There is a thought-provoking political cartoon by Steve Sack in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today, reproduced here. It accompanies a front page with two momentous headlines: WE’LL GET HIM JUSTICE: Seeing racial bias, Dayton calls for federal inquiry into deadly police shooting, and Snipers ambush Dallas police, killing 4. The first headline refers, of course, to the police shooting of a black man named Philando Castile in a Twin Cities suburb near Minneapolis on Wednesday night, July 6. The second is a story unfolding just today (Friday, July 8). According to a CNN website, it is too soon to speculate on the sniper(s)’ motives. Certainly, we can imagine the worst. To me, “the worst” is that the shooting of police at a rally in Dallas, Texas was retaliation for the recent police shootings of black men Alton Sterling (in Louisiana) and Philando Castile here. To me, it’s “the worst” because it means anarchy and the supremacy of violence, although to others I suppose this feels like the status quo. In either case, it’s a horrible short cut to answers we need, terribly, and soon.
I’m writing this today in part because of a Facebook comment that Twin Cities white people weren’t weighing in on the Philando Castile shooting. I’m trying to weigh in. I have two more or less coherent thoughts that rise to the surface through a lot of anger, doubt and fear. One is a fact, and it’s about collecting facts. The sad truth, however unjust (Why do we allow police days to respond? How can that NOT look like they’re fabricating a cohesive narrative, favorable to them?) is that, like Steve Sack illustrates, we don’t have all the information yet. I didn’t watch Diamond Reynolds’ video, but I know enough about it that it starts after Castile has already been shot. We know what Reynolds says happened. We don’t know what the police say. I think it is reasonable to at least be informed of what they say happened. Due to their chronically delayed responses, I think we can reasonably be dissatisfied with their timeline as well.
The second thought is related to another item in the paper today: an editorial letter by attorney Ocher Kaylan of Minneapolis. It’s the last letter here. The writer looks at current events from the point of view of the second part of Steve Sack’s cartoon: statistics. Why are these police shootings of black men happening, and what is keeping police from being prosecuted? Regarding Minnesota, I can’t say it better than Ocher Kaylan:
Minnesota Statute 609.066 covers the use of deadly force by police officers. The statute says, in relevant part, “the use of deadly force by a peace officer in the line of duty is justified only when necessary to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm.” The keyword here is “apparent.” While that term isn’t defined in the statute, it has been interpreted to mean that when the police officer believes that he is in danger, he can kill the person posing the “apparent” danger. The statute does not require that the police officer’s assessment of the danger be reasonable, or even rational. It only requires that the officer claim that he, himself, believed he was in danger. The reason for that belief can be anything, and is not limited by the statute. So if an officer believes he is in danger because of a person’s actions, or speech, or clothes, or skin color, as long as the officer himself is afraid, he can legally kill that person.
I can absolutely believe that the officer who shot Castile was afraid at the time. Why he was afraid, I can’t know. But as long as he claims that he was afraid, for whatever reason, he won’t be prosecuted under Minnesota law. There is no check or balance for reasonableness in Minnesota Statute 609.066. And until it’s changed to hold police officers accountable for killing people based on unreasonable or irrational fear, we will continue to see these police killings of black men go unchecked.
The only good thing about this is that it is something that can change. The wording of this statute must change. There must be checks and balances for what is reasonable behavior on the part of police.
I’m a white person. I’ve weighed in. But to imagine that skin color inevitably dictates our opinions is dehumanizing in its own way.