Whenever a black celebrity complains about an instance of police brutality, the armchair internet commentariat often tells them to “stay in their lane.”
“Stay in your lane. You’re just a rapper, a singer, a dancer, an actress, a ballplayer. What do you know about interacting with law enforcement? What do you know about civil rights? Racism isn’t even a real thing anymore, but if it was, it wouldn’t affect you; you’re rich! Your American Dream came true. So shut the fuck up, sit the fuck down, entertain me, and make your money, Bojangles.
“Stay in your lane.”
Here’s the funny thing about staying in your lane — in the most literal sense, that’s just what Philando Castile did. On the day he died, Philando Castile was firmly planted in his lane and driving by the book, albeit with an ostensible cracked taillight.
After he was pulled over, Philando Castile continued to stay in his metaphorical lane. He freely disclosed the existence of the legal firearm that would be used as justification for his death mere seconds later. He calmly answered the officer’s questions and complied with the officer’s orders. Despite having been racially profiled for what had become the umpteenth time, Philando Castile comported himself with a grace that his detaining officer, with the supposed benefit of training, could not. And for the sin of reaching for his identification, of staying in his lane, Philando Castile was shot at seven times in rapid succession.
To partially quote LeBron James from his Monstar days, not one. Not two. Not three. Not four, not five, not six. But seven. With his girlfriend across from him and her young child behind him, he was shot at seven times.
Philando Castile stayed in his lane, and was shot at seven times. Staying in his lane did not save him, because he was pulled out of it and killed anyway. And as of today, his killer will walk free of all charges, because a jury of his peers believed his lawyers’ claims that in his lane or not, Philando Castile presented an imminent threat to his life that warranted seven shots to eliminate.
An imminent threat that evidently, every black person in this country presents to everyone else. And an imminent threat that evidently, black people in this country are not allowed to see in anyone else but ourselves.
It doesn’t matter if you stay in your lane.
It doesn’t matter if you’re armed or not, and if you are, it doesn’t matter if the gun is legal or not.
It doesn’t matter if you tell the officer exactly what your intentions are.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a history professor or a backup shooting guard.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a school administrator or a cafeteria worker.
It doesn’t matter if you have a criminal record or not.
It doesn’t matter how educated you are.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a child or an adult.
It doesn’t matter how much money you do or don’t have.
It doesn’t matter how how calmly or crazed you behave.
It doesn’t even matter if you, yourself, are an officer of the law, with the supposed protections that the thin blue line provides.
It doesn’t matter if you stay in your lane. Much like a second-string guard backpedaling on a fast break with an All-Star pushing the rock, the lane will not save you.
Because in the lane, or out of it, you can be gunned down like a dog. A silly turn of phrase, really– a dog would be afforded more dignity, and a dog’s death would warrant a sterner response. But you, you who are evidently so much less than man’s best friend, can be killed. And all the protests and prayers and postings in the world cannot bring you the posthumous justice you might have otherwise been afforded if you were not black. It doesn’t matter, because in the eyes of those who fervently insist that all lives do, your doesn’t.
It never did. It never will.
And they will yet wonder why there are marches.
So for those of us blessed with the burden of blackness, fuck staying in your lane.
Be it in peace or in power, may your rest be a good one, Philando. Would that it need not have come so soon.
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