If black people have to be afraid of getting shot every day, can cops at least be afraid to go to jail for shooting them?
No one should be able to watch those dashcam videos without understanding that what happened was wrong. Here’s an article that lays out some of the many things off about this encounter.
Jeronimo Yanez was exonerated, because a jury of human beings believed the defense, who said that being afraid was a good enough reason to fire seven bullets, to kill a man in front of his child and his partner.
I say, bullshit. Being afraid is NOT a good enough reason to pull that trigger, and it sure as shit ain’t a good reason not to punish the man who made the mistake and ruined four or more lives that day, though it’s possible that he too thinks he doesn’t deserve punishment for killing Philando Castile.
Every time this happens, every cop in the country is told, yes, being afraid of a black man is justified, because even if it is one hundred percent evident that the black man is not truly a threat, it’s better to pull the trigger just to be safe. No one has gone to jail for it, so it must be right. This horrifying message has been repeated, every time the indictment doesn’t come, every time “you can’t prove I wasn’t afraid” wins an acquittal.
That’s how terrified society has told us that we should be of black men. It is an attitude that has been ingrained in each of us by a thousand tiny voices, choices that have been made by people similarly carrying this belief, even if they don’t consciously realize it.
That idea is wrong, as in incorrect, and until we actually talk about it, people will continue to die.
Yanez heard the word ‘gun’ from a black man, who moved his hands. Everything in Yanez’s training and much of the cultural undercurrent suggests that this man is, of course, reaching for the gun. He does not believe the black man when he says he is not reaching for it. An additional assumption is that of course his intention was to use the gun. Believing these incorrect assumption, Yanez immediately starts firing to protect himself.
Why shouldn’t he? No one’s ever gone to jail for it. That means its okay to be wrong for shooting him.
Every cop who has walked up to a driver’s side door has had those images in their mind. A fellow officer, one of their own tribe, is accused of something terrible. The drumbeat begins: the officer felt threatened, the black man could have hurt him, the courts say its justified to kill a black man who makes you afraid for a moment.
People come out of the woodwork, saying things like “Police lives are so dangerous, of course they’re all edgy! Don’t you know how dangerous and frightening all black men are? If the cop was afraid, it was okay.”
The cops hear this, and they believe it. After all, haven’t they all had interactions with specific, actually threatening black people? (Note that they do not have the same general opinion of whites considering all the volatile and threatening white people they encounter on those same days.)
Meanwhile, two white inmates escaped from custody, murdered people while escaping, and they were captured alive and unshot. Even demonstrably dangerous white people get the benefit of the doubt after a manhunt and a high speed car chase. They’re going back to jail, still breathing. They’ll go to court, where people will think very carefully about if they deserve to die for what they’ve done, and if so, it will take time for that sentence to be carried out.
Philando Castile made an officer afraid by being black and using the word gun, and died three seconds later in the front seat of a car with his family. He got no benefit of the doubt, no presumption of innocence, and with that verdict he got no justice.
It’s not a crime to be wrong, but it is a crime to shoot a man multiple times in broad daylight. Yanez was wrong to be so afraid, and he was wrong to fire those bullets, and he should have to pay a price for a mistake that catastrophic.
So did the last officer in this situation, and so did the one before that, and the one before that and so on. So will the next one, and the one after that.
We have to start getting this right. We have to demand better of ourselves and each other. Our brothers are dying and we’re not doing enough to fix the problems. Our police are murderers, and we’re letting them think its okay. No one is winning here, and we have to do the work to stop it.
Black lives matter, and we have to start behaving as if they do, before and after the shots are fired. Maybe someday we’ll start thinking before shooting, but not punishing killers isn’t a solution, it’s making things worse.