“Mom, please stop cussing and screaming ’cause I don’t want you to get shooted.”
Those are the words Diamond Reynolds’ four-year-old daughter Dae’Anna uses as she consoles her mother in the back of a police car. She has just witnessed her mother’s boyfriend Philando Castile get shot at seven times by officer Jeronimo Yanez who would later claim that he believed Castile was reaching for a weapon.
“Ok, give me a kiss,” Reynolds responds. “My phone just died.”
“I can keep you safe,” Reynolds’ daughter says.
“It’s Ok, I got it, Ok,” Reynolds responds as the two embrace and her daughter cries.
The interaction, captured on video and released after the acquittal of Yanez in the murder of Castile last week, is a harsh reality present throughout the United States. The epidemic of police violence against black people seems inescapable in the social media age, as videos of black assault and death at the hands of police officers seem to circulate on a weekly basis. But how scarring and traumatizing it must be to witness such firsthand, especially for Reynolds and Dae’Anna. Both had to experience someone they love die right in front of their eyes and couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
Dae’Anna’s composure in the video is as powerful and poignant as it is heartbreaking as she is consoling her mother and assuring her that she can keep her safe. To be a child, blissfully naive to the world’s cruelties and injustices, is a privilege often not allotted to black children. In less than 10 seconds that little girl’s life was changed, her innocence taken and exchanged with a moment that no child should ever have to experience, that will haunt her for the rest of her life.
To be controlled, emotionless, stoic — such characteristics seem to be instinctual for black people. They are the difference between life and death — a line we have been treading in America ever since we were forcefully brought here. Seeing Dae’Anna and Reynolds calm and collected, occasionally displaying their anger at the injustice that just occurred in front of their very eyes, and then seeing Yanez, cursing frantically and acting like that of a disobedient child, speaks volumes.
How is it that this little girl has more composure than this grown ass man? How is it that this little girl can console her mother even after witnessing her father’s killing, while this grown ass man needs to be consoled for a murder he committed?
The questions are rhetorical — black people know the answers.
The volatility of police officers has not only resulted in the mental but physical deaths of black children. In late April came the death of Jordan Edwards in Balch Springs, Texas, who was shot in the back of the head by former officer Roy Oliver. A 15-year-old, Edwards had done nothing wrong but everything right: he, his two brothers, and two friends left a party once a gun was fired in hopes of escaping violence. They still encountered violence when Oliver fired an AR-15 into the car Edwards was in, with initial police reports saying that the car was heading toward Oliver when it was actually moving away from him.
Three years prior was the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio. Former police officer Timothy Loehmann shot Rice twice within two seconds of arriving at the recreational center where Rice was reportedly “sitting on a swing and pointing a gun at people.” Loehmann never once yelled at Rice to put down what ended up being a toy gun, instead quickly resorting to shooting the child. In the aftermath of the shooting, it was revealed that Loehmann had been deemed an emotionally unstable recruit and unfit for duty from a previous job as a police officer in the Cleveland suburb Independence.
Eight months before Rice’s death, the American Psychological Association released a study that found black children (particularly black boys) as young as 10 are not given the same presumption of childhood innocence as their white peers, with black kids considered to be much older than what they are, perceived to be guilty, and face police violence if accused of a crime.
As the study reported:
Researchers reviewed police officers’ personnel records to determine use of force while on duty and found that those who dehumanized Blacks were more likely to have used force against a Black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize Blacks. The study described use of force as takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock or killing. Only dehumanization and not police officers’ prejudice against Blacks — conscious or not — was linked to violent encounters with Black children in custody, according to the study.
This system and the people employed are supposed to protect and serve us, and yet it is designed to do the opposite for black people. The mistreatment and oppression of black people in America are something black parents simultaneously attempt to shield from their children and make them aware of. In those 10 seconds, Dae’Anna saw firsthand how this country treats and views black people. From witnessing her father die to sitting alongside her mother handcuffed and screaming, that little girl was introduced to a harsh reality that no parent would want their child to experience. Now, if Reynolds hadn’t already given Dae’Anna the talk she surely has now, her little girl having to digest the fact that as soon as she was born the odds were already stacked against her, because of the color of her skin.
These officers get the privilege to continue to live their lives, while their victims are slain and the survivors of those victims scarred in a way that they will never truly recover from. That we always have to remain composed in the face of instability from people who are supposed to serve and protect us, is a problem reflective of an epidemic that continues to plague this country.