Law & the Courts

The Corner

A Few Thoughts on the Killing of Philando Castile

A horrible story from Minnesota, as reported by the Washington Post:

A Minnesota traffic stop turned deadly Wednesday evening when a police officer opened fire on a black driver.

The victim, 32-year-old Philando Castile, died at a Minneapolis hospital, a family member told The Washington Post.

The aftermath of the shooting was filmed by Castile’s girlfriend, but the shooting itself was not. As such, I imagine that any debate will revolve primarily around the dueling claims that are made on the tape:

As blood soaked through Castile’s shirt, Reynolds said on camera that Castile was legally licensed to carry a firearm and was reaching for his identification when the officer started to shoot.

“He let the officer know that he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet and the officer just shot him in his arm,” she said.

Castile moaned and appeared to lose consciousness as the officer could be heard in the background shouting expletives in apparent frustration.

“Ma’am, keep your hands where they are,” he shouted at Reynolds. “I told him not to reach for it! I told him to get his hands up.”

“You told him to get his ID, sir, his driver’s license,” Reynolds responded. “Oh my god. Please don’t tell me he’s dead. Please don’t tell me my boyfriend just went like that.”

In other words: The officer claims that Castile moved his hands having been instructed not to, while Castile’s girlfriend claims that Castile was following the officer’s instructions and was then killed for doing so. Because the incident itself was not captured, we are unlikely to get a definitive answer as to which claim is correct.

A few thoughts on this, given what we know at present:

‐It should go without saying that, even if the officer’s account is correct, the Devil will remain in the detail: Moving one’s hands while speaking to a cop does not, in and of itself, justify that cop’s opening fire — even if the cop is clear in his commands.

‐The officer could have been squarely in the wrong, and that would not necessarily render the incident “racist.” It is certainly possible that the officer was a racist. But he could also have been badly trained, or he could simply have panicked, or he could have been downright incompetent. As of now, the cop’s race has not been confirmed.

‐If Reynolds’s account were to be confirmed, it should worry all 13 million concealed carriers in the United States (well, it should worry everybody, but it should especially worry concealed carriers). Under Minnesota law, concealed carriers are not required to tell police officers that they are carrying until they are explicitly asked. Moreover, in no state is the mere act of carrying a firearm sufficient justification for a police officer to open fire (there is a crucial difference between “carrying” and “brandishing” that is often ignored in the press). If, as Reynolds claims, Castile was killed while doing no more than reaching for his ID, then it seems clear that the officer was in the wrong. How many other cops, one wonders, remain unaware of how they should engage with citizens who are licensed to carry?

‐My suspicion here is that there are a good number of conservatives and libertarians who are outraged by this story (we need more details, but it sure looks bad). I sincerely hope that the broader Left will try to engage them in good faith, rather than to alienate them by attacking the NRA or Sarah Palin or whatever else comes to mind.

‐In my view, too many conservatives react to these stories by presuming that the police must have got it right. I understand how irritating it is to hear the argument that “cop X was bad, therefore cops are generally bad,” but it is equally fallacious to contend that “cops are generally good, so cop X must have been good.” There is, I’m afraid, some truth in the charge that conservatives are skeptical of government up until the point that the police or the army are involved.

‐In the worst case scenario, this strikes me as manslaughter case, rather than a murder case.

‐Waiting for the facts has never hurt anybody.

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