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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Armed and dangerous

An unjustified shooting
An unjustified shooting
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Thursday, June 22, 2017 09:44 am

A jury acquitted St. Anthony, Minn., police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the traffic-stop shooting death of motorist Philando Castile. As I posted earlier this week, juries tend to cut police officers a lot of slack because they have to make split-second, life-and-death decisions, and that was pretty clearly the case here. I've always been leery of second-guessing juries, but in this case, it seems pretty obvious it dropped the ball.

The dash cam video of the shooting has been released (see it at ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1ac7Zblqyk&oref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dz1ac7Zblqyk&has_verified=1 ) , and it's pretty tough to watch. It seems lke Castile did everything right, just the way a responsible gun owner should. He calmly informed the officer that he was carrying, then tried to do what the officer said. But there were contradictory commands — don't touch the gun, and give me your license and registration, and it seems that Castile was trying to go for his credentials while assuring the officer that he wasn't going for the gun. But things broke down very fast at that point and the officer fired off seven rounds in the blink of an eye.

There's really only one way to look at the incident, and Jacob Sullum at Reason's Hit & Run nails it: Philando Castile Video Shows a Cop Who Panicked and Killed an Innocent Man:

Far more likely is that Yanez told the truth in his initial account of the shooting: He believed Castile was reaching for a gun, but he never saw the weapon. Beginning immediately after the shooting (as you can hear in the dashcam video), Reynolds has consistently said Castile was actually reaching for his wallet to retrieve his driver's license, which Yanez had requested along with his insurance card. If you believe Reynolds (and Castile), Yanez made a mistake. Whether that mistake was excusable depends on whether Yanez reasonably believed that shooting Castile was the only way to avoid death or serious injury.

Yanez may indeed have believed that, but his belief was not reasonable. The officer's only basis for fearing Castile was the latter's purported resemblance to a robbery suspect (which was the real reason for the traffic stop). But that resemblance consisted entirely of commonly conjoined features: dark skin, a wide nose, dreadlocks, and glasses. Jeffrey Noble, an expert on police procedure, testified during Yanez's trial that the officer had "absolutely no reason" to view Castile as a criminal suspect. That initial misconception evidently colored everything that followed, even though Castile was polite, cooperative, and forthcoming in letting Yanez know about the gun.

Or, as Sullum says all the way at the end of the column (and this is really important): The officer made erroneous assumptions and, failing to take obvious precautions, "put himself in a position where he thought he had no choice but to kill an innocent man who was guilty of nothing but exercising his Second Amendment rights." (Emphasis mine)

Obviously Castile could have made a couple of better choices, for example putting his hands firmly on the steering wheel while he waited for clarifying instructions from the cop. But he was nervous — who wouldn't be in that situation? What's the cop's excuse? He's supposed to be trained for situations like this. Who'd have thought the warning not to carry a gun unless you know what you're doing would be more appropriate for the police officer than the civilian? Innocent of a crime or not, Yanez should not be armed, let alone wearing a police uniform.

My brother in Texas carries all the time, except to places that are posted no-weapons zones, and I could here in Indiana if I chose. But whenever I think about it, incidents like this come to mind, and it scares me off. What if I'm in a situation where I have to use the gun, and the cops show up afterwards and think I was the problem rather than the solution? What happens when a nervous cop pulls me over for a routine traffic stop?

More and more states are loosening their carry laws, so more and more civilians are out there packing, so I'm surprised stuff like this doesn't happen more often. If that's not a serious topic of discussion in police stations these days, it certainly should be. Civilians need clear, direct instructions on how to behave around police, and police obviously need better training in how to deal with an armed populace.

So far, The National Rifle Association is being quiet on this issue, and a lot of people are starting to ask why. I think it's a reasonable question. Its primary purpose is to defend the legitimate rights of gun owners. Isn't being shot for exercising those rights a rather obvious target of righteous outrage? 


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