The day of Floyd’s death was only in its second hour when police registered the first killing of the day.
On May 25, 2020 — the day Minneapolis police killed George Floyd — officers shot and killed at least five other men across the country.
They included a decorated Marine veteran and two warehouse workers.
They lived with their children in suburban brick houses and with their mothers off dusty backroads.
They were Black, white, Latino, and Pacific Islander. They hailed from the Southeast to the North Pacific.
Since 2015, police in the US have not gone more than two days without fatally shooting someone.
Houston, 1:30 a.m. CT
The wailing sirens and whoosh of police cruisers coming down the quiet Houston street — just 10 miles from where Floyd grew up — were exactly what Joelaunda Castillanos didn’t want when she called 911.
Her husband, Joe Louis Castillanos, 38, had served one combat tour as a Marine in Afghanistan and another in Iraq, which left him with PTSD. He’d been struggling for years — but that night, Joe was out walking the streets alone and Joelaunda was scared about what he might do to himself. She needed help talking him down, she explained to the police dispatcher.
Hours earlier, Joe, Joelaunda, and their two daughters, ages 7 and 11, had spent the evening at a family barbecue. Joelaunda wanted to leave. Joe didn’t. “Let’s go,” she pleaded. They were the last couple there. But leaving meant Joe would have to face the clock inching closer to midnight, closer to Memorial Day, and closer to the memory he just couldn’t shake.
For Joe, Memorial Day wasn’t for empty platitudes about America’s fallen heroes. It was a reminder of Cpl. Payne. An improvised explosive device had struck their vehicle, leaving them sitting ducks. Desert winds blew. Dust jammed their guns. Payne didn’t stand a chance.
Joe couldn’t forgive himself for not being able to save him.
Most days, the shrinks he saw, the medication he took, and the workouts he endured dulled his pain. For the last 13 years, he’d worked as a mail carrier in the rough-and-tumble city of Richmond, Texas, southwest of Houston. He’d befriended kids along his route, and every August he made special deliveries of school supplies to those who might not have any. At Christmas time, his mail truck doubled as Santa’s sleigh, doling out gifts. He’d even timed his route so that his 5 p.m. break meant he could have dinner each night with Mister Cortez, an elderly man who he worried received few visitors.
But this Memorial Day seemed to affect Joe more than any other. Joelaunda, who’d loved him since she spotted his dimples when they were both teenage store clerks, could see how he badly was struggling.
“Why didn’t I die from the IED?” he asked until the day he no longer wanted to wonder.
When the family returned home from the barbecue, Joe tucked the girls into bed and kissed them on their foreheads. Then he told his wife of 13 years that he intended to kill himself. He grabbed a gun on his way out the door.
After Joelaunda explained Joe’s state of mind to the dispatcher, she loaded their girls into the car to go looking for him. The Houston Police Department boasts one of the nation’s most progressive police chiefs and a crisis response team that’s regarded as one the country’s best. Yet from April 21 through Memorial Day, Houston police had killed six people.
Joelaunda spotted her husband walking along their street, and she rolled down the window to encourage him to come home. But just then, at least two police cars rushed into the neighborhood. One officer jumped out of the car, his gun extended in Joe’s direction.
“Drop the weapon,” the officer said to Joe. “Drop the weapon. Drop the weapon. Drop the weapon, bro. Don’t do it.”
Joe turned to face them, walking backward and away from the arriving officers.
Another officer emerged from the second arriving police car.
“Drop it, dawg,” the second officer yelled. “I don’t want to shoot you.”
In an instant and for no obvious reason, the commands escalated.
“Get on the fucking ground,” one shouted. “On the ground.”
Three officers kept advancing, guns drawn, as Joe paced backward away from them, holding the gun down by his side.
“Don’t shoot,” Joelaunda cried out, watching with her daughters as the police advanced toward her husband. “Don’t shoot.”
At a time when anger over the police killings of Black people convulses the country, brown lives aren’t faring much better. Latinos are 77% more likely to be killed by the police than white people are. In the week of May 25, at least four other brown men died in law enforcement encounters. Fatal outcomes are higher for military veterans, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found military veterans and active-duty soldiers were 1.4 times more likely to die in law enforcement encounters than civilians were.
“Put the fucking gun down,” the officer shouted at Joe one last time.
Joelaunda and the girls heard the bullets whiz by their heads.
Seconds later, Joe was on the ground.
The Castillanos’ family attorney, Tanika J. Solomon, would later say the police had shot him multiple times in the back.
In Joe’s case, Houston police would maintain that the Marine veteran fired into the ground before he “raised the gun” toward officers. BuzzFeed News has reviewed footage of the shooting provided by the Castillanos’ family attorney, which does not show Joe pointing his weapon at officers.
In the middle of the street, Joelaunda and her daughters watched it all unfold.
“Mommy,” Joelaunda said her daughters told her as police blocked off the scene and surrounded Joe’s body, “you told them not to shoot.”