Philando Castile’s Killer Acquitted

“We seriously live in a world where texting a white man to death is a crime but shooting a black man to death is not.”

–   Elie Mystal

Mystal was drawing a provocative comparison between the conviction of Michelle Carter in Massachussetts for manslaughter after encouraging her boyfriend to commit suicide and last Friday’s acquittal of police officer Jeronimo Yanez for shooting a motorist. When Philando Castile was pulled over, he told the officer that he had a concealed weapon as he was required to do under the concealed carry laws. The officer asked for his ID. When Castile reach for his ID, the officer opened fire killing Castile in front of his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter.

On Friday, a jury acquitted the officer, Jeronimo Yanez, of second-degree manslaughter charges and two counts of “intentional discharge of firearm that endangers safety.” “I didn’t want to shoot Mr. Castile,” Yanez testified. “That wasn’t my intention. I thought I was going to die.”

That may be true. Regardless, the jurors in his trial decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. I have to respect the jurors’ decision. Indeed, we have no choice. It’s over. We complain because white police officers murder black men and the government does nothing. But when the government does something, the people selected for jury duty tend to give the officer a pass anyway. Despite everything that we see on a regular basis, the average citizen trusts the police and believes that they always have the best of intentions. At every stage of the judicial process, police get a pass:

  • Police officers will lie to cover up their own crimes and the crimes of their brothers in blue.
  • Police departments will protect even the worst offenders in their departments until publicity makes it impossible to defend them. But, sometimes even then.
  • Prosecutors will decline to bring charges against police officers in most cases. In many cases where they do bring charges, it is a dog and pony show where the prosecutors are doing everything possible to allow a grand jury, judge, or trial jury to protect the officer and take the heat off the prosecutor.
  • When prosecutors do vigorously prosecute an officer, jurors will often step in and protect the officer. Even in the face of video evidence, confessions, and what would be a slam dunk case if the defendant was anyone but a police officer.

So what is the answer? I don’t have one. We need law enforcement. Most reasonable non-racist people want law enforcement who respect people of color and serve them as equals in a multi-racial society. Most people would agree that we want law enforcement who follow the law and do not abuse their power. And yet, most people are also sheep who display blind obeisance to power and will not buck the system no matter how horrific it becomes.

I want to be clear – Philando Castile’s case was not easy for anyone. It may be that the officer feared for his life. The question is would a reasonable officer have feared for his life under the circumstances? That’s a question reasonable minds can disagree on and the decision was the jurors’ to make. I won’t say that the jurors were wrong – I was not in the courtroom, did not hear the testimony, and did not participate in their deliberations. I can’t say how this should be handled differently the next time it happens, and it will happen again. They charged the officer and they brought him to trial. As far as I can tell, the prosecution did not throw the case although I don’t know. All I can do is contribute to the conversation and say that, at a minimum, we need to all agree that this situation should not have happened and we have to find a way to stop unnecessary violence committed by police officers on citizens.

Philando Castile’s mother’s reaction to verdict:

Juror’s comment on the verdict:

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