have written, as a practical matter the Second Amendment applies to whites only. Castile tried his best to obey the officer’s instructions. The Constitution gave Castile the right to keep and bear arms — but a Minnesota jury effectively nullified that right. For some reason, the National Rifle Association has not expressed its outrage.
The officer absolved of Castile’s killing, Jeronimo Yanez, is Latino. But the incident would be an example of structural racism even if the officer were African American. Greater diversity in police departments is helpful, but the real problem is the assumption — by officers of any color — that black men can be shot first and questioned later.
I have two adult sons and an infant grandson. “Black lives matter” is not just a slogan. It is an urgent demand that cannot cease until it is met.