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Black Lives Matter.

I'm Not Shutting Up About It Anymore

by Johanna Hartlein

[Original Facebook post from June 16, 2017]

This is going to be a long one. If you are my friend, hang with me for a bit if you will.

I have changed in the past 6 months. I am sure many of you have noticed.

Most of my posts these days are about social equality, specifically racial injustices and oppression within our country.

Some of you roll your eyes, some of you miss the "old" carefree (blind and deaf) Johanna.

A few weeks ago, some of you even participated in a long disparaging post about me made by a person I had blocked many months ago...and that’s okay (I never read the post or comments. It matters not to me).

That naive girl who I was is not coming back.

In her place has emerged a woman who is less focused on your comfort or laughter and more consumed with justice and equity; a woman who is no longer a Democrat or a Republican but instead an advocate for the marginalized.

Some of you will unfriend me after this post and that is okay too. Do what you must.

The profound silence on my facebook today is deafening.

The police officer who shot Philando Castile has been found, "not guilty".

I am devastated and I wonder, as I look at the pictures of our pork chops and of our fun vacations and of our cute dogs....did anyone even notice?

Did anyone care? We live in the Bible Belt of small town midwestern rural America.

Castile was a legal gun owner. He announced to the officer that he had a firearm and a legal permit.

Imagine that it is your loved one (since many are proud conceal and carry gun owners) who announces to a police officer that he has a firearm and then your loved one is shot and killed while getting his wallet by the very person who has sworn to protect and serve you.

Before you say that Castile COULD have been reaching for his gun, ask yourself: is that a reasonable assumption? That a man out to celebrate his birthday who has worked in a school cafeteria for a decade and is beloved, who has no CRIMINAL record, who announces that he has a legal firearm to the officer---that this same man decides to go for his gun with a toddler who he loves in the backseat and his beloved girlfriend beside him?

Why would he do that?

Please do not suggest he might have been high on pot. Do you really think that marijuana caused him to do that (keep in mind I know that most of you reading this have imbibed in the reefer, as have I)?

Did Castile really deserve to be pulled over in the first place with his "wide bridged nose" (the reason why the officer thought he could be a robbery suspect)?

What if the actual robber instead had blue eyes and it was your son or husband or brother who got pulled over for blue eyes and then killed?

And where were the NRA lovers in this case? Shouldn’t they have been clamoring to support a legal gun owner?

Case after case, I hear all of these excuses from all of us white folks--he had a record, she was mentally ill, he was high, she didn’t listen, he resisted.

Castile did everything right and he was killed and his killer will not serve one single day in jail.

I support law enforcement.

I have 2 brother-in-laws who are officers.

I have an uncle who was a judge and several uncles who were parole officers, a cousin and uncles who are lawyers.

I love them individually and am proud of all of them--but I also support criminal justice reform and education and training to combat racial profiling.

Was this officer scared? Probably so.

Did that give him the right to take a life?

Was his fear really justified?

Should police officers have a right to shoot someone just because they feel fearful?

Would another officer in his position had shot Castile?

These are questions we must consider.

(Valerie Castile, mother of Philando Castile, looks at a photo button of her son during a press conference on the state Capitol grounds in St. Paul, Minnesota.)

For those who would say that Castile had a “long record”, he had something like 50 minor traffic infractions, most of them related to unpaid fines, late fees, license suspension, then being pulled over with a suspended license. $5000 in fines to be precise. No violence, no criminal actions. These 50 small infractions, more than one per year, in my eyes, point to racial profiling since most of the infractions were not things that could be detected until they pulled him over.

So why was this officer scared that Castile, with his family in the car, was reaching for a gun? In my mind, there is little doubt it was that wide set nose that got him pulled over to begin with, those dark eyes, that menacing, threatening, innocent blackness. And this unjustified fear is certainly not limited to police officers (racial disparities occur in housing, health care, education, etc) and it is not even limited to only white police officers.

To some extent, this fear of "other" exists in all of us (me too)--inherent biases that nonetheless marginalize and kill people.

This is why Black Lives Matter is necessary.

When black people are choked to death for selling loosies,

and shot and killed for running away (unarmed and shot in the back),

for driving while black,

for wearing a hoodie,

for being a child and playing with a toy gun (Tamir Rice was shot within 2 seconds of police arriving, no one was charged),

for being mentally ill (and unarmed).....

then Houston, we have a problem (and by Houston, I mean "white America", me included).

I fully understand and respect that police put their lives on the line every day for our safety.

I fully believe that no officer wants to ever have to shoot his or her gun at anyone, black, white or brown.

But these ingrained prejudices and the stereotypes fed to all of us for our entire lives will play a role in what and who we fear or suspect, even if there is little validity to these fears. Can we really continue to let black and brown people die because we are afraid of their blackness?

And why can one NOT support both black and blue lives?

The only reason that someone would feel that the two are in opposition is if you believe that black people are the enemy of police. And if you do believe that black people are the enemy of police, why?

Please do not come at me with, “All Lives Matter”. All Lives Matter is a big fat lie.

If someone said they were raising awareness for cancer, I would not say, "But wait, I have MS. MS is important too. Stop asking for attention and support for cancer. It means you are not supporting MS. All diseases matter".

Do you see how dismissive that is?

So today, I draw my line in the sand.

I am coming "out of the closet" once and for all, loud and proud.

Black Lives Matter.

Philando Castile.

Say his name.

Join me in this fight.

There is power in numbers and until white voices speak out and recognize our own individual and systemic biases, then true equality for marginalized people of color can never be achieved.

[For more on Philando Castile: http://n.pr/2a30zqZ ]

Johanna Hartlein: 'I am a 40 yr old nurse practititioner and mom living in rural Illinois, outside of St Louis. Although my racial justice fight largely started with Trump, I realize now that people of color have been fighting literally for hundreds of years and that it is way past time for me to follow their lead.'

Johanna is a member of Real Talk: WOC and allies for racial justice and anti-oppression. Everything she knows, she learned from WOC​.

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