Exactly one year ago today in what was meant to be a routine traffic stop, turned into Minnesota police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, shotting Philando Castile 7 times and consequently killing him in front of his fiancé and his 4-year-old daughter. Castile was just 1 of 963 people who were shot and killed by police officers in the USA. The issue is that 233 of these were black people, so why is it that black people who make up approximately 14% of the USA’s population, made up 24% of U.S police killings in 2016?
Since 2002, Philando Castile had been stopped 52 times for ‘minor offences’ prior to his 53rd fatal traffic stop, but whether or not all of these stops were all legally carried out is another question for another day. Still, I don’t think we can look at Castile’s 53 traffic stops as a reflection of his character (a man who has never been arrested and was admired by the school children he worked with), but instead, they represent just one black man’s story in the wider context of the USA’s disproportionate risks to life that black drivers face every single day.
On July 6th 2016, Latino police officer Jeronimo Yanez pulled over Philando Castile, his fiancé Diamond Reynolds, and their 4-year-old daughter who was sitting in the back car seat at the time. Before the fatal encounter, audio from Yanez’s initial radio conversation (later used as evidence in the case) with his police station saying:
“I’m going to stop a car,” Yanez goes on to justify his reasons saying “the two occupants just look like people that were involved in a robbery.” He goes on to explain: “The driver looks more like one of our suspects, just ’cause of the wide-set nose.”.
I really wish if they had caught those ‘suspected robbers’ that they could compare the faces to see the resemblance (or lack of) with Philando Castile.
Now after pulling over Castile’s car, officer Yanez’s reasons for doing so were quickly changed from what he radioed in. Footage from the police dash cam reveals Yanez said “the reason I pulled you over was because your break lights were out”
After showing officer Yanez his insurance and licence, Castile was quick and calm to alert Yanez that he was legally carrying a firearm, it was this moment of honesty that cost Philando his life.
Yanez then said “OK, don’t reach for it then…Don’t pull it out.” Before Castile could even finish his sentence to say he is not pulling out the gun, Yanez shoots 7 times. Yanez shot 7 bullets into the car, with a 4-year-old girl in the back…. if that’s not unprofessional police behaviour I don’t know what is. I know some people will say ‘but he had a gun’ to try and justify Yanez’s actions, but later on the video when Yanez is interviewed by another officer, he admits that he didn’t actually see Castile grab for a gun. He notes, however, that he was nervous after he asked to see Castile’s license, and Castile “had his grip a lot wider than a wallet.”
I’m no U.S criminal prosecutor or chief of police, but from my understanding policemen are meant to be calm, brave and rationale servants of the public. I just don’t understand why Yanez couldn’t have told Castile to put his hands on the wheel or throw his hand out of the car to prevent another unnecessary death of an innocent black man.
Yet despite all of these discrepancies, lack of professionalism, and trigger happiness Yanez was acquitted on June 16th 2017 from the charge of second-degree manslaughter after 27 hours of jury deliberation.
Can we actually be surprised though? … because I’m not.
What must puzzles me is that if the St.Anthony Police Department think: “The City of St. Anthony has concluded that the public will be best served if Officer Yanez is no longer a police officer in our city,”… then why was he not charged with a crime?
After the court verdict, Philando Castille’s mother feels:
“The system in this country continues to fail black people and will continue to fail us.”
Earlier in the article, I made a point of highlighting the ethnicity of the police officer: a Latino. A part of me would expect a lot better conduct and a lot less trigger happiness from another ethnic minority in the USA who have experienced dispropriate stops, searches and arrests in America. Yet the other part of me realises that a precedent has been set long ago that in effect allows police officers, whether they’re black, white, or latino to get away with murder.
I guess a part of Yanez’s poor judgement ties into the police training and police procedure for employment. Police should be trained to handle pressure, trained to distinguish between a life threating situation and one that is clearly not, they should also not switch up their reasons for stopping people when it suits them, and most of all they should be vetted before & continuously throughout their roles to ensure they are mentally fit for the job.
I know my words can never articulate the pain felt by the families who lost their loved ones, nor can my words bring those loved ones back, unfortunately, my words alone can’t change the biased-militarised attitudes of some American police officers, but something needs to change in America and fast.
TWN Editor Chijioke Anosike