My 4-year-old son asked me, “Mommy, why are you crying?” My heart breaks as I question how to explain to my preschooler that we live in a world where people are murdered because of the color of their skin. Diamond Reynolds is also the mother of a 4-year-old. A 4-year-old child who witnessed her mommy’s boyfriend, her best friend, Philando Castile, dying in the front seat of their car, still wearing his seatbelt, after being shot by the police. This little girl already knows, at only four, the devastating reality that I struggle to explain to my son.
This is not the first time I’ve had to explain death to my young child. My aunt Shelley was shot and killed at the Hennepin County Government Center Courthouse on Sept. 29, 2003. I was 25 years old and Shelley’s murder devastated my family. I see that devastation in the faces of Philando’s family in addition to the betrayal and pain that comes with being shot at by police who should serve and protect ALL citizens.
Last night I attended the vigil for Philando Castile at the JJ Hill Montessori School, where he worked. His mother, Valerie Castile, bravely spoke about being hurt and confused that her son was taken from her. Philando’s sister, Alize, spoke about how much her brother loved children though he never got to have any of his own and how all the kids at JJ Hill Montessori were “his kids.” Numerous educators spoke of their love for “Mr. Phil.” The Castile family, the JJ Hill School family and our entire community is grief-stricken. Minnesota is worse off without Philando. Philando’s family led us in a march from the school to the Governor’s residence and I was joined by my friends from Moms Demand Action, my fellow gun violence survivors from the Everytown Survivor Network, and the entire community devastated by this loss.
I volunteer as a Survivor Engagement Lead with Everytown for Gun Safety’s Survivor Network, a community of gun violence survivors and loved ones of victims. We often talk about the 91 Americans who are killed with guns every day in our country. The truth is American gun violence disproportionately affects black Americans, who make up just 14 percent of the U.S. population but suffer more than half of all gun homicides. I will no longer talk about gun violence in my work without also talking about racism. When black shooters kill white victims, 3 percent are deemed justifiable. When white shooters kill black victims, 34 percent are deemed justifiable.
The conversations I have with my 4-year-old son about the police and how they serve to keep him safe and protect him are entirely different than the conversations black mothers are having with their children. These conversations should not be different. We are all mothers. This mother will fight alongside every mother until we see a change in our culture and disarm the hate that perpetuates this deadly problem.
Rachael Joseph is the Survivor Engagement Lead with the Everytown for Gun Safety Survivor Network in Minnesota.