It’s been nearly a year since Philando Castile was stopped, shot and killed in Falcon Heights, Minnesota by Jeronimo Yanez. Last week’s release of the dashcam footage by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and the Ramsey County attorney’s office did not unearth anything new, said Castile’s cousin Antonio Johnson.
“We already knew the evidence that was presented” at the Yanez trial that resulted in the June 16 not guilty verdict on all charges against Yanez, Johnson told the MSR during Sunday’s Minnesota Lynx-San Antonio contest in downtown St. Paul.
Johnson said the release of the video and other trial documents was less than helpful to the family. “Now we have to relive it again with the public. It’s been over a year ago and we are still in a state of shock.”
Any trust in the criminal justice system the Castile family and others in the community may have had going into the trial was lost afterwards. In essence, the verdict created more questions, leading with this: If the video seems to show that the former police officer unnecessarily shot Castile and almost shot Diamond Reynolds’ daughter sitting behind Castile in the back seat — and endangered the girl’s mother as well — why was Yanez ultimately cleared of all charges?
“We are upset,” Johnson continued. “For all 12 people [on the jury] to not see anything wrong was shocking and an eye-opener for us, even for our community as a whole.”
“People have the right to say what will it take for a police officer [to be] held accountable,” said ACLU of Minnesota Interim Executive Director Teresa Nelson. “He [Yanez] sees an African American man with a wide nose [and that] was enough to say [Castile] was a robbery suspect? That was a pretext to stop him? Castile had been the victim of stops over the years that were likely racial profiling.
“I know a lot of people who drive around with broken brake lights or a taillight out who don’t get stopped. The difference is they’re not African American,” said Nelson.
Melba Pearson, a former Miami-Dade County prosecutor and now ACLU of Florida deputy director, added, “It’s hard to prosecute a case like this. You already have that hurdle of [people] in general that give more credibility to law enforcement because of the job that they do. Number one — bringing charges [against police] are very rare; you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this officer was not in fear of his life.”
Pearson, when asked, refused to blame the prosecution for not getting a different verdict. “I can tell you as a former prosecutor that prosecutors want to win,” she pointed out. “We don’t want to roll up into the courtroom to lose. That’s your reputation, your future and your job.
“I would think they did the best case they could, but the jury wasn’t buying it. The jury had to decide what frame of mind the officer was in at the time he discharged his weapon,” said Pearson.
Both ACLU officials last week saw the dashcam video. “It is so difficult to watch,” said Nelson on Yanez, “still standing there with his gun after shooting seven bullets…and two other officers had to talk him down” afterwards. “That to me is deeply troubling.”
“He was such a great kid,” Johnson said of his cousin Philando. “He didn’t deserve that. We all saw that.”
“While people are justifiably angry and outraged justifiably,” said National Newspaper Press Association head Ben Chavis, “the goal is to channel our rage and anger into something that is going to be constructive and uplifting, first for the Castile family, then to the whole Black community of Minneapolis and St. Paul.”
Nelson advocated “a broad view of all the different things that played into this case,” including systemic racism and inherent bias — a “change culture” in police departments. “Better police policing and shifting from warrior mentality to a guardian mentality where every officer is prioritizing the sanctity of life, not just their own life, but everyone’s life,” she proposed.
“What we as a community needs to do,” continued Pearson, “is we have to stay vigilant with our police departments. We have to encourage our departments to do diversity and sensitivity training, and doing more interaction with the community so that every time you see a Black face you [won’t] want to pull your weapon.”
Johnson, a local pro boxer, is now preparing for his next fight in August, but the hurt he feels now isn’t from getting hit in the ring. “I know how I feel and I know how the rest of the family feels. I’m trying to give my aunt some space, but we can never put ourselves in her shoes.”
“It’s easy to get discouraged, to feel like there’s no hope,” said Nelson. “That’s all the more reason we have to continue using our voices and continue demanding change.”
“We want to thank the community, the city, the state — everybody has been supportive and gracious” during this ordeal since the beginning, Johnson said.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.