Diamond 'Lavish' Reynolds, Public Witness

On the killing of Philando Castile

In one America, summer is an easy season. The heat encourages all sorts of flight from the compulsory lives that are lived indoors. Citizens live more publicly during the northern summer. Going outside is romanticized as retreat — the road trips, the spontaneous walks, the dips into community pools find the population at its most playful, its most exposed. Diamond "Lavish" Reynolds, the Minnesota resident who live-streamed the aftermath of the police shooting of her boyfriend, Philando Castile, Wednesday night, knows that there is another America, defining this other country, a different summer. Diamond Reynolds is living what it means to be public, black, and exposed at the end of a hot July day.

She documented the day so her Facebook followers, the state of Minnesota, and the nation might see. Reynolds’s graphic, nearly 10-minute recording is a particularly brave instance of citizen journalism, sousveillance of the police, and resourceful use of social media technology. "I wanted it to go viral," she said this morning, joining a group protesting outside in Falcon Heights after being released from a prolonged police questioning. Reynolds’s resolve recalls other black mothers who have stood up for their slain families under a hot sun, even while being victimized themselves. In this, she joins Lucia McBath, Sybrina Fulton, Lesley McSpadden, and a host of other public black women. It feels dehumanizing, meaningless to even call it heroism; it’s survival, and it is morbid.

Reynolds, Castile, and her 4-year-old daughter were taking a ride. A black man, woman, and girl, out in the summer sun. A police car stopped them at Larpenteur and Fry, in the city of Falcon Heights, Minnesota, allegedly on account of a broken taillight. When the live stream begins, Castile is moaning and soaked in blood, slumped in the driver’s seat. In under 30 seconds, Reynolds informs her viewers of the event. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune transcript of the video: "They killed my boyfriend. He’s licensed ... so he’s licensed to carry. He was trying to get out his ID and his wallet out his pocket and he let the officer know that he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet and the officer just shot him in the arm."

Reynolds is measured and steely as she rattles off the information surrounding her boyfriend’s eventual death. The officer is visibly agitated. He is pointing his gun at a dying human being, and is only communicating that Reynolds keep her hands where they are and saying "fuck," over and over again. The daughter in the backseat is mostly silent. Reynolds listens; she listens the entire time. She calls him "sir," strategically, a preemptive defense against the potential argument that she was rude, or angry, should she even survive this ordeal. She guards for the officer’s fatal fragility, code-switches for him. The dynamic is impressive and grotesque. She keeps her hands where they are instead of reaching over and applying the pressure against the bleeding wounds that may not have saved Castile but would have been a balm to them both.

Reynolds is removed from the car, handcuffed, forced to her knees by other officers from the St. Anthony Police Department. Hers is a position of subjugation, and also of prayer. This is when her composure, or shock, breaks. She launches into a tearful prayer for Castile, whom the officers have not yet helped, asking God to keep him alive and giving him last rites should he die. Their birthdays are this week. They had been planning to celebrate them together. Philando Castile, a week shy of his 35th birthday according to Reynolds, has a lavishly beautiful, Shakespearean name. The phone’s on the ground, facing up at a full sheet of blue sky.

This is how we live in the summer, in our America. For black people, this is deadly heat; Do the Right Thing summer heat, Stevie Wonder’s "Hotter Than July" summer heat. Sundown town weather. Fatal public interactions between police officers and excessively empowered vigilantes and black people are hardly ever out of season. But the spectacle of these lynchings is heightened in genial weather. Mike Brown lying in the middle of the intersection; Jordan Davis in the truck; Sandra Bland on her road trip; Trayvon Martin on the sidewalk; Sean Bell outside of the club; and just one day before the murder of Castile, Alton Sterling in a parking lot. The flagrancy of public murder exacts an exponential toll on the black life that survives; it renders the power of witness moot. The reminder isn’t that we are alive. It’s that we have yet to die.

Reynolds’s video stream ends with her detained in the back of a squad car, her daughter perched against the seat. She wails for Castile, whom she senses is gone. The girl, already tragically wise, takes up a position of protection for her mother. She inherits the mantle of witness. "It’s OK, Mommy," she says. "I’m right here with you."