On July 6, 2016, millions of Facebook users watched in horror as the aftermath of Philando Castile’s shooting was livestreamed. Castile’s girlfriend, who was filming, screamed at the Officer Jeronimo Yanez who continued to point his pistol at the bleeding Castile.
It’s a graphic, terrifying video that, for many, signified all the worst things about police brutality in America. A black man was pulled over: presumably for a broken brake light. He calmly tells the police officer that he’s licensed to carry a gun and has one and will show his license. As the man reaches for his wallet, the officer spooks, firing seven rounds into an unarmed man sitting calmly in his car.
It’s despicable and utterly indicative of the worst our police forces have to offer. Whether it was because of poor training, bad information—Yanez claimed to the Castile matched the description of a robber, though none of that was mentioned at the time according to the police car dash cam—or pure racism, this is the type of thing that cannot and should not happen in America.
In the aftermath of the brutal killing, Yanez was charged with second-degree manslaughter and endangering safety by discharging a firearm. Today, he was acquitted of all charges. For him, it’s essentially as if it never happened. For Castile’s family, it may never end. Castile’s mother said what many black Americans across the country feel:
My son loved this city, and this city killed my son. And a murderer gets away. Are you kidding me right now? The system in this country continues to fail black people and will continue to fail us.
The case itself mostly revolved around differing accounts of how the situation unfolded. Officer Yanez believed Castile was pulling a gun, although Ms. Reynolds (Castile’s girlfriend) claimed he was calmly reaching for his wallet.
Prosecutors asserted that Yanez made a dangerous situation out of nothing, and the defense claimed that Yanez performed as reasonably as could be expected in a situation such as that. Apparently, the jury—which included ten white people—agreed.
An officer’s safety should not be put before that of an agreeable, passive citizen. It is crazy to assume that with a gun trained on him that Castile could have pulled out a pistol, aimed it at the officer and lethally wounded him before Yanez could have recognized a weapon—as opposed to, say, a wallet—and fire. Again, from point blank. And even in that scenario, surely you wouldn’t need seven rounds to put him down.
How long will it be before we hold our officers responsible for their actions? When will we train officers to recognize that a shoot-first approach is bewilderingly dangerous and unprofessional? When will we come together as Americans to work on this together, ignoring partisan biases and racial preferences?
Certainly not today.