Philando Castile: You Should be Angry - and Scared


The message of the verdict in the Philando Castile shooting is: “Wake up – this could be you or your loved ones.” It demonstrates how slanted our legal system is against holding police accountable for killing innocent citizens.

If you are not familiar with the story, Philando Castile was a black man pulled over for a broken taillight. He was killed by a police officer who panicked and fired seven times into his car, hitting Castile five times and -- thankfully -- missing Castile’s girlfriend and four-year-old daughter, who were also in the car. After the shooting, officers did not make any effort to give Castile medical aid, and would not allow his girlfriend to aid him. Castile died. The officer who shot him was acquitted of all charges on June 16, 2017.

Unlike other recent shootings, Castile did not resist arrest. He handled the situation calmly, and did what legal gun owners are trained to do: calmly tell the police officer he had a licensed weapon in the car. The scared and ill-trained officer panicked and fired. Forensic evidence showed that Castile was not reaching for his gun, as the officer claimed. The officer’s incompetence was further demonstrated by the fact that after feeling he needed to fire seven bullets into the car, he never secured the weapon that was the justification for the shooting.

Castile was a decent man, liked and respected in the community. The shooting was sloppy and unnecessary. We should all be angered at his killing, and outraged that the only consequence to the shooter is a “mutual separation agreement” from the police force. He wasn’t even technically “fired”.

The problem is, as Shaun King explains in one the links below, our laws essentially say, “if a police officer fears for his life, he can use deadly force”. This is not about whether the officer’s life was truly in danger, or if it was reasonable for the officer to fear for his life, or if the officer handled the situation competently.

In the case of Mr. Castile, this fear was allegedly based upon mistaken identity – Castile supposedly looked like the culprit of a recent armed robbery. It was likely also due to a preconceived fear of black men, which is passive racism. This sort of excuse could be used to justify almost any killing of a black man by the police. It happens much less, but it can also apply to almost anyone else.

When I heard that they would charge the officer who shot Castile, I was relieved to see that some effort would be made for accountability. That relief was naive, not because the system is racist or generally biased toward the police (although both statements are true), but because as our laws currently stand, there was little chance the officer would be convicted. I don’t know if the trial was a well-meant but weak attempt at justice, or if it was intended only to temporarily pacify outrage for the shooting. Either way, there was almost no chance for conviction.

We should be protesting and crying out against this wrongful death, but we should not get so lost in our frustration and anger that we miss the bigger issue here: the laws need to be changed so that incompetent or racist police officers cannot kill with impunity. This is something we should all be able to agree on, even those who don’t feel our disgust for another black man dying at the hands of the police.