Trying to Make Sense of the Philando Castile Case

I'm cautious to make racial accusations, but it would be irresponsible not to at least consider them.

In this image made from July 6, 2016, video captured by a camera in the squad car of St. Anthony Police officer Jeronimo Yanez, the Minnesota police officer shoots at Philando Castile in the vehicle during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minn. Yanez's backup officer Joseph Kauser is seen standing on the passenger side of the vehicle. The video was made public by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Ramsey County Attorney's Office, Tuesday, June 20, 2017, just days after the officer was acquitted on all counts in the case.

By George Yancey Published on June 25, 2017

As a black man who studies racial issues, I think a lot about our racial controversies. For example, I believe the civil rights movement makes too much of individual shooting cases. The Michael Brown shooting, for example, has been lifted up as a tremendous example of misuse of police power, but the evidence that it was an unjust shooting is lacking. There really are unjustified shootings, but still it seems problematic to focus on those individual situations, when we should be looking at police wrongdoing (where it exists, which it does in too many places) on a more systemic level instead.

Castile Obeyed Orders, But Still Died

But the 2016 Philando Castile case in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota has struck me in a way the others have not. As David French has argued, and dashcam video evidence supports, Castile informed the cop he had a gun and a license for it. The cop (Jeronimo Yanez) gave him two commands — get his license and don’t reach for the gun. He followed the orders: He got his license, assuring the cop he was not reaching for the gun. The cop interpreted him as reaching for the gun anyway. Firing multiple times, he killed Castile. Castile did the right thing and yet is dead.

Recognizing that we experience events like the Castile shooting differently can be a great starting point toward the type of interracial dialogue we need.

I’ve asked my Facebook friends how twelve people could come to the conclusion that Yanez was not guilty. The best explanation I’ve received was that despite all that’s known to the contrary, he truly believed his life was in danger. He had suspected that Castile might be a burglar, so he came into the traffic stop prepared to deal with a criminal. Once Yanez determined his life was in danger, the steps he took were completely legal.

I processed this and other responses to my inquiry. My struggle deepened.

Was Subconscious Racism a Factor?

Of course the first question that comes to mind is whether this is a situation of racism. Since the rationale explaining the shooting was fear, it’s possible this fear was motivated by Castile’s being black. I am not suggesting that Yanez woke up that morning determined to kill a black man. But he lives in a society that has informed him the dangers of black men, and it’s possible that Castile’s race made it easy for Yanez to assume the worst of a situation.

I know what it is like to be feared for my race and sex. I’ve heard car doors lock merely because I am walking along a street. I’ve had people cross the street when they see me. I’ve noticed women clutching their purses tighter around me. This mostly happened when I was younger, but I know from experience that there is a fear of young black men. It’s a fact that we should not dismiss too easily. Even if Yanez was not consciously thinking about Castile being black, he may have been experiencing race-related fear of him on a subconscious level. The jury may have shared the same kinds of racial fears on the same subconscious plane. If so, that could have made them more open to the possibility that the shooting was justified.

A black man did what he was supposed to do, and he was killed. His killer was convicted of no crime. How do you think I will feel the next time I am pulled over by the police?

Of course we can never know what was going on inside Yanez’s mind or the jurors’. It is dangerously tempting to throw around racial accusations, so I am cautious to bring them up. Given the struggles we have had with racism in the United States, though, it would less than responsible not to at least consider them.

Desire For Law and Order

Another possible reason for the verdict is that a pro-police attitude led the jury there. The members of the jury were very sympathetic to police officers’ struggles. Very likely they took into account the fears they believe he faced. According to this view, it might be that even if Castile was white, he might still be dead, and the jury would have still acquitted Yanez. Jurors’ desire for law and order can enable them to give police the benefit of the doubt. For that reason it may be very hard to convict a cop of a crime, even when that cop deserves convicting.

It is also quite possible that both lines of reasoning are true. Fear of black men and a propensity to defend the police can reinforce each other. There can be a general appreciation of the protective role of the police that is distinct from any anti-black fear, but that attitude is tied to a felt need to be protected from scary elements in our society. Black men can be seen as part of those scary elements.

My guess would be that some sort of combined explanation is at play here. It’s likely that fear of black men played some role in Castile’s death and the jury’s decision not to convict his killer.

The Opportunity Before Us 

Which brings me to my most important point. As you might imagine, my conclusions here make me uncomfortable. I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt; I may do so to a fault. But when I see the video evidence from the Castile shooting, what am I supposed to think? A black man did what he was supposed to do, and he was killed. His killer was convicted of no crime. How do you think I will feel the next time I am pulled over by the police? How do you think I will feel if the police want to question one of my sons?

There is value in understanding the stress our racialized society can create for black citizens.

I think this ought to make everyone uncomfortable, for clearly there’s something wrong here. We blacks deal with these questions as a matter of daily living. It is the sort of stress blacks often feel as we see events like these. The fact that we are stressed does not mean that we are always right or should always get our way, but there is value in understanding the stress our racialized society can create for us.

Some non-blacks might feel uncomfortable knowing that we experience events like the Castile shooting differently, but it’s an important truth that affects blacks’ lives. Recognizing it together can be a great starting point toward the type of interracial dialogue we need in order to deal with the persistent racial division troubling us.

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  • faithful

    Mr. Yanacy, this is a excellent article and I certainly understand the difficulties presented. Political division and power greed present extremely hard times ahead for all of us.

  • GPS Daddy

    One issue I have been giving thought to over the past year is that there are a higher concentration of Planned Parenthood Cliniques in black communities suggesting that PPH is using these communities. In addition to this the social wealfare programs typically supported by democrates have been a factor in helping to tear down the black family.

    How much have these two contributed to the social issues facing the black community today? From what I can tell, significant. Yet, its wites in power, typically democrates, that supports these two ‘services.’ But conservative wites are not off the hook either. For if these two ‘services’ have been a factor in harming the black community then shame on conservative wites for not doing much more to stop them.

    Given where we are at how do we move forward to help the black community?

  • Jones Howell

    Great insightful article. I don’t know what to do about the inner apprehension I feel when I see young black men on the street coming toward me. Some black people have mistreated me simply for being white. Which is worse: to be feared because of your race, or to be resented because of your race? How about this: forget about your race.

  • Kathryn Rose MacDonald

    It IS a most troubling situation. We need people, both black and non-black, to begin working a solution together. Unfortunately, that does not appear permissable. As a non-black, any and every time I offer thoughts, opinions, comments, support/condemnation regarding actions in racially motivated occurrences, I am summarily attacked by both sides. I cannot be the only one.

    Sadly, the prejudices appear to be systemic on both sides of the issue. To all appearances, all either side really wants is for the other side to pay for what’s happened. So long as both sides are interested in vengeance, we will never be able to get justice and young black men and police officers will continue to kill each other.

  • Jennifer Hartline

    Mr. Yancey, I found your very thoughtful, honest piece more beneficial and enlightening than any other I’ve read on this complicated topic. Thank you. You have truly brought light and not merely heat. I wish the entire country would read this, and let it sit in their minds for a while. Bless you.

  • ARB

    I don’t see any evidence to suggest it had anything to do with race; I find it highly improbable that the result would’ve been any different had instead some white redneck, with a beer can in his cup holder, been in exactly the same situation; except it would never have hit national headlines, and I’d assert nobody taken seriously would be promulgating baseless theories that Yanez was motivated by an irrational fear of white rednecks.

    What I see in this case, more prominent than anything else, is a police officer who hasn’t been properly trained to respect the 2nd amendment rights guaranteed to all of us by the constitution, who was primed with an irrational fear of legally owned firearms by the gun control lobby in a heavily left-leaning, gun-phobic state. I see a man who lost his life for exercising his constitutional right. And that, itself, is infuriating, and demands systemic reform.

    Even *if* we assume that race played some part in the shooting, it was only as part of the combination “armed black male,” and neither “black” nor “male” played the key role in Yanez’s decision to shoot Castile; focusing despite this on the racial aspect only serves to shelter the gun-phobic subset of the left from its own culpability for the situation, push the radical left’s racial warfare agendas, and, worst of all, deny our legal system the reform that the victim’s blood and our own Constitution cry out for.

    • username_daniel

      I think you make some good points, but what about why the officer wasn’t found guilty of manslaughter? There is an undeniable, unjust, hyper-protection of police officers and to me it is infuriating.

      • Jason Todd

        He wasn’t because if you pulled over a man and that man says he has a gun, you don’t wait patiently to see what he pulls out.

        This is why Amadou Diallo died: Because he made a move in front of police officers, reaching into his jacket. This is common sense, not mere police training.

        • #EpluribusAwesome

          EXACTLY !

        • username_daniel

          If the police officer told Philando to retrieve his license, and if Philando was shot dead obeying that order (because the officer was freaking out under pressure), is there no room for improvement in training?

          • Jason Todd

            I deal with facts. Not hypotheticals.

            Maybe you should just admit you’d have been happier if the officer had been shot dead.

            I’ve no time for cop haters.

          • username_daniel

            Jason, you’re just being emotional now; that’s not good for the conversation.

            You know what I would’ve been “happier” with? If we would never have learned Philando’s name because both he and the officer went home to their families in one piece. I don’t have it out for police officers–they’re people with families like everyone else; but, unlike everyone else, they have an extra later of insulation from justice.

            Labeling me a cop-hater is just a lazy way of approaching the discussion and it brings resolution to exactly zero of the issues on the table.

          • username_daniel

            1. Philando’s girlfriend said (in the video–after Philando was shot) that the cop had asked him to produce his license and that he had been going after his license.

            2. The police officer should have been better prepared for the situation–i.e., a person in a vehicle *following CCW protocol* by informing the officer of his having had a firearm. I believe that if the officer had been better prepared in this way there would have been one less link in the chain that led to the tragedy (for both people–I can’t imagine it is easy to live with having taken someone’s life, especially knowing, even if only after the fact, the person was not a threat).

          • Jason Todd

            Philando’s girlfriend said (in the video–after Philando was shot) that the cop had asked him to produce his license and that he had been going after his license.

            By now, it has been made extremely obvious the girlfriend started filming solely and specifically to create a false narrative that was destroyed by, among other things, the dashcam video.

            If you are going to come in here and present that bullhockey as fact just so you can persecute a police officer who had every stinking right to defend himself against an imminent threat (and backed up with facts, you cop hating douchebag), you can consider yourself blocked.

          • Paul

            This whole situation is based on hypotheticals. The officer feared for his life based on the hypothetical that Castile was reaching for a weapon. People are killed be LEOs frequently on that hypothetical.

  • username_daniel

    1. I can’t understand how the officer was not found guilty.

    2. I think a distinction should be made between a “racism” that is a baseless hatred for a group vs a “racism” that is a fear of a group (e.g., the young Black American) created by enough of the members in that group exhibiting a negative pattern of behavior. I agree there is a fear of young Black Americans–and it is a logical response to behavioral patterns exhibited by them. When there is a change in the culture / behavior for a long enough time (long enough to etch another picture of themselves in peoples’ minds) that fear won’t be there.

    As a person who was “stressed” (constantly targeted for abuse–physically, verbally) by young Black American males growing up, I find it odd when it is not easily understood why we’re at where we’re at.

  • wc af

    “Castile informed the cop he had a gun and a license for it.”

    Mr. Yancey, the transcript doesn’t support the second half of your statement, it is false.

    • Paul

      Yea it is very important to be precise regarding these details, reminds me all over again about Zimmerman/Martin details that were less than accurate. Details matter

    • Mo86

      @wcaf:disqus
      “Mr. Yancey, the transcript doesn’t support the second half of your statement, it is false.

      Where is that transcript available?

  • Dant e

    When ever there are crimes committed by members of national services such as the police or military there are large sections of the population who will argue for them regardless of the facts, there is a blind partiality or bias in these peoples minds as you mentioned which could stem from both the view that they need to protect the protection. These people are doing a dangerous, highly stressful job on our behalf that the rest of us don`t want to do(especially military) and when things occasionally go wrong it needs to slide because of these mitigating circumstances. When I read the comments on certain online newspaper articles such as these you can see this clearly, the Alexander Blackman case is the perfect example, the Daily Mail commenters and all those supporting him, petitioning for him and the judges who cleared him all showed their bias in this areas despite absolute and inarguable evidence of his guilt.

    • Kevin Carr

      I don’t agree it need to slide, however there are fallible human beings on both sides of this equation. How long was the officer supposed to wait? What responsibility did the victim have? It is easy to second guess, I wouldn’t want to be in that situation, was it just a straight up murder and the officer got away with it? It is a thankless job, until you need them. I’m sure there were things on both sides of this that could have been done differently, and the results of this trial and reviewing reports may bring some changes, if he did the best he could by training may be it needs an update. Unfortunately, the other side doesn’t get a review. In the climate the police have been in the last couple of years, if some develop a siege mentality , I can’t say I blame them. It is still a hard call, when you life is on the line how long are you prepared to wait?

      • Dant e

        Completely agree with your comment Kevin, I`m not in the know about this incident myself so I can`t comment on it specifically. My comment was more in regard to trends of support by certain sections of the public when incidents like this occur rather than the subtleties of the incidents and whether truly guilty or not. Just using the daily mail commenters as my evidence you can guarantee that the vast majority will be in support of the officer/military personnel regardless of the circumstances, or at least in the vast majority of circumstances especially with military personnel. The reality and truth of what happened, true justice is irrelevant to these people.

  • Jason Todd

    To put this plain: There is no racism here. This is about a man who told a police officer at a traffic stop he had a gun. The officer flat told him not to move for it. Castile responded by continuing to move. Common sense dictates you don’t wait around to see what the man pulls out. That can get you killed.

    In short, the person responsible for the death of Philando Castile was Philando Castile. Period.

    • #EpluribusAwesome

      Exactly. The reason Mr Yancey is confused is because his first assertion (“Castile Obeyed Orders”) is false.

      I watched Larry Elder’s youtube on this, which includes the dash cam footage, as well as Mr Elder’s informative commentary on how one is instructed when you get a concealed carry license. What you SAY to the officer is not as important as what you DO. The officer said Castile’s motions were ambiguous, and as I listened to the officer describe it at the scene that is completely believable. Another important factor is that Castile was high as a kite, having been caught right after smoking weed in the car with his girlfriend just before the traffic stop. The toxicology report indicated Castile was VERY high. Black men need to understand, if you have a gun and your motions are ambiguous to the cop he will suspect his safety is threatened and so, understandably, he or she will probably shoot you to protect himself. The outrage vendors gloss over the fact that police are people too. All the vengeful outrage is only going to give black people the wrong ideas and perpetuate problems for black men, which is very sad and very frustrating.

      • username_daniel

        Wow.
        Maybe if Philando hadn’t been high things would’ve gone differently–he’d have been able to understand not to make those ambiguous motions after having informed the cop of his CCW.

        • Paul

          Yes, it is hard not to see Castile contributed to the situation with his own poor choices

        • #EpluribusAwesome

          Yeah. Poor Philando.

          • username_daniel

            Yeah, he was innocent.

          • #EpluribusAwesome

            Possibly so. But he’s dead now because of his own stupidity. The cop was not at fault.

          • username_daniel

            1. Both contributed–both were at fault.

            2. You’re willing to speak spitefully of a wrongfully dead man (i. outrageously you sarcastically say “Yeah. Poor Philando.” and ii. “because of his own stupidity”) to exonerate and keep a cop exalted. That is wrong.

          • #EpluribusAwesome

            1. The cop was exonerated in a court of law. Meaning anybody who persists in saying he was at fault is a liar. Cops like that one put their lives on the line for all of us. If cops do wrong, we punish them. If not, we don’t. Simple as that. We don’t rule by mob rule. The cop was exonerated in a court of law. Additionally I agree with the verdict after seeing the dash cam video for myself.

            2. I don’t wish death on anybody but yes Philando is dead because of his own stupidity. You don’t like me being mean about that but you don’t mind smearing a cop and saying he should be in jail for manslaughter simply because he was doing his job. Who’s the meaner of the two of us? Philando acted stupidly, probably at least in part because he was high. There are lessons to be learned there. The biggest tragedy is that there are apparently people, like you, who do not want to learn those lessons, but prefer to smear and lie about cops, and overlook the massive crime problem in certain minority communities, which only perpetuates this problem.

          • username_daniel

            1a. So EVERY SINGLE DECISION made in a US Court of Law is 100% just? Sir, let me tell you about this bridge I’m selling…
            1b. I saw the footage and it strengthens my conviction the officer unnecessarily freaked out, and that had the officer been better trained he would’ve made a better decision.

            2a. Don’t compare what I’m doing (faulting the living cop) to what you’re doing (spitting on the man he wrongfully killed).
            2b. Interesting: you fault me for lying about cops but are yourself lying about me. When have I lied about cops?
            2c. There’re definitely things to be learned–and they should be learned–but that doesn’t itself exonerate the cop.

            I love cops, but I’m not going to worship cops. They’re just humans.

      • CJL

        TCH levels are a poor indicator of intoxication. The evidence does not support that he was high.

        • #EpluribusAwesome

          LOL

    • Paul

      I also find fault with the officer, his verbal commands were unclear. He tells Castile “don’t pull it out” in reference to his concealed carry. If Castille was reaching for his wallet then he is not violating the verbal command of the officer. What the officer should be saying is to keep your hands on the wheel. The officers failure to issue clear commands contributed to the situation.

      • Jason Todd

        Paul, I’ve been over why the officer was right twice. There will not be a third.

        You are a moron.

        • Paul

          I will refrain from responding in kind.

          • Jason Todd

            As you should. I’m sick and tired of people making snap decisions on cops without regard to facts.

            And you’d have done the same if you were that officer. If you say no, you are a liar. But if you are for real, you’re an even bigger moron than I thought you were.

          • Paul

            Snap decisions? I didn’t have an opinion on this situation until I had the opportunity to see the videos and hear the audio. I’m discussing what the officer actually said and did, It seems my observations have struck a nerve since you’re ignoring them and resorting to personal attacks instead. Classic diversion.

          • Jason Todd

            What the officer did, which you have chosen to ignore, is defend himself against an imminent threat, which he had every right to do.

            If you do not wish to be called a moron, you should not act like one.

            Blocked.

          • Paul

            What you seem to want to ignore is how the officers commands were not clear and contributed to the situation.

          • CJL

            The video indicated no threat to the officer. At best, the officer was mistaken. The man was a respectable family man who was shot in front of his wife and child. (And no one is a moron because you disagree with him. )

          • Jason Todd

            A respectable family man shares a joint with his girlfriend (not wife) with their young daughter in the car?

            This is a troll, right?

          • CJL

            Although I do not recommend cannabis use, the man had a permit to carry a gun. While the USA does not have the highest standards in who is allowed to carry a gun, they do (I think) require that they not be criminals….

            THC levels in blood are not a reliable indicator of intoxication. We do not know if he was stoned… The evidence would suggest he wasn’t.

            The officer’s explanation of why he panicked is, bluntly, ridiculous.

          • Jason Todd

            1) Your comments are not relevant, as you referred Castile as “a respectable man.” Respectable men don’t smoke marijuana, let alone in front of their children.

            2) Would you have been happier if Castile had shot the officer?

      • Kevin Carr

        It is easy to second guess someone when your life isn’t on the line. None of us can get in this officer’s head and determine a racial bias. The police have/had been operating in an atmosphere of cop killings in some cases they were just walking in their areas. How long are you supposed to wait? In the military and with the police they know hesitation can get you or someone else killed, how long should you wait?

        • Paul

          Are you saying a LEO should have no accountability for issuing unclear commands?

          • Kevin Carr

            Not at all, I said it is easy to second guess when you risk nothing. How long should you wait after telling a suspect not to do something? In his shoes you would have done everything flawless?

          • Paul

            I have no idea what I may or may not have done, but I know if I make poor decisions in my own profession I am held to account. And like this officer the evaluation of my decisions are done in hindsight as is often the case. That’s just reality.

            I hear much about how Castile (the non-professional) could have done things differently but as soon as I mention that the LEO (the professional) could have done things differently then no one wants to discuss it.

            The LEOs verbal commands were ambiguous and it is reasonable to want the trained professional to do better. That doesn’t mean the LEO was entirely responsible, but yet I can look at the video and see how it is possible to be complying with the verbal commands and yet still get shot because of the LEOs choice of words in those commands.

        • Jason Todd

          Apparently Paul, like all other cop htaters, thinks officers should wait until they are dead before reacting.

          Which is why I blocked him.

          • Paul

            Jason you are heavy on name calling and light on reason. Funny how expecting professionalism from the professional has now become cop hating. enjoy your tantrum.

  • Paul

    Mr Yancey, you wrote “Of course the first question that comes to mind is whether this is a situation of racism.”

    This encapsulates one of our major differences. For me it isn’t remotely the first question that comes to mind. There’s nothing ‘of course’ about it, and thinking in those terms seems irrational to me. I’m not naive to the existence of racism, but there’s so much more than that going on in this world and racism isn’t my default first analysis to any policing activity.

  • Jason Todd

    I just want to know where Yancey was when members of the Fullerton, CA police department really did go over the line and beat a homeless man, Kelly Thomas, to death and were allowed to get away with it in spite of the facts surrounding the case?

    Oh, yeah, that’s right: Kelly Thomas was white.

  • tearfang

    //He followed the orders//
    In the dash-cam video you clearly hear the cop saying don’t reach for it. Philando kept reaching… Your facts are wrong. He did not follow orders. It is said that the state enforces compliance and its laws through the barrel of a gun- the Philando case is an example of that.

  • Eric

    Attorney David French explains why he reaches this conclusion.

    “But whether he panicked because of race, simply because of the gun, or because of both, he still panicked, and he should have been held accountable. The jury’s verdict was a miscarriage of justice.”

    Conclusion of:
    The Philando Castile Verdict Was a Miscarriage of Justice
    by DAVID FRENCH
    June 17, 2017 2:27 PM

    To read more from his post, just search for “The Philando Castile Verdict Was a Miscarriage of Justice”

  • Elizabeth Berube

    This event is one of the saddest things I have ever read. A tragedy for all. My heart goes out to the family of Mr. Castile as well as the police officer. I have one observation. In NC when you are granted a concealed carry permit, it is my understanding the training includes how to handle the situation if approached by law enforcement when you are carrying your weapon. You are to put both hands in plain sight of the officer (on the drivers window palms pressed to the glass) while informing the officer that you have a weapon and where it is located.
    Hindsight is useless, but to possibly save a life in the future perhaps this should be standard protocol when one is in possession of a firearm and in the presence police officer simultaneously.
    My heart and prayers for all.

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