Last summer, Philando Castile was pulled over for a broken taillight. In less than a minute, Officer Jeronimo Yanez fired seven shots into Castile, his final moments captured by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds via Facebook Live and witnessed by Reynolds young daughter in the backseat. The footage went viral, reigniting a seemingly endless discourse on police officers killing unarmed black people. But in Castile’s case, he was armed, but lawfully so under Minnesota’s open carry legislation. It was known that Castile told Yanez about the gun, but Yanez claims he feared for his life when he shot and killed Castile, and that was enough to convince a jury last week that Yanez acted lawfully, effectively acquitting him of any wrongdoing.
But newly released dashcam footage (watch it if you want, but be warned it is graphic and very upsetting) seems to confirm what many already suspected: Yanez was far too quick to pull the trigger.
While the footage itself is limited (you can only see Castile’s car and the police officers), the audio is pretty transparent. It confirms that Castile was very clear about having a gun on his person, which is exactly what one is supposed to do in a situation like this. But then, everything devolves into chaos:
Yanez: Don’t reach for [the gun] then.
Castile: I’m, I-I was reaching for …
Yanez: Don’t pull it out.
Castile: I’m not pulling it out.
Reynolds: He’s not–
Yanez: Don’t pull it out!
And then, shots fired.
Here’s the thing: People argue that this could have all been prevented if Castile just listened to the officer, and that this audio is proof that he didn’t. But Castile clearly stated that he wasn’t reaching for the gun. He could have been reaching for license or registration, which is what Reynolds claims. So, what if the license and/or registration that the officer asked for was in the same area of the car that the officer suspected the gun was located? What then? This becomes a catch 22, where whether you follow the officer’s instructions or not, you can end up doing the “wrong” thing.
And here’s another point that we must acknowledge: Perhaps racial bias convinced Yanez that Castile was a serious threat. Radio calls played at Yanez’s trial showed that Yanez intended to pull over Castile and Reynolds because they resembled two armed robbery suspects. Yanez said, “[Castile] looks more like one of our suspects just cause of the wide-set nose.”
Wide set nose. A lot of black people have wide set noses. I am black and have a wide set nose. I’d hope that an officer would have more to go on than that if I was ever suspected of matching a robbery suspect. It’s also worth mentioning that Castile was pulled over a total 52 times in 14 years by police officers, usually for minor offenses. This is attributed to inherent racial bias that has plagued black drivers for ages.
Additionally, Yanez’s belief in Castile’s inherent criminality is pretty evident in an interview he had with investigators after the shooting. He said he smelled marijuana in Castile’s car and went on to say, “I thought … if he has … the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the 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.”
Holy morality police.
It’s unclear if marijuana was found in the car, and it’s fair to say that of all the substances that would cause someone to recklessly put lives in danger, marijuana isn’t exactly getting a top spot. And Yanez’s concern about the lungs of Reynold’s daughter and her overall safety would be more believable if he didn’t fire a weapon a couple of feet away from her. I’m pretty sure a loaded gun is a lot more dangerous than an old joint.
There’s so much to unpack here, but I’m left wondering one thing: Would Yanez feel as endangered if a white couple and their young daughter were the ones in that car? Would Yanez feel as trigger happy if a young white man calmly told him that he had a gun on him? And would the jury feel more sympathetic toward a white man–an employee at a local school and beloved by hundreds of students like Castile was–who was shot several times by a rookie Latino police officer? You can think what you want, but I’ve got to be honest, I think this scenario would have been a lot different if Philando wasn’t black.
This verdict, released not-so-long before the shooting death of Charleena Lyles–a black pregnant mother of four with a history of mental illness who was shot by Seattle police after reporting a burglary–makes it hard not to feel as if it’s open season for black people. A long as an officer can claim that he felt that his life was in danger, they can continue to kill people and get away with it. When are we going to start asking for better deescalation training from the police? When are we going to expect officers to operate at a higher standard? And when can black people expect to be treated with fairness, instead of inherent suspicion, by the people society claims are supposed to protect us?
What do you think about this new footage? Do you think Philando Castile’s family deserves justice or do you think justice was served? Tell us in the comments!