I think whether or not a person cares about an injustice depends on whether they can see themselves in the shoes of the victim. That’s why it’s hard to make systematic change. People don’t tend to care about injustices they can’t ever see happening to them.
In this case, I think the answer is an unqualified yes that for just about all of us, we can see ourselves getting burned in a situation like this. Police training on how to deal with armed citizens has been a drum we’ve been collectively beating for a while, and the Castile shooting is a prime example of a department that isn’t offering proper training to its officers. I’ve seen on other forums people pointing out in the dash cam video: “Watch the action of his partner on the far right of the screen. That’s not the kind of behavior you’d expect from a backup officer when shots are being fired.”
This all jibes with what Prof. Joe Olsen, who lives in Minnesota, mentioned when this all first came to light in the media: the department in question would seem to have serious training issues. Here is the basic issue, from my point of view:
- Mr. Castile informed Officer Yanez that he was armed. At this point, he should have been reading the “not a cop killer” signals loud and clear, since cop killers don’t tend to inform the officer they intend to shoot that they have a gun before they shoot them. Philando Castile was signaling “I’m one of the good guys,” by informing Officer Yanez he was armed.
- Officer Yanez claims that Mr. Castile then reached for the gun. The girlfriend disputes this. Perhaps he could have been reaching for his wallet to show his license to carry. It looked to me in the dash video he already had some documentation out. If Castile did make a move for something without instruction, this was his mistake. But because of item one, it did not need to be a fatal mistake. The Officer overreacted.
- Our legal system is set up to create a high burden for prosecutors. The burden the state bears is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that the prosecution has to disprove a claim of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. Absent any other evidence, I believed this case was going to end in acquittal, unless there was some evidence that was not released to the public that showed Castile didn’t make any kind of sudden or “furtive movement.” It is also a fact, perhaps an unfortunate fact but a fact nonetheless, that police are afforded a lot more leeway for reasonableness by juries than you or I would.
- Like Colion Noir, I don’t think Officer Yanez woke up that day hoping he’d have the opportunity to shoot a young black man. I don’t have any evidence he is racist one way or the other. I believe the proximate cause here is a lack of training on dealing with legally armed civilians. Do I think race played a role? Yes. I believe cops are going to be biased towards a certain way of thinking and acting when dealing with young black men. To argue that police don’t profile is foolish. That would be to assume they are machines rather than flawed people with biases. But the way that is overcome is training.
Finally, is the NRA wrong not saying much? Now that the jury verdict is in, no. I’m not big on second guessing juries, and so I can’t blame anyone else for not doing so. But I think they should have been out there talking about the case and expressing concern a lot more often and loudly than they were. The Castile case was talked about in the NRA Legal Seminar, but NRA certainly wasn’t out there talking about it much in public.Â It’s possible to have a discussion while still being respectful to the justice system and to the millions of police officers out there who know how to handle armed citizens.
The fact is that NRA needs to diversify its membership. It needs to attract young people. So it should be talking about these issues. While people with law enforcement and military backgrounds will probably always remain heavily represented among NRA’s membership, if the Association is to have a future, that future is going to look a like more Colion Noir, and a lot less like Ted Nugent’s fan base. By NRA’s silence, they’ve given the media and their opposition a great example to show the people NRA needs to attract that “Those NRA people don’t care about people like me.”
Finally, I want to end with this video by Massad Ayoob and Tom Gresham:
UPDATE: I’m also adding this multi-part Twitter rant by Julian Sanchez, because it’s brilliant.