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On Philando, protests and police: We must see our shared humanity

(As published in the Pioneer Press on July 17, 2016)

By Melvin Carter

Thursday, I attended Philando Castile’s funeral. It was a beautiful and heartbreaking service for a man I feel connected to in many ways. We both went to Central High School, and my girls attended kindergarten at the school where he worked. He was a labor brother, a Saint Paul son who deserved better. Assuming media reports of the police scanner audio are accurate, he wasn’t pulled over for breaking the law. He was pulled over because he had a “wide-set nose.”

I have a wide-set nose too. I’ve been stopped by police more times than I can remember. The first time was outside a church event when I was 17; a friend of mine was there with her dad, who intervened with the officers.

Then there was the time I was stopped and searched after buying my first car, because the dealer hadn’t written the expiration date boldly enough on the temporary paper license in the back window.

Or the time an officer stopped me — after following me six blocks — because he could see a small white glare around the edge of the red tape I’d secured over a crack on my tail-light.

Or the time another officer searched my friend’s vehicle, trying to figure out why we were in “such a nice car.”

Or when I was stopped and questioned for riding a bicycle at dusk without a headlight.

I can’t articulate the impact, the feelings of disrespect and disregard that those encounters invoked.

I also feel a deep and crushing sadness from the violence against police officers this past week, both in Dallas and here at home. As the son of a Saint Paul Police Officer, who worried every day for my dad’s safety, I can relate to their fear and pain.

The summer after my freshman year at Central, my sisters and I watched as a citywide manhunt unfolded for a shooter who’d killed two Saint Paul officers.

Dad was on duty that day.

We sat quiet and scared in front of the television, desperately wishing he would call and tell us that he was okay. The wait was terrible.

Dad made it home safely that night. But the families of Officer Ron Ryan Jr. and Officer Tim Jones never felt that relief.

Along with others — including many of the peaceful protesters — I condemn the acts of violence against police officers this past week as strongly as I would if my father were still on the force. That violence threatens our healing and the progress we hope to make.

Over the last week, I’ve stood in solidarity with friends and strangers to express our sadness, grief and anger over Philando’s death, and I’ve worked with Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to engage with community members and lay the groundwork for next steps. I’ve heard raw anguish, rage, fear and grief from people who just want answers and some small hope that this time might be different.

I find hope in the committed community members who loudly, peacefully and unapologetically demand justice and overdue change.

I find hope in the police officers and state troopers who honorably protect their right to do so.

For my friends protesting in the streets, and for my officer friends patrolling those same streets, my prayer is the same: that we all treat each other as we want to be treated. Policies and practices, systems and structures, laws, cultures, and preconceptions must change, and we cannot stop until we’ve broken this cycle. But if we could start by keeping our eyes and our hearts open to seeing one another’s humanity, if we could start with “do unto others,” that would be a start.

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