Now, I am not one who thinks that EVERY young black man who is shot by police is the victim of murder. For example, in the Ferguson MO case, after reading carefully, I could see how a jury might give the police officer the benefit of the doubt. There was another case in Minneapolis last year, in which in which I wasn't pepared to automatically throw the cop in jail for using deadly force.
But Geronimo Yanez is a different matter. I don't know if you saw the dashboard video (look for it if you haven't), but once I saw it, I cannot see how a reasonable jury would not find criminal blame for the cop.
It plays out like this:
1. A young black man named Philando Castillee passes a St. Anthony squad car, and the driver of the squad car, patrolman Geronimo Yanez decides to pull Philando over—ostensibly because his tail-light is out, although later he says "the wide-set of the driver's nose made me think of a robbery suspect." Translation: Philando is black.
2. Philando pulls over gently to the curb, waits with his hands on the wheel, rolls down his window. Upon being asked for his driver's license and registration, he hands the officer his registration, then very politiely and quietly says that he has a firearm. The officer says, "Then don't reach for it."
3. Philando says "I'm not reaching for it," but does begin to reach for his wallet, which is in his back right pocket, behind the front pocket where the handgun is located. Also in his wallet is his permit-to-carry.
4. Upon which, Officer Yanez screams not to reach for it, and simultaneously pumps seven bullets into the car, five of which hit Philando, another going through the seat into the back seat near where the toddler daughter is sitting strapped into her car seat. Less than a minute has passed since Yanez got out of the squad car. When you view the tape, it is the incredible speed with which the tragedy unfolds that really hits you.
5. As Philando dies, he cries out "I wasn't reaching for it."
Later on, there are some telltale quotes from Yanez on the matter during an interview with BCA officials investigating the shooting. One is the fact Philando's wide set nose "reminds" Yanez of a recent robbery suspect. Two, that Yanez smells marijuana in the car, and immediately upon being told that Philando owns a gun with permit, he wonders if Philando is a drug dealer, or carries a gun to protect himself from other drug dealers trying to rip him off.
Two things don't pass the smell test here for any reasonable person. One, no Minneapolis area police officer bothers at all this stuff as small as a burned out tail light. There are just too many more serious matters to think about. There is no way any white man ever gets stopped for something like this. Second, marijuana is a minor, minor thing in the Twin Cities these days, and no policeman imagines that this a casual smoker is some kind of big time drug dealer. The officer stopped the car simply because Philando was a black man, and being a black man, he's assumed to likely to be a drug dealer.
(By the way, Philando had been stopped 49 times by police in the last few years, virtually always for nonsense reasons, most of which did not even elicit a ticket.)
6. The handgun that Yanez later claims to have seen on Philando's leg is later found still in the young man's pocket. During interview and at trial, much is made of the possibility that the gun simply fell back into his pocket after Philando is shot to death. Yeah, right.
7. At trial, Yanez trotted out the standard policeman's defense: "I feared for my life." And the jury bought it, hook, line and sinker.
Enough is enough. We all know that if Philando had been white, he would still be alive.
I don't think officer Yanez is a bad fellow, necessarily. But he is a terrible cop, and he panicked in a a way that was utterly unprofessional and criminally liable. But in today's culture, fear is used to justify just about any crazy thing you do. And policemen have learned that the way out of any such tragedy is simply to say that they feared for their lives.
The thing is, just because you are afraid (or say you are), does not excuse negligence that kills another human being. Even if you are a policeman, you should be held accountable for serious lapses in judgment. This may not have been murder, but it sure as hell was negligent manslaughter.
Undoubtedly I have some bias in this, since my son-in-law is a young black man who has braided hair about the length of Philando's. Being a dark-skinned black man, white police officers undoubtedly would even see a resemblance between my son-in-law and Philando Castille. And David, too, gets stopped or followed by cops for nonsense, bullshit reasons. All the fucking time. I am scared to death for him.
God in Heaven. Enough is enough. Fear cannot be used as an excuse to justify any goddamn behavior you like. Not even for cops. Especially for cops.