US

Philando Castile shooting: Black gun owners worried by acquittal in officer-involved shooting

Legality is a construct of the powerful — and black Americans are worried how laws and rights of the land affect how minorities are treated by police and society.

Acknowledging that they have a weapon, they said, can open them up to violence from police, who can then claim they feared for their lives simply because of the presence of a gun, even a legal one.

Philando Castile was fatally shot by Officer Jeronimo Yanez July 6 in a St. Paul suburb seconds after he told the officer he was armed. Yanez, who is Latino, was acquitted Friday of manslaughter and two lesser charges.

During the stop, Castile volunteered, "Sir, I have to tell you, I do have a firearm on me."

Yanez told Castile, "OK, don't reach for it then" and "Don't pull it out."

OFFICER YANEZ ACQUITTED OF MANSLAUGHTER, DISMISSED FROM POLICE FORCE

On the squad-car video, Castile can be heard saying, "I'm not pulling it out," as Yanez opened fire. Prosecutors said Castile's last words were, "I wasn't reaching for it."

The verdict "tells African-Americans across the country that they can be killed by police officers with impunity, even when they are following the law," said Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Louisiana Democrat who is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The verdict also tells blacks that "the Second Amendment does not apply to them" because Castile "was honest with the officer about having a weapon in the car, and there is no evidence that he attempted to or intended to use the weapon against the officer," the Louisiana Democrat said.

Licensed gun owner and open-carry advocate Rick Ector of Detroit said stereotypes can cloud the minds of some officers when dealing with black gun owners. Officers may have had previous encounters with people carrying guns illegally — especially young black men. And that experience can carry over, Ector said.

CASTILE TRIAL HAD VIDEO EVIDENCE, BUT NOT OF KEY SECONDS

Once they find out that a black American has a gun permit, "they are not necessarily going to relax, but they now have an idea about your character," Ector said.

Phillip Smith, head of the National African American Gun Association, said police need additional training to remind them that Second Amendment rights apply to black gun owners as much as anyone else.

Like several similar cases, Castile's death was shared worldwide on social media. His girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, livestreamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook because, she said, she wanted to make sure the truth was known.

But videos of black people dying at the hands of police have led to few convictions.

"I'm sure people of color are going to say, and rightfully so, what is the burden of proof for an officer to be" convicted? asked Dwayne Crawford, the executive director of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

Only one police officer in recent publicized cases is facing jail time.

South Carolina officer Michael Slager, who is white, shot black motorist Walter Scott in the back as he fled from a traffic stop. Slager pleaded guilty in May to a federal charge of violating Scott's civil rights, and a judge will determine his sentence, which could range from probation to life in prison without parole.

Scott's shooting in April 2015 was captured on cellphone video seen worldwide. It contradicted Slager's original statement that Scott had attempted to grab his Taser.

"This was a clear-cut case of unnecessary, fatal police violence," said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change. "District attorneys around the country, from Tulsa to Cleveland to now St. Paul, must be held accountable for their failures to secure justice for victims of police violence."