I grew up in the Phillips Neighborhood of Minneapolis just a few miles from where Philando Castile was inexplicably shot and killed by a police officer. I graduated from Minneapolis South High School, an inner city school even fewer miles from that spot. He grew up across the Mississippi River in Saint Paul. I didn’t know him, but I might have. I might have played little league baseball or peewee football against him. We were peers.
But we were not peers.
I would regularly catch a ride home from South High after football practice with a couple black teammates from my neighborhood. One of them, our quarterback, had an old Honda a few of us would pile into. More than once, though, he tossed me the keys and said, “You drive.” I never thought much of it at the time. The one time I asked why he simply said, “The cops won’t pull you over.” That was an eye opener, but my eyes were only cracked open.
I didn’t realize what lay beneath those words. I still don’t, really. But America is teaching me. What my quarterback was telling me without telling me was that he was afraid. He was telling me of injustice I knew nothing of but that happened all around me all the time.
I drove like a bat out of hell all around Phillips neighborhood and the surrounding area. I treated stop signs like speed-up signs. I treated the interstate like the Brickyard 500. And I never got pulled over. If I had I would’ve feared the wrath of my parents, not injustice by the people in uniform or the government they represented. Call my luck dumb if you want, but my teammates found it safer to have me, the sole white boy in the car, drive the three miles from school to our neighborhood.
I wasn’t even peers with the young men I shared a uniform with, who I shared the sweat and blood of practice on gravelly field with, who I shared the misery of many losses and the ecstasy of a few wins with. I was something different than they were. Equality stopped at the gate of our run down stadium.
I could have been teammates with Philando Castile. I could have been neighbors. I could have been friends. But we would never have been equals even though we were equal. I am white in America. He was black, just like my South High Tiger teammates.
I grew up white in the North, about as far north as the contiguous forty-eight go. Philando Castile was killed there; this is not solely a Southern problem. We didn’t solve our problems with the Emancipation Proclamation or with Brown vs. the Board of Education or with the dream Martin Luther King Jr. had or with electing of our first Black President. We didn’t stop the hate or the inequality.
The murder of Philando Castile was not the first we have seen, but it quite literally hit closer to home for me than others. I have driven that street. I know that place. It shouted at me that all is not right and that my whiteness allows me to coast through life without really feeling or even noticing that. I don’t feel guilty for being white – that was not a choice. But I do feel responsible for the position I have been given. The position behind the wheel of that Honda that was not mine at seventeen-years-old and the position to speak now.
I do not have a solution. I do not have a balm. I do not even have a conclusion to these thoughts. How can I? A conclusion is the wrapping up and tying off of something. This is not wrapped up. It is ongoing. It continues. What happened to Philando could happen today or tomorrow in your neighborhood or mine, and sadly it probably will. I simply hope people will notice and do what we can to call for change, to participate in change, to be change. Maybe these memories and these thoughts will be an impetus for that.