Castile Verdict: Why Do Police Keep Getting Away With Murder?
“We need to demand control over these local precincts and police departments,” says Kamau Franklin, attorney and senior editor of Atlanta Black Star, after the outrageous not-guilty verdict in Minnesota
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Just after five days of deliberations, a jury in St. Paul, Minnesota acquitted police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile on Friday. The case of Philando Castile attracted national attention when Castile’s girlfriend live streamed the immediate aftermath of the shooting on Facebook in July of 2016. Officer Yanez had stopped Castile for a broken tail light, but shot him seven times after Castile informed Yanez that he had a licensed gun in his car. The officer thought that he was reaching for the gun when in fact he was reaching for his I.D. Following the announcement that Yanez was acquitted, thousands of people protested in the streets of St. Paul. Castile’s mother spoke at the rally and here’s what she had to say.
VALERIE CASTILE: I am so disappointed in the state of Minnesota. My son loved this state. He had one tattoo on his body, and it was of the Twin Cities. The state of Minnesota with TC on it. 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. We’re devolving. We have taken steps forward. People have died for us to have these rights, and now we’re devolving. We’re going back down to 1969. Damn! What is it going to take? I’m mad as hell right now, yes I am. My first born, one son, died here in Minnesota. Under the circumstances, just because he was a police officer that makes it okay. Oh, now they got free reign. He’s found innocent on all accounts. He shot into a car with no regards of human life, and that’s okay. Thank you, Minnesota. Thank you, Minnesota. That’s all I have to say.
SHARMINI PERIES: Another police shooting took place on Sunday. This time in Seattle. It involved a mother of four, Charleena Lyles, who had called the police because she thought there was a burglar in her house. When the police arrived, she had a knife in her hand, and they shot her dead in front of her four children. She was said to have had mental health problems. Joining us now to analyze these police shootings and behavior is Kamau Franklin. Kamau is an attorney and political editor of Atlanta Black Star. Thanks for joining us today Kamau.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Thanks for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: Kamau, what happened? How it is possible that in the case of Officer Yanez, that he was acquitted with the footage that they had as well as the accounts of his girlfriend?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Well it’s really a tragedy that he was acquitted. It’s actually an outrage. The jury basically believed the defense’s version of the events that the officer was scared for his life, and once that sort of kicked in and they believed it, they thought that all the other evidence that went against the officer shouldn’t be looked at in detail. I think any passing look of the evidence that happened of the camcorder recording of what took place from both the girlfriend of the man who died and also the police’s version of what took place through their recordings, show that the officer was complied with completely in terms of his ask for the person not to go for the gun, for Castile not to go for any kind of gun. It was Castile who volunteered the information. He followed every directive and order given to him. So there’s no reason why he should not have been convicted of man slaughter, particularly involuntary man slaughter, which does not need an intent, does not need malice as in murder. This was a negligent act, and it was something that should have been very easily proven by the prosecution.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, you saw that passionate clip of his mother speaking at the rally indicating that civil rights in the US is deteriorating the point that this kind of verdict can be delivered on such an obviously guilty case. What do you make of her statement, and what is happening here in terms of the police?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: I think the statement was a statement of a mother in pain, but it was obviously a statement of truth. I think the only thing that I would probably take objection to is that this is nothing new. This is not a case that shows us something new. This is a case that continues on in showing us how police treat black and brown people when they encounter them in the streets. There’s a level of fear. There’s a level of disrespect. There’s a level of believing that they can get away with anything that they want, and the reason that exists is because it turns out to be true. Time after time, these cases come to court. They come to trial. If they do come to trial, I should say, the police are acquitted. Then there’s a lot of occasions where cases don’t even come to trial. So, right now, the only recent case we can think of is the South Carolina case, where you had a person who was actually running and shot in the back. If there wasn’t video tape of that incident, my belief is that that person would not even have been charged, that officer.
SHARMINI PERIES: What do you make of this most recent case in Seattle involving this mother and the police reaction so immediately to someone who was holding a knife? I mean, she obviously called the police because she was frightened and it’s very possible she had a knife because she thought there’s a burglar in the house. How could the police possibly react to it in this way by shooting her?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think you said exactly what I think. Something that’s just starting to come out now is that the reason that she had a knife in the first place was because she called the police thinking that there was a burglar in her house, either there or just left. So it could have been a conversation. It could have been shields that were drawn. There could have been stepping back, telling the person to comply. There’s a lot of different tactics that could have been implemented by the Seattle police department, by the officers on the scene, and they chose not to implement those tactics, but to shoot first and then ask questions later. Unfortunately, this is not new for the Seattle police department. As we know, in 2012, the justice department had them under scrutiny for acts of bias against black and brown people and for acts very similar to what took place, is not following proper protocol when they were called upon the scene with people involved in mental illness or drug related incidents. So this is something that fits into a pattern of practice that was already being looked at, and this is just another case that unfortunately fits right into that.
SHARMINI PERIES: So Kamau, these incidences are taking place across the country. They are mounting in terms of the number of cases that are brought against police officers involving African Americans. Yet, again and again as you said, the police are getting away with it, and we’re experiencing that a lot here in Baltimore. What needs to happen in order to address these situations more acutely?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think organizers and activists and people of good public will who are concerned about these issues, of course are doing what they believe is the right thing to do in terms of protest, demonstrations, asking for more reforms. I think all that stuff is necessary, but unfortunately, we just haven’t had a watershed moment or watershed ask that we can get implemented. I actually think that we need to switch a little bit in terms of what the ask is and demand control over these local precincts and police departments, as opposed to just suggesting that we need more training or we need to have more police to live in a particular neighborhood, or we need such sensitivity training. I think the big ask is to say, how do we control these police departments, and so that way you can weed out people who obviously would feel a certain way if they thought that the community as opposed to a hierarchy controlled by the city, actually had the say in the hiring or firing practices of the police department when they control the community, when they patrol a community. Other than that, I think again, some of the reforms are useful reforms, but I think they’re not going to be the type of things that change the overall way in which policing is done in these communities.
SHARMINI PERIES: Kamau, we’ll have to continue reporting on this, and we look forward to having you back.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Thanks for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thanks for joining us here on the Real News Network.