It was 9:00 in the evening of 6th July 2016 when Philando Castile, along with his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s daughter, was returning from the local grocery store. Police officers Yanez and Kauser pulled over Castile near Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a suburb of Saint Paul, on accounts of a broken tail-light. Officer Yanez approached the vehicle to ask for Castile’s license and the vehicle’s registration, to which Castile politely complied. During the conversation, Castile informed the officer that he was in possession of a licensed firearm and he then proceeded to produce his ID proof. Officer Yanez, mistaking this for Castile’s attempt to reach for his firearm, fired 5 shots at Castile which led to his immediate death. Despite Castile and his girlfriend repeatedly telling the officer that Castile wasn’t reaching out for his firearm, Officer Yanez, complying with the stereotypical image of a trigger-happy cop, killed an innocent black man.
Post the shooting, Philando Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds live streamed all the events that transpired via Facebook Live. She was taken into custody and was treated like the entire incident was her fault, and was kept in police custody till 5 next morning. All this, while her daughter was kept away from her. Approximately a year after the incident the verdict of ‘The Shooting of Philando Castile’ was delivered last week.
Officer Yanez was found not guilty and was cleared of all charges. A cop got away with the murder of a black man, yet again. Yet again, these two words, ‘Not Guilty’, shook an entire community, took every black person down the frequented trail of hatred and divisiveness. Why can’t a black man carry a licensed weapon in the USA without being shot at? He was exercising his second amendment rights, something which all citizens are entitled to, irrespective of their race and colour. What does a black man have to do in this country to not get shot at? How many Trayvon Martins, Michael Browns and Philando Castiles will have to be shot in cold blood before the country is brought to justice?
The shooting of Philando Castile was borne out of the systemic racism deeply embedded in the Police Force. The Police force needs to acknowledge the fact that they enforce the laws of the country, and cannot be biased and bigoted themselves. The facts of the case are very simple, Yanez fired shots because he had stopped a black man with a gun, he took a life out of his perception of black people. Yanez would not have reacted the way he did had he stopped a white person because, in his mind, a white person with a gun is just worried about his safety, whereas, a black man with a gun is surely up to no good.
What is even more surprising is the fact that the jury found Yanez not guilty. How was Philando Castile, who at that time was travelling with his family, a threat to Yanez’s life? Doesn’t it become the police officer’s duty to at least consider the presence of a 4-year old impressionable in the car before reacting in the way that he did? The video footage from the police dashcam clearly showed that Yanez overreacted and shot Castile out of his preconceived notions about black people. Yanez was clearly guilty and yet he walks free today. It’s not the crime itself but the complete lack of apathy that puts the entire community down. Just because white America doesn’t experience this form of racism, it doesn’t make it irrelevant to the society. Life is inherently different for a black person than it is for his white counterpart. This is abundantly clear, yet, there are people who would rather pin these clearly racist incidents of police shootings on something entirely different.
The outrage over the deaths of Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott and all others aren’t reactions to perceived slights, this is an actual issue that plagues America. A sizeable part of the country justifies racism, and the only way to bridge the differences is by first acknowledging the it. This concern over being called ‘racist’ is masking the problem. This is not normal, or justifiable. This is injustice in its purest form. Philando Castile was denied justice in face of overwhelming evidence. Injustice against blacks is still rampant in the USA, and this taints the image of what the nations sells as the ‘The Great American Dream’. America, you take all you want from black culture, but will you show up for black lives?
By Satwadhi Das