Earlier on this week the trial of police office Jeronimo Yanez concluded, with officer Yanez being acquitted of all charges. Yanez was charged in the shooting and killing of a black man by the name of Philando Castile.
Officer Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter, to the outrage and disgust of many. The reason for his acquittal is a justification used in many of these cases. The law states that when an officer fears for his or her life, they may use deadly force to subdue a suspect or defend themselves. An archaic and dangerously situational law perhaps, but it is the law at least for now. The real tragedy in this case is that Philando Castile was never supposed to be a suspect, and by extension, never deserved to die.
Days after the case was announced, the Minnesota PD released the full video showing the interaction which led to Castile’s ultimate demise. I’m guessing most have seen the video already but for those that haven’t, here is a brief description:
In the video officer Yanez pulls over Castile and informs him that his tail lights are out. Castile is seen complying with officer Yanez and responding in a reasonable and well composed manner. At one point Castile calmly but nervously states that he has a firearm on him after Yanez asks for his license and insurance. He is told not to reach for the weapon, which he acknowledges verbally. In the blink of an eye things take a turn for the worst as within the span of a few seconds officer Yanez draws his gun and fires 7 rounds at Mr. Castile. 5 of them pierce him and moments later he dies.
The video itself is harrowing to watch. From the obviously nervous tone of Castile at the beginning, to the screams of his girlfriend Diamond Phillips, to the utter panic of Officer Yanez realizing what he has just done. The case is yet another name in the growing list of civilians who have been brutalized and controversially killed by the police. It is hard to say that anyone outright deserves to be gunned down before a fair trial, but as the saying goes: play stupid games, win stupid prizes. Many of these cases of police brutality involve irrational suspects who resist police and end up dead for it, or actively endanger the officers life by trying to assault and or kill them. The problem however is that Philando Castile didn’t do that, he sat by and calmly informed the officer of the weapon he had on him. He did exactly what he was supposed to do in that situation, and he still wound up being executed.
This event and many others like it, have sparked a whirlwind of controversy over the last couple years. Many are quick to point to accusations of racism and police training regimens as the root cause, and these events helped found the movement known as Black Lives Matter. To me, this case is especially eye-opening for several reasons.
Number one is exactly what I mentioned above, the fact that Philando Castile acted in accordance with police policies that are supposed to ensure humane and respectful treatment. As we know however, things did not work out that way. With each day that passes, the people’s faith in the police is stretched evermore thin. How can a citizenry trust those who are supposed to protect them if ultimately life and death is held solely by the hands of the officer?
The response in the video from Officer Yanez is also quite telling. Almost immediately he begins to panic and yells in a quite obviously distraught tone at the morbid events. I realize interactions with armed suspects be them legal or not is incredibly stressful and dangerous. But upon viewing of the aforementioned video, it becomes abundantly clear that officer Yanez was not mentally sound enough to be in that situation. Police officers are supposed to be the ones deescalating hostile situations, and yet time and time again they are seen doing the complete opposite.
These issues seem to have opened a great precipice between groups of people throughout our country. One group is poised to defend the victims at all cost, and the other take the side of the police with seemingly neither willing to give an inch. This tribal mentality is toxic for both sides and the country as a whole, for without compromise none of this will ever change. Black Lives Matter are quick to elevate rightful victims of brutality and incompetence like Philando Castile and Sandra Bland to martyr status, but the problem arises when others like Mike Brown are placed upon the same pedestal. This sort of victim equally serves nothing but to undermine legitimacy of actual cases of injustice.
Consider the case of Alton Sterling, another now well-known name also the victim of a deadly police confrontation around the same time as Philando Castile incident but completely unrelated. The difference being that Sterling was a notorious contraband dealer with an extensive history of criminal convictions. He was also a sexual predator, a title he achieved from impregnating a 15 year old girl. So forgive me when I say, I don’t exactly have a lot of sympathy for a man like Alton Sterling. I agree it would have been better to apprehend him and let the courts handle it, but when an organization like Black Lives Matter constantly deifies them both, it not only is insulting to one’s intelligence, but also spits on the grave of Philando Castile and others like him. Painting over all these instances as simple clear cut cases of racist police officers completely obfuscates the purpose of their entire message and serves only to divide people further. These events must be taken on a case by case analysis to determine who was in the right and who was in the wrong. The bottom line is that no one deserves to be executed by police, and I agree we should work to remedy this pattern. However when you paint victims with known criminals histories as good people who did nothing wrong, you only damage your movements credibility. People will continue to dismiss all cases based on the lowest common denominator, not the highest.
On the other side of the fence we have those constantly on the side of the police who dismiss any concern when cases like these go viral. They are the supporters of police and those always willing to speak on their behalf. Many of these people tend to be right leaning individuals and by extension, supporters of the 2nd amendment. What happened to Philando Castile: A registered gun owner and legally carrying man, should be an eye opening experience for all who observe. Castile had every right to have his firearm on him, despite or perhaps because of this he was shot. So what do you think the narrative will be going forward? There has been a push for quite some time for harsher restrictions on firearms in the United States, and this event is just the latest which will no doubt be used as ammunition for those who seek harsher gun restrictions. Anyone who supports the 2nd amendment and concealed carrying rights, should be in support of Philando Castile, because at this point the two are inseparably intertwined. You would presume that groups like the NRA would be all over this case, and yet their continues to be not a single peep from them. An American man was shot and killed for legally owning a firearm and the NRA is nowhere to be found, their silence in this case is deafening.
These events continue to unfold each and every day, and at the rate we are going now, we will never see them abated. People will continue to die and we will have more discussions because both sides refuse to compromise or even discuss many of these issues. Last year police in the United States killed 963 people. May not seem like a whole lot considering the 330 million people that live in this country, but our closest neighbor Canada killed only 2. The UK killed 1, Germany killed 1, France killed 1, and Spain killed 0. The United States police officers kill people at a rate that far exceeds any other western democracy, in fact our statistics more closely mimic third-world nations like Libya and Somalia.
Their are issues on both sides of the spectrum at play. For any sort of serenity to be possible going forward, certain things must become necessity. We must first and foremost be able to openly discuss these cases on an individual basis to determine what is injustice and what is not. Responding to every case with accusations of racism and white supremacy or defending every action from every police officer will guarantee that this cycle is perpetuated forever. We must have a citizenry more willing to comply with police orders, and a police force less willing to use deadly force as it’s first and only option. Neighborhoods and communities must evaluate themselves, and police departments must scrutinize and examine their own officers and training regimens. There is a way to stop these things from happening or at least drastically reduce them, but it requires us to have compassion and understanding for one another and be willing to work together rather than pointing the finger at someone else.
To be completely honest for a moment, I have next to zero faith that this will ever come to fruition. It is much easier after all to point the finger at another than it is to face uncomfortable truths of one’s own reality. None of the figureheads speaking on this issue care about resolving it, because the minute they do, they become irrelevant. They will continue to use these events to their benefit, and line their own pockets. Perhaps Americans have had enough of the division and endless perpetuation of hatred, but I doubt it. For in our day and age truly no lives matter, only money does and there will always be those willing to exploit the lowest levels of human depravity and tragedy in order to attain it while under the guise of fighting for justice.