Solving gun violence and our immigration problems may seem like two issues that are miles apart, but they illustrate a common thread of how race and ethnicity works in this country; minorities have to constantly justify their existence to America.
The events of last week, President Trump’s extension of DACA (Deferred Action for Children Arrivals) and the Philandro Castile jury decision, illustrate the impact that race has on public policies like gun control, police reform, and immigration.
DACA was a policy implemented by the Obama administration because the Democrats and Republicans cannot come to an agreement over immigration reform, but while the two parties haggle over immigration policy, children who were brought here by their parents without proper documentation are severely restrained from living a full life.
Once they are teens they begin to grind against an economic and social system that punishes them at every step of their lives because of their immigration status. Whether it is getting a driver’s license, going to college, getting a job or freely moving around the country, their status will be a severe detriment to their future. DACA offers these individuals some reprieve so they may get on with their lives — which incidentally is better for all of us.
However, since President Obama implemented DACA, it has been under attack by the Republicans, who argued that it was a severe overreach of executive power. Republicans vowed to end the program if they got control of the White House, but so far the Trump Administration has decided to allow the program to continue for now. In the meantime, DACA recipients live with the anxiety that President Trump may end the program whenever he wishes.
DACA recipients are under extreme pressure as a result. They are beholden to the whims of a President who has proven to show little restraint when provoked. DACA status also institutionalizes the recipients, meaning the government now has a pretty good idea of their location. Should Donald Trump decide to abruptly end DACA, federal authorities will have a good idea of where to find them.
This leaves DACA recipients in a position where they must constantly justify their presence in a country they call home, many of whom have never spent any time outside of the United States. Their right to exist depends on their ability to convince the country that they are worthy of living here, a form of social debt bondage whose security could be recalled at any time.
Similarly, the acquittal of the police officer who shot Philandro Castile without any provocation nor justification, hit to the core of the burden minorities face even as victims. Castile had been stopped by police an astonishing 52 times by the police, a constant reminder of his status as an outsider.
But when Castile was killed, the immediate response was to delve into his background. Did he have any prior arrests? Did he have any children out of wedlock? Was he ever in a gang? We’ve witnessed this reaction time and again from the media and the apologists looking for some reason to justify the killing.
As it happens, Castile was a model citizen. He worked at a school as the supervisor of the cafeteria, having worked his way to that position after years of work in Nutrition Services Department for the school district. Castile did everything right, except be black.
But despite his background, the tragedy of Castile’s death is that our empathy for Castile depends on his ability to justify his existence to the country. If he had been arrested in high school, the story of Castile would have changed. And despite his admirable life, his death still cannot muster the sympathy of organizations like the National Rifle Association.
An important fact in the case is that Castile was armed; he owned a gun that he was licensed to carry. The police officer said he feared that Castile was reaching for his weapon, and the jury believed him based solely on his word, despite no evidence that Castile had any reason to reach for his weapon. His girlfriend filmed Castile as he died. Again, Castile did everything right and 2nd Amendment advocates across the country should be enraged by his death. And yet, the NRA, standard bearers for gun rights, were saying nothing.
The reality minorities face when we confront issues like immigration, police reform and gun control is that our lives depend on our ability to convince the majority that we have earned the privilege of sharing space with them. No amount of facts will change the minds of those who feel this way about it.
Whether Castile was a model citizen with a proper gun permit, or whether DACA recipients have lived as upstanding Americans their whole life, these facts don't seem to matter. And even if we do everything right, the privilege of sharing space is conditional. That is a heavy burden to carry.