In the end, it seemed like all parties could agree on something: Jeronimo Yanez should not be a cop.
Shortly after Yanez was acquitted on all counts in the death of Philando Castile, the police department that hired him, promoted him and eventually defended him from the witness stand for shooting Castile seconds after pulling him over for a minor traffic violation issued the following statement:
“The City of St. Anthony has concluded that the public will be best served if Officer Yanez is no longer a police officer in our city. The city intends to offer Officer Yanez a voluntary separation agreement to help him transition to another career other than being a St. Anthony officer.”
Too late. What you are admitting is that behavior so horrific that it results in the death of an innocent citizen is cause for dismissal but not conviction.
By all accounts, Yanez was a likable guy who carried out the mundane duties of a small suburban cop pretty well. Unfortunately, the city, the police department, Castile and probably even Yanez himself learned at exactly the same time that he was not a very good officer when it mattered the most.
Castile’s mother, Valerie, echoed the city’s news release in raw and visceral terms on Facebook:
“You shouldn’t be no police officer if you going to handle yourself in this manner,” she said in an angry video. “Now they got free rein to keep killing us. They going to keep on killing us as long as we sit down and just take it.”
Emotionally, I am completely with Valerie Castile and probably would respond similarly if a member of my family were killed needlessly. Intellectually, however, I am not surprised at the verdict. Determining culpable negligence and recklessness, essentially getting inside the head of a police officer, is difficult if not impossible. The system has set the bar so high for jurors to convict a police officer that they’d need to be pole vaulters to get over it. Even two black jurors, who are exponentially more likely to have had adverse experiences with cops, found him not guilty.
When a black man gets shot dead seconds after telling an officer he’s carrying a firearm, there’s something wrong with a system that does not allow for punishment of the officer, except for maybe losing his job. The law says Castile didn’t even have to tell Yanez he had a gun. Yet, the only NRA members visible in this case were some jurors who let Yanez go and the expert witness who testified against him. The NRA’s usual outrage about violating people’s Second Amendment rights was absent.
On Saturday, about 75 people showed up for a community meeting in St. Paul to talk about the case. There were some nice words about Castile, remembrances of Sunday football, barbecues and going to a Sadie Hawkins dance at St. Paul Central.
“I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m hurt because it’s so repetitive,” said Maria Isa, a singer who knew Castile.
Ea Porter was at the gathering with a singular perspective. She works as a community liaison for the University of St. Thomas. Part of her job is to recruit students into their programs, including a criminal justice curriculum that trains them to go into law enforcement.
“I get to really know a lot of police officers, and most of them are really good people,” said Porter.
But she is also a black woman who lives in north Minneapolis, and she’s been stopped several times for minor or nonexistent traffic offenses, such as having an air freshener hanging from her mirror. Once, when she demanded to know why she was stopped, she was pulled from the car and handcuffed.
“Why are we still having issues like this?” Porter asked.
It’s a question I can’t answer and one I’m tired of hearing.
The day after Castile was killed, I wrote the following paragraph:
“I wrote nine columns about the Jamar Clark case, the latest one just three months ago, and frankly, I’m sick of it. Many readers wrote or called to encourage me to be ‘a voice of reason,’ but that is getting harder all the time. There is no reason evident in Reynolds’ heartbreaking video, no reason at all.”
There still isn’t.
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