A couple of days after former police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in the killing of Philando Castile, authorities released dashcam footage of the shooting.
The video is as sad and shocking as you might expect. At about the one minute mark what appeared to be a routine stop turns explosive and begins with the following exchange:
The officer explains to Mr. Castile that he was pulled over because of a broken brake light. This is true but Yanez also pulled the car over because Mr. Castile, “fit the physical description of an armed robbery suspect from the previous week,” which is more fully explained in the aftermath transcript.
Then, from the video:
Officer Jeronimo Yanez: Do you have a license and insurance?
A few seconds go by as Yanez waits. Philando hands something out of the car to officer Yanez, presumably, either Mr. Castile’s license or proof of insurance (or both). The officer takes what is handed to him and glances at it for a few seconds. Then -- it’s hard to tell but -- it looks like the officer keeps the item in his hand or maybe, tucks into a uniform pocket. Then:
Philando Castile: (calm voice) I have to tell you, I have a, I have a firearm on me.
Officer Jeronimo Yanez: (calm voice) Okay. Don’t reach for it then.
At this point Philando, his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, who is in the passenger seat, and Yanez all start talking and eventually shouting over each other. Over the course of four seconds -- it sounds as if Philando is saying, “I’m not reaching for it,” Diamond says, “He’s not reaching for it” while officer Yanez says, “don’t reach for it -- don’t pull it out.” Then Yanez reaches into the car with his left hand -- for some reason (but it does fit the narrative that Yanez is trying to prevent Phialdo from grabbing -- something). Finally, Philando’s girlfriend yells, “No!”
That’s when Yanez pulls his gun with his right hand and fires several shots into the car hitting Philando five times and killing him almost instantly. About forty seconds later, Diamond uses her cell phone to live streams the aftermath of the shooting. The terrifying video goes viral.
What really shocks me is how fast the fatal shooting escalates. One second they were calmly discussing “license and insurance” up to and including the first exchange of “I have a gun” and “Okay, don’t reach for it then.” All of that was reasonable and polite. Several seconds later, Yanez fires into the car.
Life or death. In the matter of four seconds.
Now, I can’t imagine being a police officer and having to make these kind of decisions -- usually within the span of a few seconds. But, and this is equally as important, I also can’t imagine what it is like to be a black man in America, so, there’s that.
That being said, in this instance, it’s pretty clear officer Yanez panics -- and I mean, seriously panics. Yanez lost his job and many feel he should have been criminally charged.
Of course, the jury didn’t see it that way. The jury did not believe there was proof beyond reasonable doubt of manslaughter. I have not read the full court transcript nor seen all the evidence one way or another so I won’t speculate further on their reasoning.
But, like many of you, I have watched the video(s). I also want to say that I completely understand the video is not the only piece of evidence that should be taken into consideration. But the video is a pretty compelling piece of evidence. And it makes a strong case that officer Yanez panics.
I thought watching the dashcam video would show me clear cut evidence; evidence beyond reasonable doubt that Yanez murdered Philando. And then I watched it. And now I have doubts. Which is fine! Not that I was on the jury but keep in mind, prosecutors don’t have to prove a crime beyond all possible doubt! They need to prove a crime beyond reasonable doubt. What that means is that you, as a member of the jury can have some doubt and still apply a guilty verdict.
When I watch the dashcam video it’s pretty clear Yanez fears for his life and it does create a bit of reasonable doubt, which, I suspect is what the mostly white jury focused their acquittal on. I mean, to be honest, we can’t see if Philando is reaching for his gun (or not). We don’t know why Yanez reached into the car with his left hand. But the full video is ten minutes long and continues several minutes after the shooting, during which Yanez is completely non functional from fear and (probably) adrenalin. Which, again, creates doubt.
We would love to think we knew what happened. But we just don’t. Not really.
I think the main question in my mind is -- should officer Yanez have been so scared? Is it reasonable for Yanez to assume Philando was reaching for a gun and therefor the officer had no choice but to shoot Mr. Castile? Or is it more reasonable to assume Yanez fell victim to “fear the black man” racial profiling and then needlessly panics and kills Philando?
Can both be partially true? Is this more of a sad tragedy than a cold blooded case? Can both of those be partially true, too?
At the trial, Use-of-force experts weigh in on the matter. Emanuel Kapelsohn, a firearms trainer and consultant called by the defense to testify, said:
"We can't expect, and the law doesn't expect, police officers to be perfect.
If we established a standard of perfection, we'd have very few, if any, people who could meet that standard to become police officers. Instead, what the law requires is that the police officers act reasonably, and that they use what is called objectively reasonable force.
And obviously the jury here, after four and a half days of deliberation, decided that the force used by Officer Yanez was objectively reasonable when he saw Mr. Castile pulling a gun out of his pocket."
Okay. Fair enough. Michael Quinn, a retired police sergeant and training officer for the MPLS department responds to that with,
"I think it's really difficult for a citizen to put themselves in the shoes of a reasonable officer at the scene of a scenario like this. And I think I understand why they came back with a not-guilty [verdict] after viewing the video.
Not being police officers, not being put in that situation themselves — they don't have to do that. They can say, 'Whoa. That would have scared me too. Because if he's reaching down and he's already said he's got a gun, I would have a right to be afraid.'
A reasonable officer I think would have acted differently — and at least would have given Philando a chance to explain, to do something different other than what happened."
Officer Quinn, I agree with you. There was a reasonable scenario here where Philando Castile should have lived.
Last week I tweeted that I thought the Minnesota Timberwolves had the best shot of dethroning the Golden State Warriors the soonest, and the Wolves seem to be thinking the same thing with their pursuit of Jimmy Butler. The Wolves’ core of young talent is undeniable, and the veteran presence of Ricky Rubio at point guard has been working wonders (ninth amongst PG in real +/-). Offensively, the Wolves are dangerous. On defense, they’re disastrous.
The Wolves have a big problem allowing open shots. Only the Los Angeles Lakers allowed a higher adjusted field-goal percentage than Minnesota’s 53.5 percent. They were tied with Sacremento at third to last in points per shot allowed. So a defender is what Minnesota needs, and Butler can defend every position on the court.
Butler was worth 3.8 defensive win-shares last year. That’s second-best to only his 2013-14 campaign. His value added over a replacement player (VORP) was a career-high 6.3. Best yet for Minnesota is that Butler was at odds with Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg all season and never seemed to complain while working under Tom Thibodeau.
Also, the Bulls were high on Kris Dunn last year, and the Wolves really have no place for him if Butler is added to the mix, moving Andrew Wiggins to the two. It would take more than Dunn to get Butler, so the Wolves could be floating Zach LaVine, who’s recovering from knee surgery, and Gorgui Dieng, who will make over $14 million next year. He made just $2.35 million this season.
“But what about the center position?” you might ask. True, the Wolves are lacking center depth after waiving the oft-injured Nikola Pekovic. Well, there are a trio of college centers right around the area where Chicago picks at 16. My favorite post player down there is probably power forward John Collins of Wake Forest, though. He nearly averaged a double-double last season playing against the powerhouse that is the ACC.
Kentucky power forward Adrice Adebayo is also enticing given his age (19) and size (six-foot-ten, 242 pounds). He averaged 13 points and eight boards playing 30 minutes per game in the SEC. Jarrett Allen was no slouch at Texas, either, going for 13.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. He’s also six-foot-ten and weighs in at 233 pounds.
Then there’s seven-foot-two Anzejs Pasecniks of Latvia, about whom I know very little. He hit six of 13 threes in international play this year and averaged five blocks per game in very limited minutes. Size plays, though, and Pasecniks has it in spades. He’s not going to be the ideal guy to start at center on day one in the NBA, though. He’s going to take time and has taken time to develop and earn minutes in international play.
I doubt Adebayo, Allen or Pasecniks are NBA-ready, starting centers when the 2017-18 season begins, which means the Timberwolves likely lose Dieng as a trade chip. They’ll need someone to hold down the block while the rookie develops, and Cole Aldrich is not that someone. My cousin thinks Nemanja Bjelica could play the four, with Towns moving to the post if the Wolves trade Dieng and have no one else but a rookie and Aldrich as bigs. He predicted all this would happen yesterday and is a trade whiz on NBA 2K, so I generally trust his basketball logic. I doubt that’s the situation the Wolves desire, though. They’re looking to compete in the playoffs and put a halt to the Warriors’ dynasty.
The Wolves might not even be looking to pick in the first round at all, which would be very valuable to the Bulls, since trading Butler is officially announcing a rebuilding effort. I expect Butler to be a member of the Timberwolves before they use the seventh pick in the NBA Draft. It starts at 6 p.m. CST on ESPN and online using WatchESPN.
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Thirty-one years ago this week, President Ronald Reagan traveled to West Berlin, and at the Brandenburg Gate admonished: “Mr.Gorbachev take down that wall.” The Berlin Wall had been erected by the puppet soviet state of East Germany. Unless you are over sixty five or are a history buff, you may not understand the tensions that existed then had many observers feeling that we could be on the brink of war with the Soviet Union.
The wall was initially a 25-mile long barbed wire fence. In the months that followed, the “wire wall” became concrete with guards aloft who shot anyone trying to climb the wall, and make their way into West Berlin. For the next 26 years, German citizens were not allowed to cross the wall. Americans could enter into East Berlin at “Checkpoint Charlie,” only if they could establish some business purpose for crossing the border.
At the time, I was a politically naïve graduate student at Cambridge University in England. I had the privilege of being a member of the U.S. Track Team competing in track meets throughout Europe. A meet promoter approached me to compete at a major competition in East Berlin. Since I had never been to East Germany, I figured if the promoter was willing to cover the expenses of a struggling student runner, why not go for it.
I would have to cross the Berlin Wall and compete at the Olympic stadium in East Berlin. America did not recognize East Germany as a legitimate country at the time. It was considered a Russian puppet state, and the U.S. maintained no diplomatic relations with the East Germans. Once I crossed to the other side of the wall, I would be on my own.
On the afternoon of the meet, I entered East Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie. It was an evening event, and I was scheduled to compete in the high hurdles against an East German who was world ranked. The East Germans had built up the competition as a grudge match between our two countries, and had made it a point of honor for their national pride.
The 100-meter dash was about to begin when my agent brought over an American who wanted to talk to me. He said he was with the U.S. Embassy in West Germany, and told me in the strongest of terms that it would be completely unacceptable for me to run the high-hurdles race that was soon to start. As a member of the American team, he argued, I was a representative of my government. Since America did not recognize East Germany, I would be giving tacit acknowledgment to a country that the United States regarded as illegitimate. He implied that by competing I could start an international incident, and if I had any patriotism, I would get my gear and head back across the border to West Berlin immediately.
What a dilemma for a twenty-one-year-old who was simply enjoying the opportunity to travel, and who had no real understanding of the international consequences supposedly at stake. I wanted to compete, but I certainly wasn’t going to go against the wishes of my country.
As the announcement was being made that I would not race, I headed for the locker rooms, located at the other end of the stadium, diagonally across the infield. Thousands of people in the stadium stood up and whistled loudly, which was their way of booing. I learned later that the announcer had told the crowd the American was afraid to compete against the East German. I was angry and disappointed, but I had enough common sense to change my clothes and get back across the border.
Many years later I would look back on this controversy as my first political act. I guess the possibility of starting an international incident qualifies as a baptism in politics.
Thirty-four years have gone by since the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, and we no longer fear one super power. Instead, there are brush fires worldwide that have overwhelmed America’s resources. Let’s hope in the future, we will continue to argue about tearing down walls and not about destroying countries.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network.