Yesterday I woke up to the news of another shooting. According to the reporter a deranged man had stabbed his mother and then was shot and killed by the police. Since these stories have become commonplace, I quickly forgot, went out from my run, had breakfast, and hurried to the office for a meeting. During the meeting I left my phone on the desk. By the time the meeting was finished there was an urgent message. “Glenn, did you listen to the news this morning? It was Paul Castaway; he was the man who was shot.” Officially the victim’s name had still not been confirmed, but unofficially his friends had confirmed everything. By early afternoon the news media had caught up and officially confirmed that Paul was dead. Within hours, the official version of the shooting and what others are saying are not the same.
Even with conflicting versions of the story I worry that what people are going to remember is that Paul was a deranged person of no real consequence. Ultimately his death would not be a great loss.
Paul does not deserve to be defined by a single story or event.
I first came to know Paul during the summer of 1995. He was a member of the West-Side Drug Free Youth Team. Anyone who participated in DOOR in the mid 1990’s would have heard Paul’s story. He grew up in a home where alcohol and drug abuse was common. As a member of the youth team, Paul was determined to break the cycle. Every Friday Paul came and spoke to groups about his desire to end this particular cycle of abuse.
During Paul’s senior year in high school he and nine other classmates when on a trip to California. It was one of the ways La Academia, an alternative school and ministry of the Denver Inner City Parish, celebrated high school graduation. I was asked to be a chaperon. For 10 days Paul and I roomed together. During that trip I got to know other versions of Paul. He was someone who liked to have fun; teasing and pranks where common, never from a spirit of meanness. It was Paul’s way of saying he liked someone. One of the highlights of this trip was our day at Disneyland. It was the year that the Indiana Jones ride opened. We stood in line for over an hour, 10 high school seniors and me. The other chaperon had no interest in upsetting his stomach! During the seating process the person in charge of the ride tried to direct me to the next car. It was Paul who said, “Oh that white guy, he’s with us.” It was Paul, an 18 year-old, Native American Westsider, who reached across all kinds of cultural and social divides and chose to include me in his world.
By the early 2000’s Paul and I began to lose touch. Graduation took Paul out of my day-to-day world and my job began to shift from a Denver to a more National focus. Occasionally I would hear something. The news wasn’t always good; breaking the cycle of alcohol abuse became overwhelming. Paul started drinking and eventually ended up living on the street. I remember seeing him at a Denver Inner City Parish event in the mid 2000’s. His youthful mischievous eyes had been replaced with a hollow defeated eyes. He still knew how to be a friend and still wanted to break the cycle.
More recently Paul became a father. He loved his son, but his fight with alcohol meant that he didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with him. I can’t help but wonder, what is it going to be like knowing you father was killed by the police? Will the police reach out to him? How will this boy overcome his demons?
I wasn’t there Monday morning when the chain of events that led to Paul’s death occurred. I do know that Paul was much more than a person with a knife. He was someone who knew his demons and tried hard to get past them. Like most of us his story is one filled with both success and failure. I suspect that there are many former DOOR participants who are better people for having heard Paul’s story.
Paul was also a person who knew how to reach across racial and cultural divides. Yes, he made fun of me for being white and Canadian, but he also sat with me on the Indiana Jones ride.
Paul was also a dad who loved his child.
This week I have been reminded in a very personal way that this epidemic of devaluing, particularly of men of color, needs to stop. Choosing to take a life, whether you are standing your ground or as a peace officer, needs to be eliminated from the list of options. All of us are more than a bad moment and none of us deserve to be sentenced to death, especially when there are other options.
Is it possible for us to get to a place where the cost of taking lives is simply too high?