Reminder: Conservative Media Outlets Falsely Smeared Philando Castile As A Criminal After His Death

The Minnesota police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile has been acquitted, to absolutely no one’s surprise. Despite the fact that Castile had done nothing wrong, he was gunned down during a routine traffic stop by a hypervigilant officer who knew that he works in a country where there is no penalty for impulsively executing a black man at the slightest hint of concern.

Also to no one’s surprise, at the time of Castile’s death conservative media outlets immediately began pushing the narrative that the latest brown-skinned victim of America’s increasingly-militarized police force was a criminal who deserved to be shot. This happens like clockwork, every single time without exception. When Eric Garner was suffocated to death by police on camera and in broad daylight, Breitbart, Talking Points Memo, the New York Post and many other conservative outlets ran stories about how Garner was a “career criminal” who “had it coming”. When Oscar Grant was shot in front of hundreds of witnesses while lying face down with his hands behind his back, he was painted as a thug and media outlets eagerly reported on his criminal history. The phenomenon also comes up when it’s simply black men being killed by people who aren’t even police officers, like when white supremacist James Harris Jackson drove to New York City for the explicit purpose of killing black men, and the New York Daily Post spent a portion of its widely-circulated article gratuitously babbling about how his victim had a criminal record, or when 17 year-old Trayvon Martin was killed by America’s biggest douchebag and the media spent time criticizing his choice of clothing and digging through his school detention records.

This universal practice of smearing black victims of police brutality as criminals and thugs was made more difficult in Castile’s case, however, because Castile did not have a criminal record. He was a beloved pillar of his community, nicknamed “Mr. Rogers with dreadlocks” in the school he worked at, where his colleagues reported that he was a role model for hundreds of children. So what did conservative media outlets do in order to smear his name? They falsified a criminal history on Castile’s behalf.

That’s right, if you are a brown-skinned man who has been shot by a police officer in America and you do not have a criminal history for conservative media to slander you with, have no fear: they’ll manufacture one for you. This viral Conservative Treehouse article tore its way through social media in the wake of Castile’s death, was republished in multiple other conservative outlets, and surfaced in every single online conversation that I saw about the shooting at the time. The article is entirely comprised of outright lies, baseless conjecture, poor thinking and nonsensical assertions, but any reader whose confirmation bias requires support for the police and/or condemnation of the slain black man came away from the article believing that Castile was a robbery “suspect” who had almost certainly robbed a local convenience store four days earlier, and who had no permit for the firearm he was carrying.

The article really has to be seen to be believed (here’s an archive if you want to deprive the scumbags of clicks), and Snopes actually does a fine job of ripping it to shreds. Citing a few grainy photographs, some gibberish about concealed carry permits in a state that makes no distinction between concealed and open carry, and the completely false insinuation that Castile had no permit to carry a firearm, the Conservative Treehouse did everything it could to make the ridiculous case that a man who’d been dutifully working in a supervisory position at a school for years had suddenly decided to start robbing convenience stores at gunpoint. This idea would only make sense to someone viewing it through the lens of garden variety American racism, a reality tunnel in which black men can be expected to spontaneously begin committing violent crimes willy nilly for no reason, but plenty of people bought it hook, line and sinker.

My husband watched the murder of Oscar Grant at the hands of officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale BART station early New Year’s Day of 2009. He was on the train with a window seat directly in front of the location where the shooting took place, and he says that the thing that’s stuck with him most was how unsurprising the shooting itself was. The police on the scene were already so angry, so intensely escalated, that he was already praying that nobody would draw their gun before it happened.

“It was in the air from the get-go,” my husband told me when I asked for his memory of the event. “Someone was going to have to die.”

America has a race problem, and America has a policing problem. For some idiotic reason these have both become politicized statements, with obnoxious conservatives denying both these undeniable assertions outright and obnoxious liberals using them to manipulate votes out of minorities while doing absolutely nothing to reduce the militarization of the US police force or address any of the other underlying problems in any meaningful way, but that doesn’t make them any less true. America has a race problem, America has a policing problem, and America’s corrupt corporatist political system refuses to do anything about either of these things.

America has a race problem, America has a policing problem, and these can both be addressed if America fixes its social and economic justice problem. If police officers are trained more as social workers than as street infantrymen, more geared toward helping people in trouble than harming them, shootings of the poor, the mentally ill and the other victims of the brutal US Walmart economy will necessarily be reduced. If the weight of that crushing Walmart economy is reduced and increasing America’s insane and immoral prison population ceases to be the prefered means of addressing the problems which necessarily come hand-in-hand with severe income and wealth inequality, tensions between communities and those responsible for maintaining order will necessarily subside.

But your government isn’t doing this for you, America. The power establishment which rules your country is only interested in keeping you fixated on partisan bickering while keeping you disempowered and exploited. Fight that power establishment and restore power to the people so that your nation can finally truly know liberty and justice for all.

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I write about the end of illusions.

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