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Comments on the Philando Castile verdict

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Jelani Cobb writes in the New Yorker:

The cycle of lethal police violence, community outrage, and legal proceedings that yield no consequences came around again last Friday in St. Paul, Minnesota. A jury acquitted a police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, of all three charges—one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm—arising from the shooting death, a year ago, of Philando Castile.
On Tuesday, four days after the verdict, Minnesota state investigators made public the dash-cam video from Yanez’s car. Officer Yanez had said that he saw Castile drive by, thought he resembled a suspect in a robbery case, and decided to pull him over. In the video, the officer can be heard calmly telling Castile that his brake light is broken, and asking to see his license and registration. Castile then says, also calmly, “Sir, I have to tell you I do have a firearm on me.” Listening to the audio, it seems reasonable to assume that Castile is informing the officer that he has a weapon—for which he turned out to have a valid permit—to avoid trouble rather than to court it. Still, Yanez is prompted to place his hand on his own gun, and shortly afterward he shouts, “Don’t pull it out!” Castile’s actions cannot be seen in the video, but he and his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was also in the car, along with her four-year-old daughter, tell Yanez that Castile isn’t reaching for his gun; she later says that he was getting his identification from his wallet. Within seconds, the officer fires seven shots into the car. Two of the bullets hit Castile, who is heard to say, “I wasn’t reaching.” He died half an hour later.
That video now serves as a tragic prequel to one that Reynolds live-streamed to Facebook, after the shooting, as she sat next to Castile in the front seat of his car. That video—an unnerving first-person testimony, in which she tells Yanez, with stunning composure, “You killed my boyfriend”—was viewed millions of times, and brought an inescapable notoriety to the case. Reynolds later told reporters that she and Castile had done “nothing but what the police officer asked of us” and added, of Castile, that “nothing within his body language said ‘kill me.’ ”
The decision in the Castile case differed from other, similar cases of police violence in that it highlighted a kind of divided heart of Second Amendment conservatism, at least with regard to race. David French, in National Review, called the decision a miscarriage of justice. He wrote, “Castile was following Yanez’s commands, and it’s simply false that the mere presence of a gun makes the encounter more dangerous for the police. It all depends on who possesses the gun. If he’s a concealed-carry permit-holder, then he’s in one of the most law-abiding demographics in America.” Colion Noir, an African-American gun-rights activist who serves as the face of the N.R.A.’s black-outreach campaign, also criticized the decision, writing in an online post that Yanez’s mistakes cost Castile his life, and that “covert racism is a real thing and is very dangerous.” In the days after the shooting, the N.R.A. itself had offered only a tepid response, without mentioning Castile’s name: “The reports from Minnesota are troubling and must be thoroughly investigated. In the meantime, it is important for the NRA not to comment while the investigation is ongoing. Rest assured, the NRA will have more to say once all the facts are known.” After Yanez was acquitted, it said nothing at all. Noir, in his post, also questioned whether Yanez would have had the same reaction had a white motorist identified himself as armed. The same might be asked of the N.R.A.’s non-reaction to the verdict.
The Black Lives Matter movement emerged, fundamentally, as a response to the disparate valuation that we place upon human lives. That is why the rejoinder “all lives matter” misses the point. In the hours following last week’s shocking shooting of Representative Steve Scalise and three others, in Alexandria, Virginia, the broad outpouring of concern reminded us of how society responds when people whose lives it values are harmed. In that sentiment, media coverage of the shootings did not automatically focus on controversial statements that Scalise has made or votes he has cast. To do so at such a moment seemed unbefitting.
Responses to the deaths of unarmed victims of police violence, by contrast, routinely feature the victims’ failures, shortcomings, and oversights. We were told, for example, that Eric Garner, who died after police on Staten Island put him in a choke hold, had been arrested on numerous occasions for petty offenses. Representative Peter King, of New York, pointed to the factor of Garner’s physical unfitness. “If he had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died,” King said. Imperfect victims, as feminists who fought for stronger rape laws a generation ago understood, become perfect excuses in an unequal judicial system.
Yet there was some feeling that the verdict in Philando Castile’s death would be different from the decisions in similar cases that had preceded it. That thought hinged on a belief that his status as a lawfully licensed gun-owner, his long-standing employment as a cafeteria manager at an elementary school, and his general lack of serious missteps might exempt him from the idea that his death was his own fault. And, in fact, less blame was levelled in this case: Castile had been stopped by the police fifty times in the thirteen years before his death, but that record was widely interpreted as evidence of racial profiling rather than of personal culpability.
There was also an evidentiary reason to believe that this case might turn out differently. A second officer, Joseph Kauser, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2017 at 3:01 pm

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