Last week the Jeronino Yanez trial decision was handed down. Some believe the acquittal only reaffirmed the longstanding belief that there’s justice for all except when you’re Black in this country. Others saw it as a further strain on already strained police-community relations in this area.
Still others hope that it will keep the spotlight on the built-in biases of this country’s criminal justice system, a system in which many Blacks have little or no faith.
Even though a 12-person jury found him not responsible for Philando Castile’s death last summer, Yanez, who was fired last week by the St. Anthony Police Department, is “a racist murderer,” states Minneapolis Urban League President Steven Belton. “Yanez gets to go home to his wife and daughter. Philando Castile didn’t because he feared he wouldn’t get home, a fear based on racial profiling and an outsider’s racist view of Black male[s].”
Mapping Police Violence.org, which tracks police shootings of Blacks in this country, reported that police killed over 300 Blacks in 2016. This year, 141 Blacks have been killed by police thus far. The New York Times also tracked 15 “high-profile” cases, including the Yanez trial, where a police officer was indicted or charged. In only two cases was the officer either convicted or plead guilty.
“Officers who act out of line should be held responsible,” stressed Danyelle Solomon of the Center for American Progress, who has written extensively on the importance of accountability and the intersection of policing and race as the Center’s Progress 2050 director. She said in an MSR phone interview last weekend, “He [Yanez] needed better training. Castile followed all the procedures he [was] supposed to do and the officer fired seven shots into that car. He should be held accountable for that.”
“The outcome is pretty predicable, because these juries have never walked in the shoes…[of] young Black men,” added local attorney Jeffrey Hassan, African American Leadership Forum executive director. It really didn’t matter that Yanez wasn’t White but Latino, he pointed out.
“We’re talking about a mindset, an attitude towards Black folk,” said Hassan, who added that he has met some Latinos who “have no higher opinion of Black folk than White folk do. Had this been a Latino raised in an African American community and had relationships and knew the culture, this may have never happened. [The verdict] was a lack of understanding or appreciation from the jurors of what the [Black] culture is.”
Now, what’s next?
“I am encouraging all of our African American-owned newspapers across the country not only to do articles about this injustice, but also editorialize it and to help raise public awareness,” advised National Newspaper Publishers Association President-CEO Ben Chavis. He was in town last weekend and told the MSR that the Yanez decision “is another wake-up call for Black America. We cannot see the case as isolated. It is part of a pattern.”
Chavis, like many others, really believed this time would be different, especially after Yanez last fall became the first Minnesota police officer to be charged with a shooting death of a civilian. This time a police officer was charged with the crime of shooting a Black man whose girlfriend posted a phone video of the entire incident as it was happening.
“Somebody should give that sister an award, because that video went all over the world,” declared Chavis of Diamond Reynolds’ video.
However, after 29 hours and five days of deliberations it was the same old story, Hassan said. “We’ve gone through this scenario so often, and it repeats itself over and over again. I can’t remember experiencing a win when a Black man has been shot” by police.
“There is a very high bar to convict an officer. The law does protect the officer,” said Solomon.
She also finds it strange that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has been silent about Castile’s death, especially since he was shot and killed with a valid gun permit and was not committing a crime when Yanez shot him last summer. “The NRA are gun advocates, but for some reason I haven’t heard very much from them,” said Solomon.
“Everybody is waiting to see what Minneapolis is going to do,” surmised Chavis. “Minneapolis needs to stand up, and Black America needs to stand up with you. The eyes of the world right now are on Minneapolis.”
Solomon suggested, “I think what the community should do next is call on local officials to change laws. If we ever expect African Americans to find that this system works for them as much as it worked for everybody else, [then] there needs to be accountability.”
She also advocated better police-community relations: “There is a lot of work to be done in bettering relationships. It is a very hard topic for people to talk about. We have to deal with that.”
Chavis also suggested there “should be a list of criteria” that all police officers must adhere to, including living in the community they serve before they are assigned. “It’s not about police training but where the trainee lives, where the trainee does reside. Because if people don’t respect you, they won’t live among you.”
Hassan said last week’s Yanez verdict “continues disappointment…in the lack of justice that we receive. I just don’t know… We continue to tell these same stories and relive the same occurrences. It’s demoralizing.”
Information from Mapping Police Violence.org and the New York Times was used in this report.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.