White America has always shown a willingness and a boundless patience when it comes to paying for white supremacy. Not in the moral sense or the spiritual sense or the greater-good-for-mankind sense, but in the actual dollars-and-cents sense.
Racial discrimination is actually rather expensive and has been throughout time. Slavery was expensive and borderline inefficient, given the costs of repressing slave revolts. Separate but equal was expensive: two sets of water fountains; two sets of county hospitals; two sets of delivery buses so that children’s books wouldn’t intermingle—that’s a lot of money. Redlining and housing discrimination today cost the government millions.
Of course none of these cold, hard economic facts stopped millions of white Americans from buying into these systems with their tax dollars and their votes, which explains why the city of St. Anthony, Minn., was perfectly comfortable shelling out $3 million in a settlement to Philando Castile’s family. Rather than initiate wholesale change in the city’s Police Department so that something like this never happens again, the city’s residents would rather just drop $3 million.
White America would rather go broke than get woke.
Most reasonable Americans think that Castile’s death at the hands of Officer Jeronimo Yanez was murder. But the calls for deeper inspection into American policing overall, let alone in the small city of St. Anthony, have been almost nonexistent. Castile had been pulled over more than 53 times, and hit with over 63 charges, in just over the previous decade, and the vast majority of those stops were by local county or city police.
The problems in St. Anthony run deeper than just one police officer, but rooting out the problem can’t be that hard, since there are only 23 officers in the entire department. The city could disband the department and start over, but it won’t. Instead it shelled out $3 million, which amounts to paying over $130,000 per police officer just to make “amends” for one cop’s behavior.
The city claims that no tax dollars were used in this settlement, but St. Anthony is covered by the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, an insurance provider created by a joint effort of cities across the state for the express purpose of protecting against lawsuits and providing settlements. The truth is that this payout will cost every single taxpayer in all of Minnesota; and while $300,000 might get swallowed by some discretionary fund, $3 million is going to show up in everyone’s “miscellaneous” tax box next April in the form of higher insurance rates charged to cities, which trickle down to taxpayers.
There should be huge public outrage about this, not just because an innocent man was murdered by the state but because the bad behavior of one municipality gets spread throughout the entire region. Of course, all of those small-government, don’t-tread-on-me, lower-my-taxes folks are about as quiet on this grotesque “death tax” as the National Rifle Association was on Castile’s death.
The same can be seen around the nation. Cities like Pittsburgh, Denver and, of course, Chicago have doled out millions of dollars in settlements and penalties for police brutality, with nary a chief getting fired or a cop being jailed. If a county hospital were getting sued every year for malpractice and it was costing millions, or a local high school kept having to settle with families because a gym coach got too “friendly,” there would be calls for government accountability and school and hospital reform all over Minnesota. For some reason, though, none of that ideological rage seeps out when taxes are spent on protecting police departments that kill unarmed black men and women.
It doesn’t matter if Yanez was fired by the St. Anthony Police Department; that’s not justice. He’ll find another job somewhere eventually. Besides, he killed a father, a boyfriend, a son and a sibling, got off scot-free and got every other taxpayer in Minnesota to pay for it. There are more like him—in Cleveland, New York, New Orleans, St. Louis, Atlanta. The question isn’t when they’ll kill again or even whether they’ll be convicted. The question is, when will the rage about costs and taxes ever lead to calls for accountability by police?
Unless, of course, money only matters when white Americans feel it’s money not well spent. If the cost of emboldening police to take black lives is only $3 million, apparently enough people think that’s a bargain.
This article originally appeared online at The Root.