On Philando Castile

The verdict in the Philando Castile shooting has weighed heavy on me the last few days. Like many people (including Trevor Noah), I sit there asking, How? How can anyone watch the video evidence and conclude that the officer was reasonably acting in self-defense? That it was perfectly rational for the officer to discharge his firearm into car—with an innocent woman and a child in the car as well—seven times?

The officer panicked. Most remarkably, as Trevor Noah points out, the woman still has the presence of mind—after seeing her boyfriend pumped full of bullets without provocation—to defer to the officer's authority. She remains calm. She calls him "sir". The four-year-old child is escorted from the scene after pleading with her mother, "Don't get shooted."

Time and again we hear that police officers need broad leeway to act quickly in the face of a deadly threat, for the protection of their lives and others'. But what are the checks and balances? In what circumstances can we reasonably determine that an officer should not have resorted to deadly force—that it wasn't reasonable for them to have been afraid for their life in the first place? How is this not one of those circumstances?

On the political right, the denial continues that this is even a problem. We're told that if black people just cooperated with police, they wouldn't get shot. John Crawford III was shot in a Walmart, carrying a toy gun he'd picked up in the toy isle. The officers yelled at him to "get down" after they used lethal force. Eric Garner was strangled to death in the street, and no officers made any attempt to resuscitate him. Philando Castile did precisely what I've seen many concealed-carry advocates claim: always tell a police officer you are carrying a weapon. When Castile reached for his wallet to fetch his ID, he was shot. Seven times. At point blank.

What will it take to stop excusing this behavior from police officers? At what point do we hold them to a higher standard than the rest of us. I might have panicked in such a situation, because I'm not a trained officer of the law. I would expect that officers of the law would be trained to stay calm, to rationally assess the situation, and maintain the presence of mind to de-escalate a situation and only use lethal force when there is no other option. If that's not the standard to which we're holding the police, what's the fucking point of training police at all?

The worst part is, this will happen again. And again. We'll see many more senseless shootings over the next few years, because there's no accountability. No checks and balances on when it's appropriate to use lethal force. My heart breaks for Castile and his family, and I feel utterly hopeless that anything will change.


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