I actually had another post dancing around in my brain, but after yesterday, I decided to put that post on the back burner. Instead, I am going to write about something that happened yesterday that really took me by surprise.
I live in Minnesota. Although I wasn’t born here, it has been my home almost as long as the previous state I resided in. For my kids, it has pretty much been the only home they have known. On July 6, 2016, a local police officer shot and killed a man in the passenger seat of the car the officer had just pulled over. The police officer, I believe, was of Hispanic race. The man he shot was an African American. The day before this incident, a police officer in Baton Rouge was murdered by a civilian. It was another shooting in what seemed was a vendetta against policemen. If you live in Minnesota, and read or listen to any form of news, you most certainly know the controversy surrounding the death of Philando Castile in St. Anthony that day. Philando’s fiancee and her little girl were in the car when the shooting took place. In fact, she used her cell phone to video the aftermath of the shooting. Citizens saw that video broadcasted on television news networks–not just local news either. This shooting made CNN news highlights that day.
Philando had no history of a violent past. He had been pulled over multiple times(over 50 times) by police officers for traffic or vehicle offenses. He was employed by the St. Paul school district. He worked in a school with 500 children, and, according to his mom, knew all of the children by name. Reports by both the police officer AND Philando’s fiancee say that Philando had a gun with him when he was stopped. That gun was legally owned by Philando Castile. Hennepin County records showed a current, legal, permit to carry permit issued to him. According to Mr. Castile’s fiancee, he informed the officer that he had his gun with him. The officer, upon hearing those words, instructed Mr. Castile to put his hands on the wheel where he could see them. Now, I’ve only been stopped by the police once–and I was 7 months pregnant. I had no firearm at the time, so the police asked me to do what I have seen hundreds of policemen on television do. The officer asked for my license and registration. I imagine, though, if I had told the police officer that I was carrying a gun, he wouldn’t let me go digging through my purse to find my license. The officer involved in the shooting maintains that he asked Mr. Castile to put his hands on the wheel and keep them there. Instead, according to the officer, Philando Castile reached into his pocket to retrieve his license. The officer, saying he saw the handle of the gun, shot Mr. Castile through the open car window. Castile’s fiancee’s account of the incident differs from that of the officer’s. She reported that Philando Castile was asked by the officer to present his ID, and Philando was simply trying to comply with the officer’s request. Hence why he was reaching in his pocket.
Now, this is where it gets kind of muddy.
Philando Castile’s fiancee grabs her cell phone and begins to video what ultimately will be the last few minutes of Philando Castile’s life. As in all officer involved shootings, an investigation revealed that the officer fired multiple times at Philando. After further investigation, the district attorney charged the police officer in November with second degree manslaughter, and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. The trial for the police officer began about a month ago. Both sides presented final arguments this past weekend and the case was handed over to the jurors for a final verdict. I, along with probably most of the people in Minnesota was certain that the officer would be found guilty.
Shockingly, yesterday when the verdict came down, that was not the case. The officer was acquitted on all three charges filed against him.
According to the jury panel, for days the panel was stuck with 10 votes to acquit and 2 votes to convict. Eventually, the 2 dissenting jurors changed their mind to make a unanimous decision to acquit the officer.
I’m glad I was not part of that jury. One juror was interviewed. He said it was a very difficult decision to make. He also said that those in the courtroom, the jury included, saw evidence that was not released to the public. He also reported that the jury asked for the copy of the laws regarding second degree manslaughter. They picked apart that law–trying to translate it from legal speak into simpler language every juror could understand. He also said that the jury, being comprised of ten white people and two black people, was not racially divided. In other words, the 2 dissenting jurors were NOT both of the black jurors. He also noted that while the public may be screaming “Unfair”, they did not see the evidence that the jury saw, nor do they have a copy of the law from which to make their judgement.
My husband, who has a permit to carry so is not one of those people who think guns are the problem, and I have talked about this case. An argument can be made for the officer in that, having a fraction of a second to make a decision, and knowing that Castile had a gun, did what he did out of preservation for his own life. It seemed that it was open season on policemen, and the officer was acting in self defense as well as acting to protect those who may have been innocent bystanders. Also, if the officer did in fact instruct Mr. Castile to put his hands on the wheel, but instead moved his hands toward himself, the officer, believing he was going to be fired on, did the the right thing. Not following instructions, in this case, cost Mr. Castile his life. I am fully behind police officers. They put their lives on the line every single time they put on that uniform. Sometimes one is not given time to think before acting. In this case, if the officer did in fact see the gun, he had every right to shoot Mr. Castile. BUT, the investigation showed the officer had fired seven shots into the car. Seven. That’s a lot of shooting for someone who probably could have been stopped had he planned to shoot the officer. In addition, there was a four year old little girl in the back seat of that car. To fire seven shots into a car through an open window seems to be a reactionary response that was unwarranted. Of course, the public only knows what has been reported by others. None of us were in that car. None of us heard the dialogue exchange. Yes, Mr. Castile’s fiance was there and heard the exchange, but I highly doubt she could be impartial in her report.
Like I said, I am glad I was not sitting on that jury. While I can’t say how I would vote, I can say that this decision will most likely only cause the racial divide in our country to get worse. It also will only fuel more hatred by many toward police officers. I don’t think this is a problem that can be fixed with speeches and protests and the like. I believe it is a problem that only God can fix, for it is only God who can change a person’s heart. God created all men equal. It doesn’t matter our race or gender or financial status or anything else that separates us. This world is not an easy place to live. There is going to be death, injustice, pain, tears, poverty, illness, etc. as long as we are on this earth. I, for one, am pretty tired of all of the above. I can’t wait for the day that heaven becomes my home. I cannot even imagine a life of no tears or pain or loneliness, but when I try to imagine it, that only makes me long more for my eternal home.