In a perfect world, Philando Castile would have kept his hands on the steering wheel and stopped moving the exact moment he heard the word “don’t.” In a perfect world, he would have told a police officer he had a permit to carry a firearm before he told him he actually had a firearm on him.
In a perfect world, St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez would have asked Castile if he had a permit to carry, and would have told him to keep his hands visible before firing seven shots into the driver last July 6.
But, as expert witness Emanuel Kapelsohn put it, “Perfection is not a reasonable goal to achieve.” Kapelsohn said the shooting was partly the result of Castile’s mistakes, or “the fault of circumstances.”
So instead of a young man going home from the grocery store with his family and a young officer going back to his, we are nearing the end of a nearly yearlong tragedy, with Castile dead and Yanez on trial for manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm.
The case, filled with plenty of might-haves and unanswered — perhaps unanswerable — questions, will likely go to a jury this week. Jurors will face the unenviable task of sorting through a myriad of sometimes contradictory recollections and infinitesimal details to affix blame and perhaps find justice. After sitting through a couple of days of testimony, I have a hard time believing it possible to find 12 people who, given different backgrounds and experiences, would all agree on what they just heard.
The jury will need to decide whether Yanez saw a gun before he shot, and whether Castile was going for his gun instead of his wallet after being ordered by Yanez to produce his driver’s license. Yanez at one point called the handgun “something dark” in Castile’s pocket, which is a very poor description but perhaps a perfect metaphor.
Yanez’s testimony is that he ordered Castile three times not to pull out a gun. Both Castile and his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, responded that he wasn’t pulling out a gun, then he was shot. The disagreement over this point took seconds but will last forever.
The jury will need to consider some numbers that are mind-boggling:
• 265,728 — that’s how many Minnesotans have a permit to carry a gun, a statistic that must be considered by officers, along with those who are carrying illegally, when they make a traffic stop.
• One-third of 1 second — the time it takes to pull a Diamondback FS 9mm handgun from a pair of Polo Ralph Lauren shorts and shoot someone.
• Three-fourths of 1 second — the brain’s lag time after an action.
• 7 — the number of shots fired into Castile in two seconds.
• 5 — the number of seconds that passed between the moment Yanez shouted “don’t” at Castile and the point when Yanez started shooting.
The jury heard terms that are important in how they will think about this case. They heard about “furtive moments,” the very time that an officer thinks things are going sideways. They heard a lot about “pre-practice plans,” the need for officers to think ahead to the possibility of what could happen in an incident and think it through. They also heard about “cooperative disadvantage,” when a person appears to be friendly in order to lower an officer’s guard.
“Sanctity of life” is not only a religious and ethical term but the title of one of the first slides police officers see in training sessions. It’s the right that should be considered first when police undertake any action against a citizen.
Another term used frequently by police who testified was WIT, or Whatever It Takes, meaning do whatever it takes to protect the community and yourself, including using deadly force.
Yanez and Castile met at the nexus of those two maxims.
Yanez said through tears Friday, “I didn’t want to shoot Mr. Castile at all.”
Of course he didn’t, but he did. It’s what happens when two people who are afraid of each other meet.
During Friday’s testimony, large numbers of both the Castile and Yanez families sat across from each other. Those family members will likely come away with very different reactions and beliefs based on what they heard, and I think they could all be considered reasonable.
Jon Mangseth, chief of the St. Anthony Police Department, testified that he has a saying that he repeats for his officers: “Be safe and make sure you go home at the end of the shift.”
“Don’t we also want citizens to go home at night, too?” asked one of the prosecutors.
The funny thing is, most black parents utter similar words to Mangseth’s every time their children leave home.
The jury will begin a herculean task this week. I’m not betting there will be justice, or even a verdict. Just an outcome.
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