The shocking and disturbing case of the murder of Philando Castile is probably one of the most apparent cases of outright racism if not implicit bias within our justice system. Castile’s death left a daughter without her father and a girlfriend without her partner. On a macro-scale it left the black community and its allies outraged. According to the Washington Post police killed 962 people in the year of 2016. (Washington Post). Philando Castile is just one of many black men killed in this statistic but for some reason his untimely death become one of the hashtags on Twitter.
Police brutality is nothing new, especially towards black men within our societal context. Amina Khan shares this in the Los Angeles Times, “A new study finds that about 1 in 1,000 black men and boys can expect to die as a result of police violence over the course of their lives – a risk that’s about 2.5 times higher than their white peers.” (Khan, Amina). What was so enraging about the murder of Philando Castile was that despite complete compliance with a police officer who had antagonized the situation, Castile was shot multiple times by Officer Jeronimo Yanez. Two videos have since been released, a dashboard camera as well as the livestream video from Facebook by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds. This happened just a day after the murder of Alton Sterling in Louisiana.
The videos of the shooting show two different perspectives. The dashcam video shows Philando pulling off to the shoulder of a road and Officer Yanez notifying Castile that his brake light was out. The policeman asks for license and registration before Philando Castile politely informs the officer he has a licensed firearm. Officer Yanez says “Don’t reach for it then, don’t pull it out. Don’t pull it out!” (CBS News). He says this while pulling the gun on his hip before shooting at Philando Castile 7 times. The moans of pain from Castile precede the start of his girlfriend’s Facebook livestream.
Diamond Reynolds stood strong in one of the most adverse moments she will likely ever face. As Officer Yanez panicked and cursed, she calmly informed the camera what had happened. Yanez aggressively yelled at Reynolds to not move and keep her hands visible. There was something so frustrate yet admirable about the demeanor of Diamond Reynolds. Being so calm when the father of her child was murdered in the span of just a few words. The stream ends with Diamond’s daughter reassuring her that everything is okay as her mother weeps.
There are many issues with this murder outside of the abhorrent racism. The two I will focus on are the evident issues of hypocrisy. The first is that Philando Castile was a registered owner of a firearm and this should have been a flagship case for the NRA and conservatives arguing for gun control under the guise of defense against a tyrannical government. That was not the case. The second is an issue within the judicial system itself, we have seen a disproportionate uptick in police violence in the past ten years. These things are in tandem and conjunction with a bevvy of other issues that exacerbate the factors leading to the untimely death of Philando Castile.
Historically, conservative gun rights activists have always been silent in regards to people of color and marginalized groups gun rights. A specific instance would be the civil rights, direct action group The Black Panthers. They were the perfect example of a group of people being oppressed and arming themselves to defend their communities. The U.S. government attempted to disarm them and labelled as black-extremists and terrorists. We can also look to Leonard Peltier and the American Indian Movement defending their land in what’s known as the “Pine Ridge Shootout” in 1975. None of these parties were represented or supported by right-wing gun activists and this is the case with Philando Castile. Philando had a registered and legal firearm with a concealed carry permit and without drawing his sidearm he was shot and killed by an agent of the government. Is this not what the NRA fights against and holds value in? To view the United States as tyrannical in 2016 in speculation and subjective but this is precisely the argument conservative gun activists stand by. Dana Loesch, the spokesperson for the NRA quickly denounced the innocence of Castile in a tweet saying, “He was also in possession of a controlled substance and a firearm simultaneously, which is illegal. Stop lying…” (Cohen,Kelly). While Castile did have high amounts of THC in his system, that doesn’t justify his murder.
The claim that the judicial system has an implicit bias or there is systemic racism has been heavily refuted. A question comes into the mix and that is, just how tangible can racism be in an institution? Can an entire system be fundamentally racist and discriminatory or is it that individuals within an institution (judicial, in this case) may be prejudiced? While I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, this question is imperative to our understanding of the conditions that surround police brutality. In the case of Philando Castile, we may have an answer. The individual, Officer Yanez, was racist at an implicit level, if not explicitly. He made an assumption that led to the death of Philando Castile and this assumption was made from a prejudice that black people are criminals or that Castile was dangerous because black people are dangerous. I understand this is a speculative claim but in comparison to cases where white men have done worse (see Dylann Roof) and have been apprehended, there is foundation. One only needs to log onto Facebook or Twitter weekly to see the stark contrast between the way police handle black perpetrators and white perpetrators. Officer Yanez was racist at an individual level but is this not a symptom of the distrust the police have towards black people and vice-versa? The justice system has entrenched it’s prejudices by fermenting beliefs that were established on a misinformed foundation.
Police violence is an epidemic that is geared towards marginalized people, whether it be people of color, the poor or people within the LGBT community. It was important to not mention how Philando Castile was a stand-up citizen and a cafeteria supervisor loved by his students because that doesn’t attribute a value that should have prevented Officer Yanez from killing him in his car. Philando didn’t receive due process and he lost his life over a taillight. The issue transcends rhetoric and justification, we shouldn’t have nearly a thousand people killed by police officers every year. A black man is more likely to be killed by a police officer than struck by lightning or winning the lottery and if that doesn’t frame the issue, I’m not sure what does.
CBS News, “Police Dashcam Video Released in Fatal Shooting of Philando Castile” Youtube, June 20. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Y7sgZZQ7pw
Cohen, Kelly, “Dana Loesch explains why the NRA didn’t defend Philando Castile” Washington Post, August 10, 2017, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/dana-loesch-explains-why-the-nra-didnt-defend-philando-castile
Khan, Amina, “Getting killed by police is a leading cause of death for young black men in America” Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2019, https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2019-08-15/police-shootings-are-a-leading-cause-of-death-for-black-men
Washington Post, “Fatal Force” Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/police-shootings-2016/