Over the past week many people across North America were completely rocked by the judicial decision in the case against the officer who shot and killed Philando Castile. Officer Yanez was acquitted of all charges, including manslaughter, by the jury – a jury that witnessed the dash cam footage from the officer’s car long before the public did, a jury that decided there was nothing unsafe or wrong about an officer emptying seven shots into a vehicle with two other occupants, Castile’s girlfriend and daughter, and then shooting inside the vehicle again, killing him.
As I sat down to write this, that dash cam footage was made public by Minnesota officials. What occurred in that video still has me shaking.
Philando follows every direction given to him by the officer. He discloses that he is carrying his legal gun to the officer. He confirms he is not reaching for the gun, as per the officer’s instructions. Yet Officer Yanez immediately fires seven shots into the vehicle. Then as Castile continues to tell him he is not reaching for his gun, the officer fires again, killing him.
Within less than two minutes, the situation went from a ‘routine’ stop, to Castile dying.
Before I go any further, let me loudly and proudly say, I believe police lives matter. As anyone who knows me can attest (and those who have followed my column should know), I support the good, hard-working police officers. But just as there are good officers who are properly trained and who are not driven by racial issues, there are bad officers, too. There are officers who panic too easily, officers who base their reactions on race instead of the actual situation, officers who determine that a black person is a threat before that person ever has a chance to speak or move.
On a segment from The Daily Show following the verdict, Trevor Noah addresses the issue of the ever-moving expectation line for black people in America. He points out that these continuously changing rules on how they should behave when confronted by a police officer make it impossible to ever achieve them:
“Every time I see that video, I ask myself how – how does a black person not get shot in America? Because if you think about it, the bar is always moving; the goalpost is always shifting. There’s always a different thing that explains why a person got shot. The person was wearing a hoodie. They were running away from the police, they were walking towards the police, the person was running around at night, they had an illegal firearm, they didn’t have a firearm. But, at some point you realize, there’s no real answer.”
In Castile’s situation, he was a legal gun owner., one who declared his firearm as per the law, who complied with the officer. He was still gunned down and killed.
Something has to give. With social media being as widespread and accessible as it is, we are witnessing more and more of these situations. And with each one, excuses are made as to why it was okay, why it was about safety for the officer, why it made sense for them to kill them. Why it made sense for an officer to tackle someone to the ground and kick them in the head and attack them on the street for literally no reason. Why it was okay to gun down the woman who called police for help instead of assisting her and diffusing the situation.
I’m thankful that things are not this grave in Canada, that we have police officers who are trained in a way that opening fire is not their first reaction, that opening fire is not an option until it’s the only option.
What worries me is when the attitudes I see from the people who see nothing wrong in the States begins to seep into Canadians – when I see people who have no interest in getting the facts or hearing the testimonies, but would rather assume that because an officer acted, he or she must be right.
We’re not Americans, but I do believe we have a responsibility to lend our voices – to help our neighbours know that they are not alone, and that we see the injustice and want to do something about it.
Yes, all lives matter. But right now? There are minorities whose lives seem to matter less, people who automatically are deemed as lesser beings because of the colour of their skin or because of their country of origin. They’re treated as less than human because of their religious beliefs or status in life.
At what point do we stop moving that bar? At what point do we stop making excuses and start facing these issues head on? We talk about how advanced we are, about all the technological growth, economic growth, and infrastructure growth. We learn in school about how far we’ve come as a society. But have we really come that far if maintaining human decency and respecting other people because they are people is so hard for so many to fathom?
It’s 2017 for crying out loud. You’d think by now we’d be better than this.