Saturday, June 24, 2017

26.2 - Another black man dead, another cop free

Another black man dead, another cop free

What does it take?

I have to ask, to wonder, what does it take?

On July 6, cop Jeronimo Yanez pulled over Philando Castile in a suburb of Minneapolis because Castile was black and had a wide nose - which was enough in Yanez's mind to make him look similar to a robbery suspect.

Thirty-eight seconds after Yanez stepped the window of his car, Philando Castile was bleeding to death, having been shot through the heart by Jeronimo Yanez who claimed Castile was pulling out a gun.

Yanez was indicted for second degree manslaughter.

Just so you understand, second degree manslaughter is generally somewhat technically defined as the unlawful killing of a human being without malice and without intent to kill or cause death, committed accidentally in the course of an otherwise lawful act.

Specifically under Minnesota law, you are guilty of second degree manslaughter if you cause the death of another by your culpable negligence that creates an unreasonable risk and you consciously take chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another.

Figure it this way: Second degree manslaughter is about the lowest possible criminal charge in a case that involves a death.

On June 16, Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of all charges.

I say again: What does it take?

Philando Castile did all the things you're supposed to do. He was polite. He cooperated. He told the cop he had a gun. He made no sudden moves. It was all on the video, which the jury saw.

It made no difference.

After backup arrived, Yanez told another cop that he didn't actually see Castile grab for a gun. It was just that after he asked to see Castile's license, he - Yanez - got "fucking nervous" and Castile had "a wide grip."

That was it. That was what justified shooting him seven times. That's what made Yanez fear for his life. That was his justification. He was nervous and Castile had "a wide grip."

It made no difference.

At the trial, the cop who came to assist, Joseph Kauser, testified that Castile looked "relaxed and calm" and from what he could hear of his conversation with Yanez, was not threatening.

Kauser said he didn't feel threatened and in fact the newly-released dashcam video shows him with his thumbs hooked in a casual position on his bullet resistant vest.

He said he never saw Castile's gun. He testified to all that at the trial.

Philando Castile
It made no difference.

Nothing made a difference. As soon as a cop said "there was this black guy and he said he had a gun and I was scared," that was enough.

What does it take? What does it take for cops to held responsible for their actions? What does it take for juries to stop treating cops like they all had double-0 numbers on their badges?

How long can we go on trying to tell ourselves, to kid ourselves, to lie to ourselves, to tell ourselves this is all proper, that this is all right, that the system is working, as another cop kills another black man and walks free? How long? How many more?

That the system is not working is transparently clear; that racism is a cause is just as clear. Indeed, it should be a given: There are repeated research studies that show that black people, particularly black males - even black male children - are seen by whites as threatening and black men are perceived to be taller, heavier, and more muscular than white men of the same height and weight.

So did racism play a part in the killing of Philando Castile? Of course it did. Did it play a part in the acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez? Of course it did.

So what does it take? What will it take for justice to be more than a rarity?

And yet, even given the harsh reality of racism, even given its role here, there is something else I wanted to mention, something to fill out the picture: From the moment Castile says he has a gun, Yanez goes into a state of what can only be called rising panic. In the well-known video shot by the remarkably-composed girlfriend, whose name is Diamond Reynolds, Yanez can be heard screaming - and I do mean screaming - things like "I told him not to reach for it" punctuated by f-bombs. At that moment he strikes me as someone struggling desperately to control themselves, to get a grip on themselves. When backup comes he is so intent on keeping his gun on the dying Castile - so focused on controlling himself - that the other police have to persuade him to step away.

That he was very frightened can't be denied. That he had cause to be, sufficient cause to kill someone, certainly can be.

But here's the question that Yanez unintentionally raises, one I broached over two years ago:
Are cops nowadays taught to be scared? Are they trained to spend every moment of their working days in mortal fear for their lives?

No joke. No sarcasm. I'm serious. I genuinely wonder.
Part of the reason I asked the question was that so many of the cops in videos of other incidents I had seen to that point struck me much as Yanez did in this one: As frightened, on the verge of panic, desperately trying to retain some semblance of emotional control. Even allowing for the stress, for the adrenalin rush, they still seemed in a word scared. And I wondered: Are they being trained to be so ready to go to kill or be killed at any instant that they wind up in a constant state of stressed anxiety - that is, in effect, being trained to be scared?

It is still a valid question and bluntly the answer appear to be yes: We are teaching cops to be scared.

Yes, police work can be dangerous - although, depending on how you measure it, police work may or may not make it (barely) into the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the US - but when we have thousands of armed people going through their work day genuinely fearful that every encounter could instantly become a life or death struggle, that is a certain recipe for more, lots more, Philando Castiles.

So I don't know what police training Jeronimo Yanez got - but I can't help but wonder if that very training is part of the reason Philado Castile is dead.

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