Lawyers defending police officer Jeronimo Yanez claimed today that Philando Castile was high on marijuana when Yanez murdered him on July 6, 2016. They claim that if Philando was high, he was therefore responsible for his own death.
The legal system pretends to treat police officers suspected of murder the same way it treats civilians accused of murder. It does not. This piece from Al Jazeera shows how Police Union contracts with cities protect cops. These protections include things that could never be accepted for civilian suspects, including not permitting interviewing cops who kill until a full 24 hours after the murder.
One of the most obvious ways in which this is true is the way they portray the victims. Murderous officers go free on bail (or without it altogether). Their defense lawyers immediately assault the victim’s reputation.
This is, of course, exactly what the defense lawyer for Yanez is doing. Lawyer Early Gray claims that Philando was high on marijuana, and that this justifies murder.
“The status of being stoned (in an acute and chronic sense) explains why Mr. Castile, 1) did not follow the repeated directions of Officer Yanez; 2) stared straight ahead and avoided eye-contact; 3) never mentioned that he had a carry permit, but instead said he had a gun; and 4) did not show his hands,” the memo said.
“An objective review of the squad video confirms Officer Yanez’s description of why he acted in self-defense and the defense of others, but more importantly why Mr. Castile himself was culpably negligent and was the substantial cause of his own demise,” the memo said.
There is no evidence for these claims. They are essentially hearsay, similar to an unverifiable alibi. There is no evidence that Philando did not follow repeated directions from Jeronimo. There is no evidence that he stared or avoided eye contact. Nor is avoiding eye-contact with a police officer an executable offense. Diamond Reynolds, who live-streamed the immediate aftermath of Jeronimo’s murder of Philando (CW: video of the death), has said that Philando did in fact tell the officer he had a permit for a weapon, and that he was going to produce the permit for the officer. As for whether the permit was legal, let’s be clear: it was. This has been confirmed, and Castile had received proper and legally adequate training for concealed carry.
Philando was a beloved and long-term member of a community school in Saint Paul. He was a celebrity school cafeteria worker. Think about that for a moment. What does it take to become that beloved? Philando could have told you. His secret was kindness. He looked out for every kid in that elementary school. He made sure kids who didn’t have food got it. He looked out for kids’ allergies. He took extra care and became special friends with students on the spectrum, making sure they were welcomed. Making sure that they could thrive.
And then Jeronimo Yanez murdered him.
The Fugue States of America
Yanez murdered Philando in a year where 114 Black men had already been killed by cops. (See also). He murdered Philando in a year when the average tie between police killings of Black men was 28 hours. This happened after more than a year of uprisings across the country, when cities rose up to oppose police terror and the systematic murder of Black people. A month later, police murdered a Black woman named Korynn Gaines. This also resulted from a traffic stop, though in her case police murdered her at home while she was with her five year old son. For contrast, here are 11 high-profile cases where white men were taken into custody without being murdered.
Probably the most quoted words from Marx, after “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win,” are from the opening of the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, where he presents a tragicomic view of historical events:
Hegel remarks somewhere[*] that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
In the United States of America, the last 524 years have been a fugue state of horror. The most consistent practices of the American state have alwas been murder, genocide, enslavement, exploitation, and oppression. Politicians and the state claim to protect us, but even at best their protection is little more than a protection racket. Beware if you fall outside of the ‘family.’ Cops don’t only murder Black people: proportionally, Native Americans are murdered by cops even more frequently, and studies estimate that 25 percent of those killed by police have mental illness. All poor people suffer police brutality and violence on a regular basis.
But the reason Yanez pulled over Philando was because he was Black. Most cops are smart enough to disguise their racism after they’ve murdered a Black person. Yanez, however, attempted to justify the traffic stop – reported as a result of a broken tail light – by claiming Philando resembled a robbery suspect. The similarity according to Yanez was Philando’s “wide-set nose.” Yanez gave that justification about 90 seconds before he fired seven shots. Right wing trolls and racists attempted to spin Yanez’s lie into a reality. Even Snopes had to get in on the act, and tell the conspiracy cop supporters that they were lying.
That evening Yanez fired seven rounds into Philando’s body. Those bullets narrowly missed the two other passengers in Philando’s car, including a little girl. It was, of course, the first time Philando had been murdered by a police officer. But you wonder if he didn’t think of how he was part of a pattern, as he passed away. These patterns were coming to a head in his own life at that moment. The police had stopped him more than 48 times in the previous 14 years, resulting in 79 charges. None of these charges were more serious than low level misdemeanors. This is a well-understood pattern of police racism. Police stop Black drivers far more often than other races or ethnicities in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and Nationally.
The Police Are Doing Their Job: Terror and Murder.
The reasons for Yanez’ murderous actions are not complicated. Businessmen and the state created the police to terrorize workers, and capture Africans who had escaped American slavery. Their mission has not changed. Police today continue to preserve the comfort of the wealthy and privileged by terrorizing Black and Brown working class neighborhoods. They continue to protect dirty businessmen and politicians from the voices of the people. They kill. They rape. They torture.
The very suburbs of Falcon Heights and St. Anthony have been notorious for years as a place where cops stop as many Black and Brown drivers as they can. These traffic stops didn’t become controversial only after Jeronimo murdered Philando. A white law professor and gun rights advocate who helped draft Minnesota’s concealed carry law was so unnerved by his 2013 encounter in the same area that he requested a meeting with the St. Anthony Police Chief. The chief blew him off to his face. That same police chief, John Ohl, threw a public temper tantrum shortly before he retired in June of 2016. Instead of handling criticism of his public officers like a professional, he insisted nothing was wrong in his department.
Jeronimo attended the “Bulletproof Warrior” trainings, which experts say “fosters a paranoid mindset” among officers. It’s not the officers who need to be bulletproofed.
Jeronimo’s lawyers immediately began to walk it back. It wasn’t his nose, they claimed, but the presence of a firearm, that resulted in Philando’s death. Of course, putting the blame on a firearm is a tricky thing in the United States. Even some right wing blogs took offense to this tack, noting that Philando had done everything correctly, from receiving proper training and credentials for a legal concealed carry, according to his rights under the United States’ Second Amendment, as well as during the encounter itself.
It was gratifying that some of the right wing defended Philando’s constitutional right to bear arms. Historically, the right wing has embraced guns for white men, and pretty much only them. When Black people have armed themselves for self defense, the heroes of the gun lobby introduced gun control. Black people have always had second class rights when it comes to the second amendment. Philando is still dead.
What We Demand. What We Will Do.
The fugue state of racist policing in which we live is a disease. It results in unmanageable fear and stress on the part of people subject to Blue Terror every day. It results in the murder of these same people. We do not tolerate this. We will not tolerate this.
The working people of the Twin Cities and Minnesota will not stand for police murder and impunity. We demand accountability and responsibility. Those who make peaceful change impossible will experience predictable consequences. We have made our demands and our outrage known already, at the Governor’s Mansion, on I-35W, on I-94, and in St Anthony Park itself, shutting down the municipal liquor stores that fund Yanez’ department. We made our demands known even on the evening that Attorney John Choi announced he would charge Jeronimo Yanez with manslaughter, saying that
I would submit that no reasonable officer knowing, seeing, and hearing what Officer Yanez did at the time would have used deadly force under these circumstances.
We demand #Justice4Philando. Part of that justice demands that we defend his honor, and rebut the predictable, if nonsensical, character assassination that they are trying to lay on Philando.
Rest In Power, Philando Castile. We will get justice for you and your family.
We Don’t Forget. We Don’t Sleep. We Never Forgive.