UPDATE: Within 10 minutes of me hitting the “publish” button on this post, this happened. I am angry. I am sad. I am terribly upset. And I am praying for those officers who were shot, for those they protect in Dallas, and for our country. We are quickly descending into very dangerous territory. Read the last paragraph of this post.
It’s no doubt a tragedy when a man is unnecessarily killed. It’s an abomination when this happens (all too often) at the hands of law enforcement. It’s terrifying when the death is due to a law-abiding gun permit-holder attempting to comply with police commands. Or it’s an atrocity when that death is because of racial bias.
The haze surrounding the death of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota has yet to clear, despite several video accounts of the shooting and body cameras worn by officers. What has emerged is two tales: One of a black man shot by white officers, and the other of a gun owner shot because he told cops that he was legally carrying his weapon.
Minnesota’s Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton spun a tale of raw speculation unworthy of his office.
“Would this have happened if those passengers, the driver and the passengers, were white?” Dayton said, a day and a half after Castile was killed. “I don’t think it would have. … I think all of us in Minnesota are forced to confront that this kind of racism exists.”
Authorities have a long way to go before that kind of statement can get anywhere near the truth. President Obama, never one to run from race-baiting, doubled down on Dayton’s ill-conceived remarks.
“What I can say is that all of us as Americans should be troubled by these shootings because these are not isolated incidents,” Obama said in Warsaw. “They’re symptomatic of a broader set racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.”
More troubling, perhaps, is the second tale. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond “Lavish” Reynolds, said that he was killed while reaching for his ID, as police instructed.
Reynolds said the officer came to the window and instructed them to put their hands in the air. He then asked to see Castile’s license and registration, which, Reynolds said, Castile kept in a thick wallet in a pants pocket.
“As he’s reaching for his back pocket wallet, he lets the officer know: ‘Officer, I have a firearm on me.’ I begin to yell, ‘But he’s licensed to carry,’ ” Reynolds said. “After that, he [the officer] began to take off shots: ba ba ba ba. ‘Don’t move, don’t move!’
“But how can you not move when you’re reaching for license and registration?” Reynolds said. “It’s either you want my hands in the air or you want my identification.”
This is the classic dilemma. Once you tell an officer you’re armed, you’re automatically–in many cops’ eyes–a threat. And when two officers have drawn their weapons on you, one yelling “hands up!” and the other yelling “freeze!” which one do you obey? You may be dead either way.
Charles C.W. Cooke highlighted the frightening implication:
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?
Police have a hard time on the streets. They have to make hundreds of tough calls every day, and every traffic stop could be the one where they die. But something is surely wrong when the facts seem to emerge that police shot a man for nothing more than seeming to be a potential threat in their eyes.
Even more is wrong when a governor, and the President of the United States, jump to unsupported conclusions before all the facts have been gathered. Their unfortunate comments do more to make good officers (the vast majority of our police, unlike many countries) less safe than they do to eliminate the actions of the bad ones.
Here’s Reynolds’ Facebook video [Warning: Graphic content].