In less than a week, two black Americans were shot and killed by police. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, two white police officers shot and killed Alton Sterling, 37, while responding to a call about an armed man. The incident was caught on video and subsequently spread nationally, eventually culminating in the opening of a Department of Justice civil rights division investigation. In Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a suburb of St. Paul, police killed 32-year-old Philando Castile, who had been pulled over for a traffic stop. Castile’s death was also caught on camera, this time by a woman riding in the car with him. Generation Progress spoke to Lamarr Sullivan, a 23-year-old activist from Minneapolis, about Castile’s death, police violence, and the black lives matter movement.
Generation Progress: Last night Philando Castile, 32, died after being shot by police following a traffic stop. What was your immediate reaction?
Sullivan: My immediate reaction was sadness. I cried a number of times about this. The Alton Sterling shooting being not even 48 hours before this one made things even worse because I was already down. Then on top of that, living in Roseville and having a part time job at Buffalo Wild Wings on Snelling [where Castile was pulled over and killed], I drive along Snelling all the time and was actually stopped last week in the same area because of the same reason. So it hits pretty close to home for me.
GP: How have you been involved in the movement against police brutality in Minneapolis, both following the shooting of Philando Castile last night and more generally?
Sullivan: I’ve kind of been contributing by using my social media platform to spread the word of injustice about different situations. I think we downplay the power of social media and I’ve been using to it connect with others who feel the same.
GP: What does Black Lives Matter mean to you?
Sullivan: My particular goals are to get people to care about what is happening with the black community. I don’t care if they are annoyed of hearing my message, it’s important and needs to be talked about. I want people to know how this is affecting real people everyday who don’t have to the privilege of not worrying about it.
GP: How can young people in other states (and countries) help respond to the tragedy in Falcon Heights, Minnesota?
Sullivan: People in other states can help by talking about the Philando Castile case nonstop and going to their government officials and demanding more accountability of cops. It might not help here but we need to stop injustices all around this country.
GP: What role should the legislature (local, state, and federal) be playing in reducing gun violence and police brutality? Are your representatives living up to your expectations? What could they be doing differently?
Sullivan: Legislatures should be working to make investigations into police-involved murders mandatory. They should be working to make gun laws more strict. They should be working to make police consider other courses of action before resulting to deadly force. I don’t think my representatives are doing a good job. Although they did put body cameras on officers, that can only deter so much.
GP: How, in your mind, are the issues of gun violence and police brutality linked?
Sullivan: In Philando Castiles’ case, he was carrying a legally concealed weapons and told that to the officer, which led to his murder. If he legally had a gun then why was he killed? Ultimately, even if we conceal and carry we are still at the mercy of the officers with more artillery than us. It’s a catch-22 for most because they can’t protect themselves from being killed.
GP: How should the gun violence prevention movement react and work to prevent police-involved shootings?
Sullivan: I’m not sure how we can prevent police-involved shootings unless we change the psychology of how police look at black people. We’re seen as animals that need to be put down and police show no mercy in dealing with us. The only people that can stop this are legislators and the “good” cops who don’t stand up for the people that they have pledged to protect.
GP: What’s your next move?
Sullivan: My next move is to keep going with my social media push. I plan on doing a podcast talking about this issue. This issue hits so close to home because this could happen to me. I get stopped by the police a considerable amount and my heart beats a million times a minute when I even see a cop while driving. I will continue to be vocal until this issue is resolved.