POLITICS

There Is No Justice In America For Black People Killed By Cops

“The system continues to fail black people.”

17/06/2017 00:32 SAST | Updated 21/06/2017 23:02 SAST
Eric Miller / Reuters
Valerie Castile looks at a photo button of her son Philando during a press conference on the state Capitol grounds in Saint Paul, Minnesota, July 12, 2016.

It’s happening again.

I have to write about Philando Castile, the 32-year-old black man who was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer last July. I have to compose myself, sit at this laptop and write something profound about another black life taken by a police officer, another officer found not guilty for killing a black person.

And, you know, I have nothing much to say.

On June 16, St. Anthony police Officer Jeronimo Yanez was found not guilty in Castile’s death. In audio recording from just before the encounter, Yanez can be heard saying: “I’m going to stop a car. I’m going to check IDs. I have reason to pull it over. The two occupants just look like people that were involved in a robbery.”

“The driver looks more like one of our suspects, just ’cause of the wide-set nose,” Yanez continues. He later confirmed that he believed Castile matched the description of a suspect, something cops often say about black men.

Yanez pulled the car over. Things escalated.

“Sir, I have to tell you, I do have a firearm on me,” Castile can be heard saying in a dash camera video of the shooting released on June 20.

“Don’t reach for it then,” says Yanez, as he appears to place his hand on his service weapon.

“I’m not pulling it out.”

“Don’t pull out!” Yanez yells, before unholstering his gun and placing the barrel into the car. “Don’t pull it out!”

“I’m not!” yells Castile. 

Yanez shot seven times into the vehicle. He thought Castile was reaching for his gun, which Castile was licensed to carry. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, says Castile was actually reaching for his wallet. She began filming on her phone. The resulting video, with Castile bleeding to death on camera as Reynolds calmly complies with the officer’s screamed instructions, is impossible to forget.

Yanez tells another officer later in the dashcam video that he didn’t see Castile reach for his firearm. He adds that he was nervous after asking to see Castile’s license and says Castile “had his grip a lot wider than a wallet.”

“I didn’t know where the gun was, he didn’t tell me where the fuckin’ gun was and then it was just gettin’ hanky,” Yanez says in the video. “He was just staring straight ahead, and I was gettin’ fuckin’ nervous and then... I told him to get his fuckin’ hand off his gun... Fuck.”

The officer was placed on leave. The officer was charged. And now, nearly a year later, the officer is acquitted and goes home to his family, unlike his victim.

It’s almost textbook.

On June 21, the former Milwaukee, Wisconsin, police officer who shot and killed 23-year-old Sylville Smith last August was acquitted of first-degree reckless homicide.

Smith fled into a yard containing a chain-link fence after being pulled over by Dominique Heaggan-Brown and his partner Ndiva Malafa.

Smith was throwing his gun over the fence when the first shot hit him in the arm.

The second shot struck him in the chest and, eventually, moved through his heart and lungs. 

Prosecutors argued that the second shot was unreasonable, but that didn’t convince the jury. 

At least 991 people were shot and killed by police in 2015, and no officers were convicted. Video footage showed the questionable deaths of Terence Crutcher, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray, to name a few. But that also didn’t lead to any convictions.

Justice Department investigations into police departments nationwide ― most notably in Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland and Ferguson, Missouri ― have found widespread systemic issues and evidence of officers routinely violating the rights of citizens. 

Like a number of black people, I am traumatized by this ― to the point where I expect there to be no justice, no ramifications, no fucks given when a black person is killed by a police officer. Every time this happens, my stomach twists into knots. I want to scream, but I can’t.

When I think about how Castile, an elementary school cafeteria worker, was pulled over 46 times before the traffic stop that took his life, I get angry. Actually, I get pissed the hell off. I am tired. I am sick. And it hurts to think that Castile could have been my father, my boyfriend, my brother, my cousin or my nephew, who just started driving this year.  

But I also feel selfish for turning inward and thinking about all the black men close to me when I see Castile’s mother, Valerie, on national television: gripped with righteous anger, but fighting back the pain long enough to get her point across.

“The system continues to fail black people,” she said Friday after the verdict. “My son loved this city, and this city killed my son. And the murderer gets away! Are you kidding me right now?”

“We’re not evolving as a civilization,” she added. “We’re devolving. We’re going back down to 1969.”

It sure seems like it.

This article has been updated to include a description of the dashcam video released on June 20 and information of Heaggan-Brown’s acquittal on June 21.

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