Thursday, June 22, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: Philandro Castile

I was out of town for most of the trial of Geronimo Yanez, the police officer who shot Philandro Castile during a traffic stop in Minnesota. I've refrained from saying much about it since I didn't follow the trial.

Now the dash cam video of the incident has been made public and I have included it above. Of course, it does not show everything; most importantly, it doesn't show what Castile was doing during the interaction.

A few things surprised me about the video. First, it happened very fast, and escalated in an instant from a calm discussion to rapid-fire shooting into the car. Second, unless Castile managed to say "I have a firearm" and simultaneously get it out and point it at the officer, it's hard to see how this shooting was justified.

I didn't see all the evidence in the trial. I am loath to second-guess juries. But I will say this: There is racism in our society. That means, necessarily, that every institution in our society bears some mark of that, including the police. The only way to rid ourselves of it is to pro-actively move against those situations where it does damage. That includes over-policing, where officers, at their discretion, pull over cars because they (for example) have one of three brake lights out.  There really are more important things to do.

I have heard you say and seen you write that all of criminal law is tragedy. Win, lose, prosecution, defense--all tragedy. This case is no different. Still, I simply cannot reach the view that this verdict was anything but a miscarriage of justice. The jury got it wrong.

I think David French of The National Review--hardly a social justice warrior--offers an insightful take. His thesis: the jury was allowed to believe that real fear was the same thing as reasonable fear. Here's a quote from Officer Jeronimo Yanez's testimony: "Uh, but, uh as that was happening, as he was pulling at, out his hand, I thought I was gonna die and I thought if he’s, if 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? And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girls [sic] was screaming." On what planet does being an irresponsible father or a pot smoker predispose an otherwise cooperative and obedient cafeteria worker to cop killing? Officer Yanez may truly have feared for his life, but his fear was entirely unreasonable. The jury got it wrong. That is a tragedy.

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