The last thing the world will probably remember of Philando Castile will be his bloody T-shirt.
The 32-year-old was clutching it, moaning in pain in the driver’s seat of his car. Above him, a police officer had a gun trained through an open window. On Wednesday night, Castile, a black man from St. Paul, Minn., became the 508th person shot to death by police this year.
His girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, streamed the bloody aftermath live on Facebook.
Hours earlier, Alton Sterling, a black man from Baton Rouge, La., died on camera. Two videos show police wrestling the 37-year-old father of five to the ground and shooting him in the chest.
The footage is so graphic that one can see the life leaving his body as he lay in a grimy parking lot. Number 503.
In a country awash with smartphones and social media accounts, it’s no surprise that these modern-day snuff films have become so commonplace. It has become hard to watch and hard to look away. We cannot become inured. The grotesque footage is and must remain shocking, or else practices will not change.
The circumstances of the videos are often similar. Grainy footage of a man or a woman stopped by police for a minor infraction. A conversation, a flash of anger and then a quick escalation into mortal violence.
Usually it’s a person of color, as borne out by national statistics, but not always. Sometimes, it’s a white person, as a recently released video of a confrontation between Dylan Noble and Fresno police shows. Police say the 19-year-old reached for his waistband and that officers feared for their lives. Number 469.
“This is not just a black issue; this is not just a Hispanic issue,” as President Barack Obama said from Warsaw on Thursday. “This is an American issue that we should all care about.”
Indeed, shootings by police have increased in the first half of this year, according to tally by The Washington Post. And with every video, there’s a new round of shock, anger, sadness, protests and calls for federal investigations.
Distrust of police by the public – and not just African-Americans, but Americans of all races and ethnicities – continues to be a problem.
By now, one would think that law enforcement agencies would accept that transparency really is the best policy. Or, at the very least, the inevitability that videos of police shootings will get out to the public one way or another.
Yet, in states across the country, including California, police groups and their lobbyists fight requirements for body cameras and, once body cameras are in place, about when and how they must release the footage.
Just last week, the California Senate Public Safety Committee rejected a bill, AB 2533, that would have given police officers a way to thwart requests made through the California Public Records Act for body-cam footage. Introduced by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, the bill would’ve applied to cops who were either in the footage or who shot it.
While that sounds like a way to protect police officers from bad press, keeping secrets from the public can backfire. If the live streaming of Castile bleeding to death proves if anything, it’s that.
The problem isn’t the public seeing video of police shooting people, as appalling and horrific as the footage may be. The problem is the response to those shootings. Transparency is no longer an option. It’s reality.