In a snuff film, there are no scripts. No producers editing the feed. No camera-hungry actors vying for the main part — because in a snuff film, the lead actor winds up stone-cold dead. On July 6, I saw my first snuff film, imbedded in my electronic newsfeed, woven between a happy cat meme and my cousin's "I wish I looked like this without a filter" photo.
I watched a man take his last breath after four bullets tore through his black flesh. Philando Castile, a 32-year-old, well-loved school cafeteria supervisor from Minnesota, lay there gasping with his last breath.
Much like the killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge the day before, Castile's murder appeared unprovoked. The voiceover, narrated by Castile's fiancée, Diamond Reynolds, indicates Castile was reaching for his license — per the officer's directive — in his pocket. Diamond states, "He let the officer know he had a licensed firearm and he was reaching for his wallet."
Later, the officer who pulled the trigger can be heard yelling, "I told him to get his hands up," to which Diamond in the video counters, "You told him to get his ID, sir."
Hours later Castile was pronounced dead, at the hands of those hired to protect us. Too often have these snuff scenes become the common narrative for black Americans. Like millions of minorities, Castile was frequently targeted by police for minor infractions: failing to signal at a light, once for driving with tinted windows. His last, fatal, pullover resulted from Officer Jeronimo Yanez, 28, asserting Castile and Reynolds resembled two robbery suspects, primarily attributed to Castile's "wide set nose," according to dispatch audio.
As Isaac Newton postulated, "To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction." The reaction to the police shootings of these two black men occurred July 7. As in dozens of cities, local Dallas citizens marched peacefully to protest the police shootings — until the tranquil air was punctuated by gunshots fired into the crowd. At the end of the tumult, five officers and one lone gunman, Micah Johnson, would be found dead.
Johnson joined the Army reserves in 2009 and was activated in September 2013 to deploy to Afghanistan. Fellow platoon members describe him as socially awkward, but likable. No one knows why Johnson shot Dallas police officers. It is possible, even likely, his internalized hate and disdain became so overwhelming that he developed a plan to eliminate those he felt had oppressed him in the military, those he felt oppressed his ethnic group. When these same authority figures, in his perception, executed two members of his ethnic group, it may have triggered a temporary state of psychosis.
Is Colorado Springs next? During the first decade of the new century, El Paso County black men were three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites. Black motorists are nearly twice as likely to be pulled over by local police; 11.25 percent of traffic citations were issued to blacks, though they make up just 6.3 percent of our city's population (CSPD reports, 2011-15).
In the next few years, the military is expected to downsize nationally, with thousands of local soldiers likely to be discharged. It is expected that a large proportion will be identified as unfit for duty and may receive types of discharges that will reduce or eliminate their access to VA benefits.
Combining the disproportionate arrests among black men and military downsizing, it is likely that police/citizen tensions will continue to rise. The result, once again, could put Colorado Springs in the national spotlight.
If we choose to stay asleep and quietly allow the Castiles, Johnsons and Sterlings to drift into the forgotten nothingness, we are part of the problem. Their deaths, as tragic as they are, serve as a reminder that more has to be done to level the playing field.
We can stop countering the Black Lives Matter movement with the All Lives Matter movement. The former movement is an in-your-face reminder that not all things are equal. The election of President Obama did not serve as an equalizer between the races. Black Lives Matter attempts to serve as an antithesis to this reminder: "Keep quiet, black man, and forget your enslavement, the atrocities, your struggles. Most of all let us forget."
To which I counter, we will not forget, and I am not alone.
Springs native Dawn Haliburton-Rudy, 37, attended Palmer High, Colorado College, UCCS, Notre Dame and the University of Southern California. She is a social worker and advocate for military families.