Philando Castile’s Death Should Rally Civil Libertarians to Improve Policing

The shooting death of Philando Castile at the hands of police should gravely concern all civil libertarians (
The shooting death of Philando Castile at the hands of police should gravely concern all civil libertarians (Newsweek).

On July 6 of last year, Philando Castile was driving with his girlfriend and her young daughter through suburbs outside of St. Paul, Minnesota. He was pulled over by officer Jeronimo Yanez, who was on the lookout for a robbery suspect. Castile calmly and politely notified the officer that he had a firearm in the vehicle. Yanez, in a show of incredibly bad judgment, proceeded to shoot Castile seven times, as Castile was reaching for his driver’s license.

The incident highlighted the problems posed by the Second Amendment in our society, and called into question persistent racism in our policing and criminal justice system.

Castile had a valid permit for the firearm he was carrying. He had no real criminal record: two minor offenses for marijuana and a litany of traffic and moving violations…but he was widely regarded as an upstanding citizen who had worked for years in food services at local public schools.

Castile’s girlfriend filmed the minutes following the shooting. The video quickly went viral on social media. For any civil libertarian the video is extremely troubling, to say the least, and should remind us all of the constant and urgent need to “police the police.”

As civil libertarians, we take our Second Amendment rights very seriously. It is no coincidence that totalitarian and authoritarian governments worldwide from Hitler’s Germany to Castro’s Cuba to Stalin’s Soviet Union, have come for their citizens’ guns as soon as they take power. The Second Amendment was intended as a countermeasure to protect Americans against abusive political authority.

Philando Castile’s troubling death last year at the hands of Minnesota police should be a sobering reminder that the police have a solemn responsibility to American citizens to serve and protect; not to wield justice as they see fit.

Officer Jeronimo Yanez exercised extremely poor judgment in firing seven shots at Castile. Yanez, in his defense, cited the odor of marijuana, as well as the possiblity that Castile was a robbery suspect, in his defense. But his defense rings hollow. Furthermore, did it not occur to Yanez that even derelict criminals on a robbery are highly unlikely to bring a four year old girl along?

The American Left often asserts that big government is needed in order to pursue the goal of a racially just society where civil liberties and Constitutional protections are guaranteed to all citizens regardless of racial or ethnic origin. Yet, they often fail to see that government, particularly as administrated by Democratic “machines” in major urban areas, is often to blame.

Having taken a swipe at the left, it would only be fair, as well, to criticize the right, which does need to recognize that we still have a ways to go in implementing, for example, the provisions of the 14th Amendment. It is sad, as well, that the NRA has yet to issue a statement in support of Castile.

Castile was a law-abiding, permit-holding American gun owner, exercising his Second Amendment rights. Shouldn’t the nation’s largest organization for gun owner’s throw some of its muscle into supporting Castile’s rights as a gun-owner? Are they so afraid of alienating police departments that they are going to remain silent? Sadly, it does appear that he would be more likely to be alive today were he a white, or Asian, or Latino man…than a black man. That is unacceptable.

As Ramsey district attorney John Choi noted, “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.”

In addition to issues of racial profiling and Second Amendment rights, the sad case of Philando Castile should call urgent attention to the need for better police training and use of de-escalation techniques.

Yes, police officers have the right to use force, and under the most extenuating of circumstances, lethal force. Clearly, however, officers such as Jeronimo Yanez who exercise extremely poor judgment in the use of such force, do not belong on police forces anywhere in America.

Although Yanez was indicted for second-degree manslaughter in Ramsey County, but was acquitted earlier this month. That is unfortunate. Regardless of the potential sentences, Yanez’ extreme negligence in discharging his firearm should have resulted in criminal sanctions.

Monitoring police and policing is an area where the left and right, and all lovers of civil liberties, should come together to ensure that Philando Castile’s unfortunate death will not have been in vain.

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