On July 6th, 2016 Philando Castile was stopped by a police officer. Allegedly he was stopped for a broken taillight but a recently released dashcam video from Jeronimo Yanez’s vehicle puts this notion in dispute. Instead, it seems like Castile was mistaken for a suspect in a convenience robbery, something that Yanez did not tell Castile.
After a brief exchange and Castile informing the officer, calmly, that he has a gun on him, Yanez tells him not to pull out the gun. When reaching for his ID as Yanez requested, Castile is shot 7 times by the officer when he tries to put his hands back in the air, also as the officer requested.
Yanez was then charged, in November of that same year with three felonies: One count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of his firearm. That manslaughter part is important because most defendants, if they didn’t have a badge, likely would have gotten the full murder charge, but Yanez was excepted from this.
Finally, on June 16th, 2017, Yanez was acquitted and also fired by the city of St. Anthony
Yanez’s justification for the shooting was fear and, incredibly, second-hand smoke inhalation,
“I thought, I was gonna die, and I thought if he’s, if he has the, 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?”
The jump in logic here is notable. Smoking marijuana isn’t as dangerous as nicotine, for starters and the effects of second-hand smoke are by several magnitudes less severe then shooting someone.
Yanez was irritable, nervous, acting recklessly and his justifications for it, the dashcam video and, of course, Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynold’s Facebook video, all show that.
The response to both the initial death and the recently failed court case has been an outpouring of political exhaustion and rage. There have been many shootings and failed convictions like this and to have one so explicit and clear in the eyes of so many, is a recipe for a political explosion, both figurative and literal, on the streets and online.
But why was Yanez treated so differently than anyone else who would have normally been called, and actually prosecuted, as a murderer? Michael Huemer, a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado, has a quote about authority that gets to the heart of the matter:
“1. The only people to punish the authorities are other members of the same organization … 2. …[B]eing in power means that everyone else has to treat you with deference and respect almost regardless of your conduct. Thus, juries tend to bend over backwards to give the most radically charitable interpretations … In effect, most people think authorities should be held to drastically lower standards of conduct than anyone else.”
There are also racial elements to this, where juries are often containing white people and especially in cases where the victim is a person of color, this creates disparities in people’s perceptions of the world and what individuals are likely to experience.
The solution to these problems is not to have more cameras on police, fight for more rules and regulations police need to adhere to or teach people to respect authority. The solution is to stop treating authority as if it’s something that people should be murdered over.
If we stop treating police like they are allowed to kill people and stop seeing them as these infallible agents, we can do more justice in the world. We can start that process by realizing the courts are much more likely to see things in the officer’s favor, than ours. We should speak up and say that police officers are human beings and that putting all of the weight of policing on one special group is not only ethically specious but ineffectual and dangerous.
We should focus more on building alternatives to the police within our communities and resisting police through our art, through our solidarity to each other and through the hope that many of us share for a less violent world.