Why a Brave Diamond Reynolds Had to Record and Narrate Her Boyfriend's Murder by Cop
The first thing Diamond "Lavish" Reynolds did after a police officer shot her boyfriend multiple times was pick up her cellphone and start livestreaming to Facebook. I am hung up on this detail, and I keep coming back to it. It is not so much the start of a horrific story, but a critical element of the story itself—of Philando Castile’s brutal murder by police, and of what it means to be black in America.
By this I mean that Reynolds, like all black folks in these United States, knew the drill. We have long been aware that to tell the personal stories of police brutality, even when there are unarmed black bodies and citizen eyewitnesses, means nothing. In the last few years, cellphones have made it possible to document the truth that black people have begged this country to acknowledge about the terror carried out by police against our communities. Even that has not brought justice. Television networks have learned that footage of black death is a reliable ratings booster, a loopable backdrop for news reporters more concerned with criminalizing the dead than the shooter. It does not erase racism from our justice system, and it does not bring about convictions of police officers. But shoving black death in the face of white America is often the only hope of inspiring outrage, and so we continue to film.
If you have seen the video, you should recognize the danger Reynolds faced as she held her phone, speaking into it, describing the scene. An agitated cop is screaming at her, pointing a gun at her as he yells. It is the same gun he has just unloaded into her loved one, who sits barely a foot from her; the same gun he fired into a car despite the fact that it contains her 4-year-old daughter, who is in the back seat. Her boyfriend’s shirt is soaked with blood, his moans audible as life leaves him. It is astounding to watch Reynolds' composure in these seconds, as she carefully responds to the cop’s shouted instructions while ensuring that every second goes out live.
That she chose, or had the wherewithal in those terrifying minutes, to Facebook Live stream what was happening instead of merely recording it is important, too. Reynolds created a real-time S.O.S. that went out to her network of friends and family, one that couldn't possibly be erased by authorities later. This was an act of resistance and a necessary safeguard; possibly the only way to ensure the violence didn’t go any further by using the only means most of us have to police the police. And yet just as easily, a reason they might have used to justify another death.
“I wanted everyone in the world to know that no matter how much the police tamper with evidence, how much they stick together, no matter how they manipulate our minds to believe what they want, I wanted to put it on Facebook and go viral so that the people could see,” Reynolds told media earlier today. “I wanted the people to determine who was right and who was wrong. I want the people to be the testimonies here. All of us saw with our eyes — the only thing you guys didn’t see is when he shot, and if I would’ve moved while that gun was out, he would’ve shot me too.”
One day before Philando Castile was shot to death by police, Alton Sterling was murdered by cops in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His death was recorded on the cellphones of more than one bystander. There are reports that he was carrying a gun, though his hands are empty throughout both videos, and carrying a gun is not a criminal offense in an open-carry state. The footage shows Sterling, pinned to the ground by two officers, one whom shoots him at point-blank range. It took 16 months for police to release the mugshot of Brock Turner, the white swimmer from Stanford University who raped a woman. CNN took less than a day to dig up an old mugshot of Alton Sterling for use during a segment seemingly dedicated to justifying his death.
Fatal shootings by police are up this year, according to the Washington Post, rising from “465 in the first six months of last year to 491 for the same period this year.” African Americans are shot at 2.5 times the rate of white Americans. The number of black women fatally shot by cops has increased this last year. (The Post notes that “Nearly the same number of black women have been killed so far this year as in all of 2015 — eight compared with 10.”) There has been an increase in the number of these tragedies that are filmed, rising to 105 over 76 at the same time last year. But again, while there are increasing numbers of charges filed, we have yet to see convictions.
“I chose for the video to go live 10 seconds before my phone died because I wanted everybody in the world to see what the police do and how they roll and it’s not right,” Reynolds stated today. “It’s not acceptable. I didn’t do it for fame. I did it so the world knows that these police are not here to protect and serve us, they are here to assassinate us—they are here to kill us because we are black.”
Louisiana officials announced yesterday that both body cameras worn by the two police officers during the Alton Sterling murder fell off during the scuffle, making the footage useless. This is what happens when things are left to the system, and Reynolds knew that. We all do by now. This is why Reynold’s act was so critical, so astounding. And so unfortunately necessary.