The public has a verdict in the highly publicized death of Philando Castile, but widespread unease over the state of police-community relations continues.
On Friday, after about 27 hours of deliberations, jurors found St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty in the fatal shooting of Castile during a traffic stop last July 6.
The legal resolution is the result of full and public vetting of facts during a trial in Ramsey County District Court. The judicial system did its job. And yet post-verdict emotions are running high because St. Paul, Minneapolis and cities across the country are still struggling with issues of race and policing.
Those concerns — and the outcome in the Yanez case — are no excuse for violence. Our hope is for calm as Minnesotans react to the verdict and try to come to grips with the complicated underlying issues that are leading to too many violent confrontations between police officers and black men.
Yanez, 29, had been charged with second-degree manslaughter and two counts of reckless discharge of a firearm for shooting Castile, 32. After a traffic stop and brief interaction, Yanez shot seven times at Castile through his open driver’s side door window.
Prosecutors argued that Yanez stopped Castile because of racial profiling. They said the officer was nervous, failed to follow training protocol and panicked after Castile volunteered that he was carrying a gun. They also claimed that Yanez used unreasonable force by firing into the vehicle and endangering Castile’s passengers — his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter.
Defense attorneys for Yanez told jurors that the officer acted reasonably after seeing the gun and believing his life was in danger. They also argued that Castile failed to respond to Yanez’s orders because he was under the influence of marijuana.
In recent years, similar fatal shootings have sparked outrage over police use of lethal force, caused demonstrations nationwide and given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. Castile’s death was one of the highest-profile cases, however, because his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, streamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook. Millions saw that video in the hours and days after Castile’s death, making the trial a national story and putting Ramsey County Attorney John Choi in the spotlight.
Choi merits praise for his handling of the case. He first called for an outside investigation before studying the facts himself and deciding to file charges — a decision that was praised by those who want more transparency in police-involved shootings.
For now, only the members of the jury — seven men and five women, including two people of color — know exactly what led to their decision. They were chosen by the attorneys in the case, heard and viewed the evidence, and received instructions from District Judge William H. Leary III.
There may be federal or civil litigation, but as of Friday, Minnesotans are left to sort through the questions raised by what Gov. Mark Dayton rightly characterized as “a terrible tragedy, with devastating consequences for everyone involved.” We hope they do so peacefully.