Updated: Mar 1
A look into 'American Skin' by Lorraine Jones
Trigger Warning: Police Brutality, Please Read with Caution
Routine traffic stops can sometimes escalate within mere seconds, resulting in split decisions you can never come back from. The decisions and the slightest movements you make determine whether you make it home safely or become another hashtag. Seventy-four seconds, that’s how long it took the officer to reach his vehicle after Philando Castile was shot seven times in 2016 with his girlfriend and their child in the car.
This fatal traffic stop was seen around the world and hit home for many African Americans, including Jacquelyn Carter. Carter remembers everything about the day she watched this tragic incident live on television. After that, she could not simply return to normalcy and go about her everyday life as nothing happened. When asked if she was concerned with the safety of her children after seeing what happened to Castile and so many others, Carter responded without hesitation, “Absolutely, every day. I still turn my phone off at night because I’m scared to get a call. And I shouldn’t have to live that way.”
She turned to her husband Wayne and said, “I don’t know what Jackie Carter can do but Jackie Carter has to find something to stop this or create some kind of solution,” And that’s exactly what she did. Carter doesn’t leave her Blackness at the door; she protects it and embraces it. She refuses to use the term ‘minority’ because it implies that she is less than and she will never refer to herself that way. She has spent every day trying to educate communities on how to be safe during a traffic stop and trying to create real-world solutions that’ll improve the lives of Black people. Education isn’t always glamourous, often the reality of it can be scary, but it has the utmost importance. “Once your son or daughter leaves home the only thing you can do is equip them with the knowledge and tools they’ll need for proactive compliance,” said Carter.
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Carter is an activist working towards a better future for her sons and her grandchildren. She founded the Alliance for Safe Traffic Stops, ASTS, which focuses on finding solutions and preventing unjust killings of Black lives at the hands of law enforcement. “Our mission is by promoting education, training awareness, and the use of technology, we can deescalate tensions and eliminate physical harm among motorists and law enforcement during traffic stops.” ASTS works to establish programs that will create restoration and reform in communities. As an organization, ASTS is building a bridge based on trust and relationships between police officers and the Black community.
Carter spoke extensively with law enforcement officials and participated in several ride-a-longs to research why officers are uneasy during routine stops and the answer was unanimous: reaching. This inspired Carter and her husband to develop the ‘Not Reaching’ pouch. This pouch clips to your driver’s side air vent, holding your license, registration, and insurance card. “When an officer is approaching your vehicle, you can keep your hands on nine and three, where they can see them, that is so important. Don’t move your hands. I’ve had an opportunity to practice what I preach because I got stopped with my ‘Not reaching’ pouch and it was amazing. It worked and it sparked a lot of conversation, we moved on from there and we both were able to go home,” said Carter. The ‘Not Reaching’ eliminates unnecessary sudden movements so there is no ambiguity in the situation.
Carter and her organization hosted a panel, American Skin: A Pathway to Solutions, where Nate Parker, actor and filmmaker, Valerie Castile, founder of the Philando Castile Relief Foundation, Stephanie Morales of the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Portsmouth, VA, as well as herself and many others discussed real-world solutions for cultural change for Black lives and law enforcement in this country. Valerie Castile just joined the Board of Directors for the ASTS to prevent her son Philando from dying twice. Members of law enforcement, ex-law enforcement, a Common Wealth attorney, the NAACP Vice President, an executive director from the Nate Parker Foundation, and other activists came together in this virtual panel to have a much-needed conversation about where we go from here.
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The film “American Skin” was recommended to Carter and she thought it fit perfectly into a conversation about the mission of ASTS. “American Skin” was written and directed by Nate Parker. The film depicts the story of a war veteran who demands justice for the death of his unarmed son who was fatally shot during a traffic stop. Carter put out feelers through Twitter by tweeting the producers of the movie until she finally got a response. The next thing she knew she had a dialogue going by tweeting back and forth with a producer, she inquired about participation in a panel discussion and they agreed. “It’s very difficult to get someone of his caliber to participate in something on a grassroots level so I applaud Nate Parker for even saying yes to it.”
The Nate Parker Foundation uses film to spread activism by making the audience aware of racial injustices and how to navigate those nerve-racking situations. Movies like “American Skin” change the culture and empower Black creators to share their stories. “American Skin, when I watched it, is not just riveting but it is something that makes you think. It puts perspectives out there and it also does the things that most parents try to do,” said Carter.
We need movies like “American Skin” to humanize Black people. Often it is very hard for Americans to empathize with people of color. “To see the person, they have to understand the person. And no one wants to understand. It’s easy to kick me when I’m down. So, if I now paint you into a villain, you’ll stop looking at what happened. So, if you're over here looking at this you forget what happened over there. And this is where we smack the fingers of media for doing that,” explained Carter. We need to stop victim-shaming and start understanding.
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The extremes that Lincoln Jefferson went through in the movie was because no one was listening. Everyone is too caught up in policies and procedures, and Blue Lives Matter and the narrative the media tells that people forget that the life of a 14-year-old boy was lost and that is something you can never get back. We can no longer take an injustice sitting down. Inferiority and superiority based on race need to be eradicated in all occupations and industries. “Even now with body cameras and cell phones, we are still powerless. And it makes no sense. We need to be in places of power and authority so that we can make some of those changes.” We need to stop simply going through the motions and bring humanity and equity back into it.
We need to have these tough conversations and create programs to show young Black men and women that we need them in the police force, we need law enforcement to look like the communities they represent. “All we want are chances, give us a chance. It’s such a sad thing to look at congress and see hardly any representation.” We need to display the value in Black lives. We, as a nation, need to actively work together to create a better culture for the next generation because this fight isn’t for us, it’s for them.
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