WHAT HAPPENED? (1)
Yesterday, in 2016, the police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana killed Alton Sterling, a CD salesman, at point-blank range after pinning him to the ground.
Today, in 2016, 32-year-old Philando Castile was fatally shot during a routine traffic stop in St. Anthony, Minnesota, while his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter were in the car.
They were pulled over by Jeronimo Yanez, who asked for Philando's license and registration. As is custom, when he went to grab it, he told the officer he had a firearm (which he had a license to carry) as to not alarm the officer if he saw it while reaching for his documents. Though he disclosed his firearm, Yanez told him not to pull it out before shooting him at close range 5 times, killing him.
His girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, was taking a live stream video of the altercation, which helped the case receive national media attention, spurring protests locally and nationally. Though Yanez was charged with second degree manslaughter, a BS charge to begin with, he was acquitted, but fired from his job.
Philando Castile was born on July 16, 1983, and was 32 years old at the time of his murder. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri and worked for the Saint Paul Public School District, where he graduated high school, from 2002 until his death. He was the nutrition services supervisor at a local elementary school, as well. (1)
"To the world, he was a name in a major news story, but to more than 400 kids at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, he was their 'lunch man'". They called him Mr. Phil and he had secret handshakes with the kids. Additionally, perhaps speaking both to the dystopian nature of the U.S. but also to Philando's kindness, he would use his own money to put extra food on kids' trays if they didn't have enough. (2)
10-year-old student Leila Ramgren and her father, Chad, were horrified over what happened. Chad said he was a warm presence, and thought it was crazy that people outside of his job would see him as a threat. "Mr. Phil was not scary," Leila said. (2)
His grandfather said he was "just plain young man" and his girlfriend remembers him as loving and caring. Parents thought he was an excellent role model to their kids at the school. Philando Castile, by all accounts, was a joyful, good man. (3)
Prior to his death, he had been stopped at least 49 times in 13 years for minor traffic and equipment violations. The majority were dismissed, but it doesn't take a genius to understand that getting pulled over nearly 50 times for the minor violations that nearly everyone makes on a regular basis may have something to do with race. (1)
Jeronimo Yanez was the 28-year-old officer who shot Philando, while his partner, his long-time friend Joseph Krauser, stood close by. They had both been with the Police Department for 4 years. (1)
The interim police chief claimed that the shooting was the first officer-involved shooting the department had in at least 30 years. (1)
THE SHOOTING OF PHILANDO CASTILE (1)
On the evening of July 6, 2016, Philando Castile, his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her 4-year-old daughter were returning home from the grocery store. Earlier in the evening, Philando got a haircut and went to dinner with his sister before picking Diamond up. It was a completely normal night.
A St. Anthony police officer patrolling the nearby area radioed that he planned to pull Philando's car over and check his and Diamond's ID because they looked like people who had been involved in a robbery. He claimed that Philando's "wide-set nose" looked like their suspect, but he couldn't get a good look at the passenger. This officer, at 9:04 PM, said he would wait for the other nearby officer to come before making the stop.
Yanez approached the car from the driver's side, while Kauser came over on the passenger side. The dashcam footage showed only a 40 second gap between Yanez's first words to Philando until gunshots.
The incident went as follows. Yanez asked Philando for his license and proof of insurance. Philando gave it to him. Then, as is evidenced by the video, he calmly informed the officer that he had a firearm - exactly what he was supposed to do. Once he did that, the situation began to escalate. As soon as he said he had a gun, Yanez placed his hand on the holster of his weapon. He told Philando not to reach for it or pull it out. He and Diamond both assured the officer that he was not going to pull his gun out.
Diamond said, "He's not pulling it out" when Yanez, again, yelled "Don't pull it out!" before shooting 7 shots into the car. As he lay dying, Philando said that he was not reaching for his gun. While Diamond cried, screaming that her boyfriend was killed while her 4-year-old tried to calm her down, Yanez then began yelling at Diamond not to pull the weapon out. Then he yelled, "Don't move! F*ck!"
5 of the 7 shots hit Philando. Diamond began recording seconds after her boyfriend was killed to document what had happened. Philando was slumped over, moaning and covered in blood. The cop continued to say "I told him not to reach for it" even though it was clear he had not been reaching for his weapon. At one point in the video, Diamond is ordered to get on her knees to be handcuffed. Additionally, her 4-YEAR-OLD asked her to stop yelling because "I don't want you to get shooted". Diamond was taken into custody.
Diamond said she was "treated like a criminal", which is absolutely true, and that the officers didn't even check if Philando had a pulse or if he was breathing until several minutes after he had been shot.
The video is... shocking. It is horrific in every imaginable way. He calmly told the officer that he had a firearm and immediately, the officer becomes agitated. The conversation lasts seconds, while Philando tells him he isn't pulling the weapon out and the officer continues to tell him not to. With no provoking, 7 shots are taken, 5 hitting Philando and 2 piercing his heart.
The incident was described very differently by Yanez. He acknowledges that Philando told him he had a firearm, but when he reached for his wallet (to get his ID that he was asked for), "his grip [was] a lot wider than a wallet". He claims Philando was "getting hinky" and he was nervous because he didn't know where the gun was. "I know I f*cking told him to get his f*cking hand off his gun" which, no he didn't, because the footage showed and recorded everything.
And then, his justification became a lot... weirder. He said he feared for his life because he believed that Philando was abusive towards the child in the car. "I thought I was gonna die, and I thought if he's, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of a five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing, then what, what care does he give about me?" (The marijuana wasn't noted until later, when a small amount was found in the car.)
OKAY. WHAT. First of all, they had a small amount of marijuana in the car. They weren't actively smoking with the kid in the car. And even if they WERE, smoking in front of a child, while bad, does not mean you also have the desire to murder people!
Yanez never actually saw the gun, and claimed it was dark inside the vehicle but he knows that he was wrapping his fingers around something. "It was, to me, it just looked big and apparent he's gonna shoot you, he's gonna kill you." Ah yes, the old "announce you have a gun before killing a police officer" trick.
Though he never said he could see the gun before, during the trial, he claimed that he had seen the firearm in his hand, which is when he decided to shoot.
LEGAL PROCEEDINGS (1)
Yanez and Krauser were placed on paid administrative leave after the death of Philando and an investigation was opened immediately. The videos were collected as evidence and the case was turned over to Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, who announced Yanez would be charged with second degree manslaughter dangerous discharge of a firearm. "Unreasonable fear cannot justify the use of deadly force," he claimed.
Choi noted many pieces of evidence that contributed to his decision. He wondered how his fear could be so justified that he needed to shoot when Krauser never even touched his gun. He said Philando was not resisting or fleeing, that he did nothing criminal during the entire encounter, that he was respectful and compliant, that he acted in good faith by announcing his firearm, that he stated he was not removing the gun, that he had no intent or motive to kill the officer, and that, in his dying words as he bled out in his car that he claimed he was not reaching for his gun. Seems like enough to go for second degree murder, but I digress.
Yanez's trial began on May 30, 2017. The maximum sentence would have been 10 years had he been convicted. However, after 5 days and 25 hours of deliberation, the jury decided that the state had not "met its burden for conviction".
An anonymous jury member explained that it was tough to make a call when you could not see inside of the car, or what escalated the situation. "We felt Yanez was an honest guy, and in the end, we had to go on his word, and that's what it came down to." Not the word of the man who used his dying breath to say he wasn't reaching for his weapon, not the word of a woman who watched her boyfriend get murdered next to her, but the word of a police officer who fired his weapon 7 times into a car with a 4-year-old in it after the driver announced he had a firearm on him.
The city of St. Anthony did fire Yanez after the verdict, but it didn't matter. A killer walked free. 2,000 protesters marched in the streets, blocking intersections and leading to 18 arrests. The family was shocked at the outcome, rightfully losing faith in the justice system. They eventually came to a $2.95 million dollar settlement with the city.
The Philando Castile Memorial Scholarship was stated at St. Paul Central High School in honor of the beloved lunch man. As he was known for his financial generosity to children who owed money or could not afford lunch, the Philando Castile Relief Foundation was created to pay school lunch debts. Much of the money came from the civil settlement the family won.
This story is one that, for me, finally hammered home how much of a threat black people are seen as to the police. I watched the videos in disbelief. He did everything the "well you wouldn't get shot if you just cooperated" white people told him to do. He pulled over. He was respectful to the officer. He announced his firearm. His girlfriend and a 4-year-old kid had to watch him die, and he used his last words to, one more time, say he was not reaching for his gun. He wasn't resisting arrest. He wasn't mean to the cop. He hadn't even committed a crime, he just had a tail light out and looked like a robber. He was a beloved lunch man who paid for students who couldn't afford lunch and made up secret handshakes with children.
And yet, it didn't matter. Because it doesn't matter. People who will blindly defend the police will say that if you weren't a criminal and just did what the police said, you'd be fine. That happened. And there were still people who weren't willing to put aside their loyalty to the police to simply admit that this was wrong. 12 jurors decided to believe the cop over the man who died while trying to clear his name.
It just doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you're a career criminal or a loving lunch man. It doesn't matter if you were resisting arrest or calmly, respectfully talking to the officer. It doesn't matter to the police who kill them, and it doesn't matter to the people who defend it. The police are good and thus, whoever they kill must have done something bad. But that isn't the case.
There was no justice in this case. There isn't justice in most cases. The police, even if you think they are just a "few bad apples" aren't being treated as bad apples. They either don't get charged, or they do and then get acquitted. It isn't justice and it isn't fair.
Black lives matter. Philando Castile's life mattered. It was taken 4 years ago today, but we will not forget. We will keep fighting to ensure that laws and regulations and practices are changed to stop the senseless deaths of black Americans. We have the momentum, and we must keep moving forward.