The Right To Draw Air

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Yanez. Photo by St. Anthony Police

Less than two months after he was filmed hysterically waving his gun and screaming expletives at a bloodied dying Philando Castile, having just killed him for pulling out his ID as instructed during a traffic stop, St. Anthony's police officer Jeronimo Yanez has returned to work on desk duty. With the shooting still under review, Yanez, 28, was praised by St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth as a good officer with "a real sound ability when it comes to communicating and relating to people."

Outside the St. Anthony's Police Department last week, Castile's still-grieving family and friends protested Yanez' return as "another slap in the face"and "the wrong signal" to send to a black community reeling both locally and nationwide from too many deaths at the hands of racist police. Castile's mother Valerie charged that police were "trying to sweep (another unjust death) under the rug" but vowed, "We're not going to let this one go." Meanwhile, the community has sought to channel their grief and rage by fundraising for a scholarship in Philando's name at the school where he worked.

They also marked what would have been Philando's 33rd birthday with a private and public celebration, documented in a short powerful film that poignantly insists he be remembered for the good man he was, but also mournfully recognizes, "It could have been any of us." A fierce, loving eulogy, the film highlights the awful irony at the core of Castile's death: The myth of respectability laying bare the fact that even when a black man does everything right - good job, good life, polite tone, gun permit as required - he can still die a senseless death at the hands of police.


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Michael Kleber-Diggs cites the harsh reality that "social acceptability is not granted to everyone - it’s something some people have to earn every moment of every day." And in the current culture and climate, it's never protection enough. "In certain circles, shooting an unarmed person of color in front of a child is only awful if we can prove that the victim deserved to live," he writes. "For them, respectability sources the right to draw air."

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Castile's mother Valerie. On front, Michael Kleber-Diggs protests, photo by Thaiphy Phan-Quang.

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