Ailts: Creating change from the Castile conversation

“Reforming our police force and our prison-industrial complex begins with us talking”

Ellen Ailts

Our country has once again been swept by waves of indignation and sadness in the wake of the not guilty verdict of Philando Castile’s murder, with thousands of citizens taking to the streets of St. Paul on June 16 to march in protest.

The injustice in cases of police violence is cyclical and exhausting — the brutality, the acquittal, the outrage, the futile suffering. These incidents have brought to the forefront the ugly side of American culture, the violence, racism and excessive force used to uphold the status quo. The sinking feeling that this will continue to happen is, of course, not unjustified — neither is the feeling that something needs to change.

But in a society in which prejudice and unjust use of force are so deeply embedded in our essential character as a nation, it’s up to the people to change the status quo, to fundamentally alter the culture and, ultimately, the policies that govern us. As an institution that has continued to uphold systemic racism and inherently sides with power, the government cannot be the beginning of the solution.

It’s up to the people to call for change and refuse to accept an alternative, to teach each other empathy and resilience, to demand substantial changes such as body cams, bias screening, promoting the use of other weapons besides guns during training, and further safety measures to hold the police accountable and make them more cautious by extent.

However, a coalition of citizens needs to begin with a conversation. This issue is, of course, hotly debated — everyone experiences a different America and brings different perspectives and thoughts to the table. But for our country to truly have a dialogue, we all must be able to speak freely, admit when we’re wrong or misinformed and move forward from there.

No group should be made to feel like a monolith — including the police — and nobody’s experiences should be invalidated. When it comes to violence perpetrated by the state with innocent civilians as victims, we need to especially listen to those whose lives have been affected the most by police negligence, bias and brutality. Simply acknowledging the differences in race and class that constitute a different experience as an American citizen fosters an important foundation for future understanding.

College campuses, of course, are consistently a breeding ground for this kind of debate, and we should welcome it in a free and open forum. The difficulty in talking about these issues is that it often challenges entire worldviews.

People naturally get defensive when they are told they are part of the problem, so we should try to broach the topic thoughtfully. Hatefulness often simmers silently in dark corners, and people who quietly hold biased beliefs, or maybe don’t even acknowledge their own bigotry, are essential in upholding toxic power structures.

This isn’t just a plea for white people to analyze how they fit into society and how they can personally hold themselves accountable, but for everyone to work together to recognize our own biases, especially, the social, cultural and political capital we each disparately wield based on our race, sex, class and occupation.

Reforming our police force and our prison-industrial complex begins with us talking to each other, trying to empathize and understand what is necessary to hold public figures and institutions of power accountable to the will of the people.