This is an open and public apology to Saiko Woods, whom I previously wrote an article about. In short, I was wrong to downplay the significance of the Confederate flag and how wearing it may cause some brothers to stumble. I was wrong to defend those such as JD Hall who said things like “Bruh” to Saiko, which were only said as a means to mock and disrespect him. I still have a ton of respect for Saiko, in truth I never stopped having respect for him, but I allowed my judgment to be clouded out of allegiance to JD and out of a spirit of being uncharitable. I pray and humbly ask for Saiko to forgive me, and part of making things right is to publicly acknowledge when one was wrong. And I was wrong, point blank. Saiko, will you forgive me?
Saw this article pop up today, where a police officer named Chris Hernandez stated there is “no way” the shooting of Philando Castile was justified. Of course I wrote my own piece explaining why I think officer Yanez was not unreasonable in his actions which can be read here, but I want to respond to this article from Chris Hernandez. Please read both of those articles before reading this one.
I was surprised to see him write it, because his article on the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO is probably the best and most thorough article I’ve seen on the topic. Likewise, his article on Tamir Rice is almost a word for word match of mine. And his article on Alton Sterling made many of the same points that mine did.
So why the difference here? Well, as I’ll attempt to demonstrate, his reasoning in the Castile shooting is actually in direct contradiction to his reasoning in some of his other articles.
Castile had no history of violence or criminal history worse than traffic offenses, and no connection to the robbery Yanez thought he might have been involved in. He was on his way back home from a grocery store when he was stopped, and wasn’t committing any crime save two: his license was suspended, and he had a small bag of marijuana in the car. The marijuana is significant, for reasons I’ll explain later.
It is true that Castile had no violent criminal history, but I’d like to know how he knows that Castile had no connection to the robbery Yanez thought he might have been involved in. Did detectives finally discover who did commit the robbery? If not, how can one be sure it wasn’t Castile? It is true that no warrant had been issued for Castile’s arrest regarding the robbery, but that doesn’t mean officer Yanez was out of bounds to see a guy who resembled the guy he had seen on surveillance video just days prior and make a traffic stop to get more information. And regardless of whether it was Castile or not who committed that robbery, officer Yanez was operating under the idea that it COULD POSSIBLY be Castile, so he found a reason for contact (burned out brake light) and made the stop.
He also says he wasn’t committing any crime save two: his license was suspended, and he had a small bag of marijuana in the car. Driving on a suspended license is an arrestable offense in Minnesota, as is possession of marijuana, even a personal amount. But Mr. Hernandez failed to mention that the toxicology report showed that Castile had high levels of THC (marijuana) in his system. So he was actually driving while intoxicated. Not only was he driving while intoxicated, but he was driving while intoxicated with a minor in the car. In many states that’s a felony, in Minnesota it’s a gross misdemeanor which is like a more serious version of a misdemeanor but falls just short of being a felony. Either way, driving while intoxicated with a child in the car is a pretty serious crime, ask anyone who’s worked a fatality accident where a child died or was severely injured because their parent was driving drunk or high. For Mr. Hernandez to blow this off like it’s nothing is shocking, especially for a police officer.
Hernandez further blows Castile’s crimes off by saying…
Some people will undoubtedly argue that point by saying “He was driving on a suspended license and had drugs in the car.” My response is, “So what?” Plenty of people who aren’t criminals have suspended licenses. Anyone down on their luck can let their insurance lapse, which can then lead to a ticket they can’t pay, which then leads to a suspended license. A suspension can mean a drunk driving or drug arrest, but not always. And he had a personal use amount of marijuana in the car, not a kilo. If smoking marijuana makes people criminals, a lot of service members, regular working people and even cops are or were criminals.
Another shocking thing for a police officer to say. “So what?” Look, I’m not saying that driving on a suspended license or possessing marijuana or even driving while high with a kid in the car makes one deserving of death, but to blow these things off as if they’re akin to jaywalking is absurd and I’m shocked that an officer of the law is treating them as such.
Hernandez then makes some odd assumptions…
As far as I can tell, there is no indication whatsoever that Castile was actually drawing on Yanez;
There’s no indication that Castile was drawing his weapon because there’s no video that shows what the officer was seeing or what Castile’s hands were actually doing. Ultimately it’s what the officer is seeing that determines whether his fear was reasonable, not what armchair quarterbacks see (or don’t see) from a dash cam video. The situation was not altogether different from the Alton Sterling situation in which Mr. Hernandez defended the officers decision to shoot. Both suspects had a gun in their pocket (though Yanez did not know where Castile’s gun was), both were reaching in the area of the gun when told not to, and both had plenty of motive to try to get away. The only difference is that Sterling had physically resisted arrest at this point whereas Castile had not, as no arrest was being attempted on him yet.
Castile’s background, character, and dozens of previous stops without resistance don’t suggest he would have.
This complacency is what gets officers killed. How many people that end up shooting and killing police have also had multiple encounters with police where they didn’t shoot them? Wish I had time to run the numbers, but my guess is that it’s almost all of them. Just because they haven’t done it before doesn’t mean it’s out of the question that they could do it now. And ultimately, his character or history has very VERY little relevance to whether this shooting was justified or not. If a squeaky clean Baptist pastor with no criminal history at all reaches in an area where a gun could be after being told not to reach, an officer is reasonable in feeling afraid in that moment as well. It also stands in direct opposition to what Mr. Hernandez wrote in his article about Sterling where he said…
Sterling was a convicted felon; while many will say this is irrelevant because the officers didn’t know Sterling’s history, it’s actually tremendously important because it shows why Sterling did what he did. He was a registered sex offender, living in a halfway house, with a gun in his pocket. He knew he’d go back to prison if he was arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
So in the Sterling article Mr. Hernandez rightly points out the significance of the motive that Sterling would have to do anything necessary to escape. Yet here, he completely dismisses the idea that Castile would have any reason to escape even though he’s committing 3 crimes, one of which is fairly serious. And while it’s unlikely that Castile would have done the kind of hard prison time that Sterling would have if arrested, it’s still worth taking note of because Castile had plenty of motive to try to keep these officers from arresting him. In fact, Mr. Hernandez has already stated that people do irrational things all the time, here’s what he said in his Michael Brown article…
Tell me it’s rational to commit robbery and risk going to prison for $50 worth of drug paraphernalia. It’s not, but that’s exactly what Michael Brown did. Tell me it’s rational to assault a cop in his patrol car right after you’ve committed a robbery. It’s not, but that’s exactly what Michael Brown did. Every time a prisoner who had done something remarkably stupid, like the guy who threw a cup of gasoline into his two-year old daughter’s eyes during a family disturbance and then ran away instead of helping her, said, “I didn’t do that! Why would I do that?”, my answer was always the same. “Don’t ask me to explain why you did something stupid. I don’t know why you did it. It doesn’t make sense. But you did it, not me. You explain it.”
Yet here he is saying that Yanez had absolutely no reason to believe that Castile would do something irrational like try to shoot him to get out of going to jail for having a bag of weed in the car.
When Yanez walked up to Castile’s car and began the stop, he encountered a polite, cooperative, noncriminal driver with what appeared to be his wife and daughter during daylight hours.
Noncriminal? That’s just a very bad adjective to describe someone who’s driving while high with a child in the car. Sorry. Polite? I’ll give you that. Cooperative? Cooperative would have been not reaching after being told multiple times to stop reaching. We’ll get into that more later. And I’m not sure what his wife and daughter being in the car or the daylight hours has to do with anything. Plenty of people have shot police with their family in the car and during the daytime. It’s irrelevant to whether or not Yanez had reason to fear for his life. Having a child in the car does not grant one “harmless” status by default. I’m surprised an officer with as much experience as Mr. Hernandez is even trying to make this point.
Nothing in the context of the stop indicated Castile was a threat.
Except that he was armed and was reaching when told not to, but you know, details.
If you counter with “But Yanez thought Castile was a robbery suspect,” Yanez’s own actions disprove that. He didn’t conduct a felony stop like we would if we were stopping a dangerous felony suspect, he conducted a regular stop and approached in a casual manner. Yanez said he thought Castile was drawing on him, and I don’t see anything in the context of the stop to make that a reasonable assumption.
Felony stops are not always the best course of action unless you’re CERTAIN you have a dangerous felon. Doing a traffic stop so that you can identify a guy who MIGHT be a robbery suspect doesn’t always mandate a felony stop. I would not have faulted officer Yanez for doing a felony stop, but neither do I fault him for performing a standard stop and trying not to tip Castile off as to why he’s really looking into him. Officer Yanez’ fairly casual demeanor on this stop was to keep Castile calm and not make him feel cornered, as evidenced in Yanez’ own statement wherein he said, “I told them the reason for the traffic stop and I then I wasn’t going to say anything about the marijuana yet because I didn’t want to scare him or have him react in a defensive manner.” I’m guessing that’s also why he didn’t tell him that he resembled a robbery suspect or perform a felony stop.
And again, the pistol was carried with an empty chamber. Seriously, should we think this calm, cooperative, noncriminal driver with no history of violence and his girlfriend and a little girl in the car was going to pull his empty-chamber pistol from his pocket, load a round and shoot the officer?
This statement is absurd. As if officer Yanez had any way of knowing there wasn’t a round in the chamber at the time. He also had no way of knowing where the gun was, whether it was in Castile’s pocket or in his center console or under the seat. Easy to Monday morning QB the situation with all of that knowledge in hindsight. And again, it stands in direct opposition to Mr. Hernandez’ previous articles where he rightly pointed out that the officers who shot Tamir Rice had no way of knowing that his gun was a toy gun or that Rice was only 12 years old. Yet here, he expects Yanez to have some kind of psychic knowledge as to the gun’s whereabouts and that the gun didn’t have a round in the chamber.
Castile had a reason to reach for something: Yanez asked him for his license and insurance, he had only given Yanez his insurance and still had to give Yanez his license.
Except that Castile’s license was suspended, so he would not have had a license to give to officer Yanez. Which begs the question, what exactly WAS he reaching for? Perhaps he had some other form of identification he was reaching for or perhaps he was reaching for his weapon permit since he had already notified him of the gun at this point. Regardless, if we are going to pick apart every little thing that the officer said, let’s pick this apart too. Wouldn’t the correct response be, “Here is my insurance, and I don’t have my license on me to give you”? Officer Yanez didn’t ask to see his gun permit or any other form of ID, he asked for his insurance and his license. If I ask you to pass me the remote, do you hand me a loaf of bread? Now Mr. Hernandez’ defense of Castile is that Castile’s just a citizen who didn’t know any better and that officer Yanez should have given more clear, precise instructions. But I call foul on that precisely because Castile had a permit to carry his gun, and you cannot obtain those permits without attending a class where they make it very clear what you’re supposed to do and NOT do when you encounter law enforcement and you have a gun on you. You can blame Castile’s lack of clear thinking on the marijuana if you want, but regardless, he didn’t follow a pretty simple instruction to stop reaching.
After Castile told Yanez he was armed, Yanez told him “Don’t reach for it.” He didn’t say “Hands up,” “Hands on the steering wheel,” or “Freeze.” He simply told Castile not to reach for his gun, and a reasonable person who’s just been ordered to hand over his license but not touch his gun would think it was okay to grab his wallet. I can almost guarantee when Castile said “I’m not reaching for it,” he really wasn’t and was simply reaching for his license.
Yes, it would have been better for officer Yanez to have said “Hands up” or “Freeze” but if you’ve just notified an officer you have a gun and you start reaching for something and the officer says “Don’t reach for it” it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that the best course of action would be to just stop reaching for WHATEVER it was that you were reaching for. It’s common sense. And again, perhaps the high levels of THC in Castile’s system prevented him from thinking clearly, but that’s not the fault of the officer.
On any stop, it is not the driver’s job to figure out what we mean, it’s our job to give clear, easily-understandable instructions. Yanez didn’t do that.
Yanez DID do that when he said “Don’t reach for it.” This isn’t like the child’s game Simon Says where it doesn’t count if you don’t say “Simon Says” before you give your instruction. Any reasonable person would have stopped reaching for whatever they were reaching for if the officer said, “Don’t reach for it.” especially if they’re drawing their own gun and the pitch in their voice is getting louder and higher.
Yanez said Castile reached between his right leg and the console. That’s not where the gun was.
Again, irrelevant. Yanez doesn’t have to know exactly where the gun is to still believe Castile could be reaching for it. If Yanez knew the gun was in his pocket and Castile reached somewhere else, that would be different, but Yanez didn’t have that knowledge in hindsight like everyone else does.
I’ve pocket carried quite a bit. One of the drawbacks of pocket carry is that it’s hard as hell to draw when seated. Maybe it’s easier if you’re wearing really baggy shorts, and maybe Castile was wearing baggy shorts. But in my experience, drawing from your right pocket while seated in a car requires you to lift your hips and rotate them left to get your pocket clear of the seat belt. Nothing on the video or in anyone’s testimony suggests Castile raised or rotated his hips to get access to his weapon.
Irrelevant. Again, Yanez had no way to know if the gun was in his pocket or in the area Castile was reaching for.
Marijuana doesn’t make people homicidally violent, and tends to produce the exact opposite effect. If Yanez had walked up and seen the dark glass vials associated with PCP or smelled the strong chemical scent of meth, yes I can see why he’d tense up. I would too. A smell of marijuana might mean you’re about to have a fight on your hands because the driver doesn’t want to go to jail, but it doesn’t mean someone high on marijuana is somehow more dangerous.
This is one of the more baffling things about the article. As if people high on marijuana are somehow incapable of shooting a gun. In fact, wasn’t Michael Brown high on marijuana when he assaulted officer Wilson, tried to take his gun, and then charged at him like an angry bull? See? Mr. Hernandez is just wildly inconsistent here!
A calm peaceful driver legally carrying a pistol who didn’t do anything violent or dangerous politely told an officer he was armed and followed the officer’s instructions to get his wallet but was then shot because the officer thought he was reaching for a gun in a place where the gun actually wasn’t because the officer smelled marijuana and thought it meant the driver was homicidally dangerous. Does that make sense to anyone?
If we’re going to pick apart officer Yanez’ words with hindsight and all the time in the world whereas he only had seconds in a high stress situation then I’m going to pick yours apart Mr. Hernandez. Yanez never told him to get his wallet, he asked him for his insurance and license. Castile had no license to give and had already given his insurance, so what need would there be to reach for something else? And again, to fault Yanez for being afraid of Castile reaching near his thigh and between the seats, when Yanez had no idea where the gun might be, is ridiculous. Finally, Yanez never said marijuana makes people homicidal, he simply said that if Castile didn’t care enough about his own “daughter” that he would expose her to second hand marijuana smoke (not to mention drive her around in a 3,000 pound vehicle while high), then perhaps Castile wouldn’t think twice about shooting him. There’s logic in it, even if Castile was just a nice guy who just made an honest, tragic mistake.
Does it make sense that Yanez would fire seven times at almost contact range and miss twice, putting one round sixteen inches away from the little girl he thought he had to protect from secondhand pot smoke?
You shoot until the threat is neutralized. Most officers, after being involved in a shooting, can’t even correctly tell you how many rounds they fired. If I really, truly feel I’m about to die, yeah, I might just shoot 7 times, I might shoot more than that, even at point blank range. I’m going to stop the threat to my life as quickly and efficiently as possible, and firing several rounds should help me achieve that goal. If you shoot one round and then stop and try to admire your work you might just catch a bullet in the face still if your one shot didn’t stop the threat. And again, I’m surprised to see Mr. Hernandez questioning the number of rounds fired when he himself listed example after example of how multiple rounds do not always stop a threat immediately. And the last part of Mr. Hernandez’ statement is possibly the most absurd yet, to imply that officer Yanez shot Castile to protect his daughter from second hand smoke. That’s the most dishonest thing about the article so far. It’s dishonest, inflammatory rhetoric on par with something Black Lives Matter might say. Shame on you Mr. Hernandez. He shot Castile because he truly believed he was about to be shot if he didn’t, so leave that crap out, it has no place coming from a fellow officer. Even if you disagree with the shooting, to try to imply that Yanez shot Castile merely to protect the little girl from second hand smoke is simply absurd.
Yanez’s acquittal wasn’t a victory for law enforcement, it was a defeat. It was a message that cops can be expected to panic over nothing, to shoot upon the slightest provocation, and get a pass if they make the most ridiculous, flimsiest excuses for being “in fear.”
Panic over nothing? So an armed man reaching into a dark area of his car when you know he has a gun somewhere and has been told to stop reaching is “panic over nothing?” Especially when you believe he may be a suspect in an armed robbery or that he may be about to shoot you to escape the consequences of driving while high and possessing marijuana? This is what pisses me off about fellow officers sometimes. They like to Monday morning quarterback situations that they weren’t even in and say that they could have done everything better. Yes, being an officer does give you more credibility to speak on such matters than the average Joe who’s never faced daily danger, but I’m always very careful to second guess an officer’s decisions unless I was there with them. Even watching the dash cam video does not really give us a full and complete perspective. Only that officer actually in that situation has that perspective, so to sit back and unequivocally say that the officer was utterly unreasonable to be afraid is the height of arrogance, even coming from another officer (but especially coming from your average Joe).
Also, officer Yanez hardly “got a pass.” He was arrested and charged with manslaughter. He was taken from his family. Put in handcuffs. Forced to defend himself against the charges and face many years behind bars if he lost. Just because a jury of his peers heard arguments from both sides and decided there wasn’t enough there to convict him hardly means he “got a pass” especially since he’s now jobless and will probably have to find a new line of work since no department will touch him given the societal repercussions that would come from that. Let’s not forget that he likely had to move his family from their home and into hiding as there were undoubtedly death threats sent his way (as there are in every shooting now). But yeah, he got a pass. Okay. I’m sure he feels real great about everything.
As far as I can tell Castile did literally nothing wrong, but Yanez panicked over nothing and killed an innocent man.
Castile did nothing wrong? Nothing? Driving while high with the kid in the car? Driving on a suspended license? Possessing an illegal drug? Reaching when told not to? I mean, really? I’m not saying Castile is some hardened criminal who definitely had intentions of killing officer Yanez. I think the most likely explanation is that he was too high to make sense of officer Yanez’ instructions not to reach and continued reaching anyway. What he was reaching for, I guess none of us will ever know, but the officer was under no obligation to wait until he had a gun barrel in his face to take action, a fact you yourself brought up in your Alton Sterling article where you said,
Anyone who reasonably perceives a threat from an armed suspect but waits until the gun is in the suspect’s hand is asking to get shot.
Hernandez also said in that same article…
“BUT HE DIDN’T HAVE THE GUN IN HIS HAND! THAT MAKES IT MURDER!”
No, it doesn’t. Do people actually think police can’t shoot a suspect until he actually draws and points a gun at them?
Hernandez continues about Castile…
If you’re a cop you may want to take a hard look at this shooting, understand why so many people are understandably angry about it, and work at both the policy and personal levels to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
And you, Mr. Hernandez, may want to take a hard look at this shooting and question your own complacency. And I mean that with all seriousness as someone who doesn’t want to see another brother in blue killed on the streets, because I’ve seen far too much of that in my career as it is. I have been involved in two situations where I have no doubt I could have shot and killed the suspects and the grand jury would have no-billed me. Thankfully it didn’t come to that and I was able to take them in alive, but I often think about those arrests and I wonder if I wasn’t a little too trusting that things would work out OK. Maybe next time that I give that suspect a few more seconds to do the right thing is the time he does just the opposite and I catch one in the head and my wife gets that phone call that all police wives dread. Is that the point we are at now? Instead of demanding compliance with lawful orders we simply offer up our throats and hope that the suspect doesn’t slash them? Should you really encourage more officers to take on unnecessary risks to appease an angry public that doesn’t have the first clue as to what it takes to be a cop or face danger every single day, especially given the skyrocketing number of shootings of police officers that are fueled by the very kind of rhetoric you’re spouting in your article about “understandable anger?” I’m not one to defend cops no matter what. I said Michael Slager was wrong in shooting Walter Scott, I’ve questioned the Laquan McDonald shooting even though that one’s a little more of a gray area, and although there’s no video to see, it certainly seems at a glance like the shooting of Jonathan Edwards was a bad one. But this one isn’t too different from Tamir Rice or Alton Sterling. Also, what policies would you like to change? Should officers be required to start taking rounds before they’re allowed to fire? I just don’t get it, this Castile article is such a stark contrast from your other articles it’s almost like someone else wrote it. Your time in the military and time as an officer most definitely commands respect, and your prior articles are police shootings were spot on, so I implore you to ask yourself why this one is so starkly different.
Dash cam video has been released of the shooting of Philando Castile after the jury returned a not guilty verdict for Officer Yanez. Let’s go over some basic facts first.
Yanez stopped Castile because he matched the physical description of an armed robber (black male with long hair and very wide set nose) who had recently robbed the gas station very close to where the traffic stop occurs. Yanez used the burned out brake light as as a reason for contact. This doesn’t mean Yanez assumed Castile was the robber or that he was guilty of the robbery, it’s simply a reason for contact to stop and talk to him, get his identification, etc. It’s good police work. A positive identification could then potentially be sent to the robbery detective where he could follow up with that information.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the toxicology report showed marijuana in Castile’s system and Yanez stated he could smell marijuana inside the vehicle. The fact that Castile was high during this stop is important as I’ll explain later.
Here’s the video…
Warning, it’s graphic and profanity is used.
The first thing to take note of is that both Yanez and Castile appear to be calm and respectful to each other as Yanez is explaining the reason for the traffic stop.
The second thing to take note of is that Castile hands his insurance to Yanez. This contradicts the initial Facebook Live video from passenger Diamond Reynolds where she stated the officer shot him while he was reaching for his license after he was asked for it. Castile did not have a license to reach for as his was suspended. So if he already handed over his insurance card, and didn’t have a license to reach for, what else could he have been reaching for?
Castile then also tells Yanez that he has a gun, which he is required to do as part of having a permit to carry the gun. That is also important, as you cannot obtain a permit to carry a gun without attending a class where they go over the procedures of a citizen’s obligations any time they come into contact with law enforcement. What this proves is that Castile knew the weighty implications of carrying a gun including what he is supposed to do and NOT do if an officer has come into contact with him. Unless his class was a very poor one, they would have explained to him his obligation to notify the officer of his gun and to not reach for it unless instructed to do so.
After Castile notifies Yanez of his gun, you can see Yanez’ sense of danger go up a little as he puts his hand on his own firearm. Yanez’ sense of danger went up SOME, but he still was not afraid for his life at this point because he merely puts his hand on his gun but does not unholster it. This is a visual indicator that Yanez was preparing himself should something go bad, but that he was not yet fearing for his life.
Yanez says, “Ok, don’t reach for it then.” and then says “Don’t pull it out.” At this time Yanez starts to slowly remove his gun from it’s holster recognizing that the potential threat to his life is growing larger by the second. You can see Yanez then reach deep into the vehicle with his left arm, and from his initial statement to investigators he said he did this in order to try to block Castile from reaching for whatever it was he was reaching for.
Now let’s stop and use some common sense here. If Castile had simply complied with the officer’s lawful order of “Don’t reach for it then” I find it EXTREMELY unlikely that Yanez would have even unholstered his weapon much less fired shots. Castile says, “I’m not pulling it out.”
Now, this statement of “I’m not pulling it out” makes everyone think that Castile couldn’t possibly still be a threat to Yanez. After all, he’s telling him that he’s not pulling it out. Here’s the problem. People lie to police all the time. For all Yanez knew Castile was telling him that to lull him into a false sense of security so that he could shoot him. I don’t know if that’s the case or not. I think it’s more likely that Castile, being high, just couldn’t make sense of Yanez’ order “Don’t reach for it, then” in a timely manner. Perhaps given a few more seconds and several more loud verbal orders to stop reaching for it would have done the trick. But whatever the case was, it’s pretty clear that Castile was still reaching for SOMETHING after being told not to reach for it.
Now put yourself in the officer’s shoes. You’ve just pulled someone over who you think may be a suspect in an armed robbery. That alone is going to cause your sense of danger to already be elevated a little more than normal. You smell marijuana when he rolls the window down so now you’ve got someone who may believe they are going to jail and may not want to go to jail (especially since there was a child in the car which escalates the charge to a more severe one than simple DWI or DUI). So that is going to make your sense of danger a little more elevated. Now you have the man informing you that he most definitely DOES have a gun SOMEWHERE. Now your sense of danger is rising even more. Then the man starts reaching for something. Now your sense of danger is rising even more. You tell the man 3 times to stop reaching for it but he ignores what you say and continues to reach. Now your sense of danger is at an extremely high level. Taking all of that into consideration, who WOULDN’T be afraid?
Can you really say, taking all of that into account, that the officer was completely and utterly unreasonable to believe his life may be in danger, beyond a reasonable doubt?
Here’s the most relevant portion of the transcript where Yanez was interviewed by investigators just 15 hours after the shooting…
Yanez: “I smelled burnt marijuana. And then I see a female child in the back. And then I see a front seat passenger, adult female uh in the front seat. And then I see the suspect up driving, seatbelt on leaned back in his seat. he had his, left arm over the steering wheel and then he had both hands in view. And then…”
Yanez: “Initially. And then I told them the reason for the traffic stop and then I wasn’t going to say anything about the marijuana yet because I didn’t want to scare him or have him react in a defensive manner. Um, he didn’t make direct eye contact with me and it was very hard to hear him. Uh he was almost mumbling when he was talking to me. And he was directing his voice away from me as he was speaking as I was asking questions. Uh he kept his, hands in view and then I uh I believe I asked for, his license and insurance. And then I believe they told me, they asked me the reason for my traffic stop. And I told ’em the reason was the only, I think I told ’em the only rea, the reason I pulled you over is because the only active brake light working was the rear passenger side brake light.”
Yanez: “And then I received the insurance and then I can’t remember if I asked for his ID or not but I, I know I asked for his ID or his driver’s license. And then he goes I have a gun. And as I’m telling him or as he’s telling me that he’s reaching down between his right leg, his right thigh area and the center console.”
Yanez: “And he’s reaching down and I believe I’m telling him something along the lines of don’t reach for it, don’t do it. Referring to the, uh the firearm.”
Yanez: “Because usually people that carry firearms carry ’em on their waistband. Um and or in between the seats and being that the vehicle smelled the inside of the vehicle smelled like marijuana um I didn’t know if he was keeping it on him for protection, for, from a, a drug dealer or anything like that or any other people trying to rip him. Rip him meaning steal from him.”
Investigator: “Rob him.”
Yanez: “Um rob him. Um and I couldn’t see uh the area wi, where he was reaching his hand down towards.”
Yanez: “And I, believe I continued to tell him don’t do it or don’t reach for it and he still continued to move. And, it appeared to me that he had no regard to what I was saying. He didn’t care what I was saying. He still reached down.”
Investigator: “He didn’t stop moving his hand?”
Yanez: “He didn’t stop reaching, for his hand, he he didn’t stop moving his hand and it still went down.”
Yanez: “As he was reaching down um he, turned his shoulder kept his left hand on the steering wheel and then canted his upper body and blocked my view of his right hand.”
Yanez: “And, at that point I, was scared and I was, in fear for my life and my partner’s life. And for the little girl in the back and the front seat passenger and he dropped his hand down and, can’t remember what I was telling him but I was telling something as his hand went down I think. And, he put his hand around something. And his hand made like a C shape type um type shape and it appeared to me that he was wrapping something around his fingers and almost like if I were to put my uh hand around my gun like putting my hand up to the butt of the gun.”
Yanez: “That’s what it appeared to me.”
Yanez: “And then I lost view of it. Cuz he kept canting his shoulder and then I believe I told him again I can’t remember don’t do it. And then he still kept moving his hand and at this point I looked and saw something in his hand. It was dark inside the vehicle. I was trying to fumble my way through under stress to look and see what it was to make sure uh what I was seeing. But I wasn’t given enough time and like I said he had no regard for what I was saying. Didn’t follow my direction. And uh, he started reaching out and then pulling uh away from his uh his right thigh. I don’t know if it was in his pocket or in between the seats or the center console. But I, I know he had an object and it was dark. And he was pulling it out with his right hand. And as he was pulling it out, a million things started going through my head. And I thought I was gonna die. And, I was scared because, I didn’t know if he was gonna, I didn’t know what he was gonna do. he just had somethin’ uh his hands and he, the first words that he said to me were, some of the first words he said is that he had a gun. And I thought he was reaching for the gun. I thought he had the gun in his hand, in his right hand. And I thought he had it enough to where all he had to do is just pull it out, point it at me, move his trigger finger down on the trigger and let off rounds. And I had no other option than, to take out my firearm and, I shot. Um I shot him.”
The full transcript can be read here
Now, if you still disagree with the jury’s verdict here that’s your right. But in light of all of the evidence, I don’t see how anyone, much less a Christian, can say with certainty that officer Yanez had absolutely no reason to be afraid for his life. The jury of 12 people, who had access to all of the evidence and heard arguments from both sides decided that the officer was reasonable in believing his life was in danger, including two black jurors. So if you’re wanting to call him a murderer and judge the intentions of his heart when you have ABSOLUTELY NO WAY to know what the intentions of his heart were, then you need to stop and repent. Because you’re slandering this officer. Want to say officer Yanez should have given Castile more time to comply? You can say that, just remember it wasn’t your life on the line out there. It wasn’t your wife that could potentially be widowed or your child that could potentially be fatherless. So really even to sit and armchair quarterback whether or not he should have felt threatened is the height of arrogance, especially if you’ve never donned the uniform and faced those dangers yourself.
“Systemic Injustice” or “Systemic Racism” are a couple of catch phrases that are being ubiquitously used to describe our country’s criminal justice system, including our police departments, our laws, our courts and our judges.
This article aims to debunk those myths. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t deny that racism and injustices do occur, but when people add an adjective like “systemic” along with it they’ve painted with a brush much too broad.
Let’s start with the police. I’ve covered the myth of police brutality here, but I’ll once again re-hash the main points.
- In 2008 there were only 2,060 credible complaints of police brutality in over 53 million police/citizen encounters. That’s 0.0039%. (source link)
- In 2012 police arrested 12,196,959 people. By the most anti-cop standards they killed around 1,200. That’s 0.0098% and even the overwhelming majority of those were clearly justified as the suspects were either attacking the police or someone else with a weapon or were trying to wrestle an officer’s gun from them.
- Police do not over-arrest blacks. Their arrest numbers square with what CRIME VICTIMS have reported. Blacks commit around 28% of all crimes and are around 28% of all arrests. (source link)
- Around 50% of people shot by the police are white. (source link)
- Around 26% of people shot by the police are black, which once again squares with the crime and arrest rates of blacks, and could be considered lower than expected given that blacks commit much higher rates of violent crimes than whites. (source link)
- Black officers kill black suspects about 3.3 times more often than white officers do (source link)
- The 36 unarmed black males killed by police in 2015 measured against the total black male population (nearly 19 million in mid-2014 per the Census Bureau) amounts to a per capita rate of 0.0000018 unarmed fatalities by police. (source link)
But black people are only 13% of the population you say? That’s true, but police go to where the crime is, and crime is disproportionately committed by blacks.
- Black people commit around 52% of all murders, around 40% of all violent crimes including 56% of robberies, 35% of aggravated assaults and 29% of property crimes. (source link)
You can’t say “blacks are only 13% of the population but are 28% of people arrested and 26% of people shot by police, therefore there must be systemic racism.” If blacks committed only 5% of all crimes and yet were 28% of all arrests you might have a leg to stand on, but that is not the case.
By the same logic you would have to say that police have an anti-men bias because the overwhelming number of people arrested or killed by the police are male instead of female despite the fact that females are 52% of our nation’s population.
The Washington Post, convinced that officers were killing black people with reckless abandon, set out to prove it. By the end of their study even they had to admit that black people were actually shot LESS OFTEN than their white counter parts. (source link)
The Washington Post wasn’t the only one to conduct such a study, however. Washington State University did an experiment of their own and discovered that black suspects were around 25 times less likely to be shot than white suspects were in similar situations (source link)
So now that “systemic injustice” in brutality complaints, shootings and arrests has been debunked, what about more benign enforcement such as traffic tickets?
A 2002 study in New Jersey set up a radar gun and took photographs of tens of thousands of drivers on the same roadway and found that blacks were caught speeding at a much higher frequency than any other race. (source link)
There hasn’t been any official studies that I know of that sought to determine whether blacks are targeted more often on traffic stops, but it stands to reason that blacks, whose median income is nearly half of that of whites, would be less likely to buy car insurance, register and inspect their vehicles and keep up with regular maintenance, all of which could lead to more traffic stops and thus more traffic tickets. Those stops can often lead to more arrests as well if the driver has outstanding warrants, etc. (source link)
So that covers the police, what about prisons and courts?
In Heather MacDonald’s book “The War on Cops” she states that in 1997, criminologists Robert Sampson and Janet Lauritsen reviewed the massive literature on charging and sentencing and concluded that “large racial differences in criminal offending”, not racism, explained why more blacks were in prison proportionately than whites and for longer terms. A 1987 analysis of Georgia felony convictions found that blacks frequently got disproportionately lenient punishment. A 1990 study of 11,000 California cases found that slight racial disparities in sentence length resulted from blacks’ prior records and other legally relevant variables. A 1994 Justice Department survey of felony cases from the country’s 75 largest urban areas found that blacks actually had a lower chance of prosecution following a felony than whites did and that they were less likely to be found guilty at trial. Following convictions blacks were more likely to go to prison, but that was an outcome that reflected the gravity of their offenses as well as their criminal records. In 1993 criminologist Alfred Blumstein found that blacks were significantly underrepresented in prison for homicide compared with their presence in the arrest data. (source link)
The truth is that it’s nigh impossible to compare racial sentencing on a large scale because there are too many variables like the heinousness of the crimes, the defendant’s criminal history, etc.
Many who claim systemic racism exists will point to the difference in sentencing for crack cocaine and powder cocaine. In 1986 the federal Anti Drug Abuse Act made it so that getting caught with 5 grams of crack cocaine resulted in a mandatory minimum 5 year sentence. You’d have to get caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine to get a similar sentence. Since crack cocaine was known as “the black man’s drug” many believe that this is evidence of systemic racial injustice.
First of all, the mandatory minimum sentence for crack cocaine applied to whites as well, and the more lenient sentencing for powder cocaine applied to blacks as well. It should also be mentioned that these sentencing guidelines applied only to federal offenses which account for just 12.3% of all people imprisoned when you include state prisons. On the state level, only 13 states distinguished a difference between crack and powder cocaine and their sentencing disparities were much less severe than the federal sentencing.
But going back to the harsher crack sentences, there were reasons that crack was more harshly punished and none of those reasons point to the idea that blacks were targeted just for being black. For one, crack is smokable, highly concentrated and addictive. It provides a faster and stronger high than powder does and is easier to use. A better comparison to crack cocaine might be methamphetamine, which could be considered “the white man’s drug” (over 50% of meth arrests were of white people, only 2% of meth arrests were of black people) and meth carried the same mandatory 5 year sentence for 5 grams that crack did, yet you don’t hear anyone complaining about whites being targeted with harsher punishment.
The second reason that we can’t look to harsher crack sentences as an example of systemic racism is the fact that the bill that contained the crack/powder distinction won majority support among black congressmen, none of whom objected to it as a racist bill. Crack was devastating black communities in the 80’s and this bill was a good faith effort to do something about it. In short, just like with the police, they were targeting the crime, not the skin color.
Furthermore, in 2010 they passed the Fair Sentencing Act which upped the amount of grams of crack from 5 grams to 28 grams to trigger certain federal penalties and they eliminated mandatory minimum sentences. Meth, on the other hand, has only gotten more severe sentencing since 2010.
I also just have to add, it seems like common sense, but if you don’t want a stricter punishment for possessing or selling crack, there’s always the option of just NOT possessing or selling crack. No one put a gun to anyone’s head and made them commit these crimes. They made that choice.
It should also be mentioned that violent and property crimes still make up the vast majority of black prisoners. If you removed all black prisoners who were in for drug charges from the state prison populations in 2006, it would only reduce the total population of black prisoners from 37.5% to 37%. So this idea that the “war on drugs” was started to target black people is simply indefensible.
Even on a federal level, where the crack/powder sentencing disparity is and was the strongest, blacks only make up 27% of the federal prison population.
In closing, I think it’s pretty clear that the higher number of black arrests, the higher black prison population and the higher number of blacks being shot by police is a direct reflection of a higher rate of criminal activity. Sure, there may be rare instances here and there of racial bias among police officers or judges, but it certainly isn’t systemic.
Quick thought on the Castile shooting.
As a cop I had to learn how to re-phrase certain questions. For example when I would ask someone where their ID is, instead of answering “it’s in my pocket” or “it’s in the glovebox” they would reach for it wherever it was. Of course then I would be alarmed and say “keep your hands up! I asked you where it was I didn’t ask you to reach for it!”
So I began rephrasing the question like this. “Without reaching for it, just tell me verbally where your ID is.”
The video of the Castile shooting doesn’t show anything prior to the shooting. But we can glean a couple of things from what were said. His girlfriend said he was just reaching for his ID like he was asked. I’d like to know if the officer actually said “Get your ID” or if he said “Where is your ID?”
The officer also said “I told him not to reach for it, I told him to get his hand out!”
Regardless of how exactly the officer phrased his question, if he told Castile not to reach for it and to get his hands up, and Castile didn’t comply with that lawful order, then I can understand why the officer felt threatened.
This one isn’t as cut and dry as some of the others, and this one definitely seems to just be a tragic misunderstanding, but again, I urge you to wait for the facts before rushing to judgement. The officer is innocent until proven guilty and deserves to be treated as such.
Next up in the line of controversial shootings involving the police is the case of Alton Sterling.
- 911 was called regarding a man threatening someone with a gun
- Police arrived and confronted Alton Sterling who matched the suspect description given to the 911 operator.
- A taser was used in an attempt to subdue Sterling and was ineffective
- Sterling continued to resist arrest and was tackled to the ground
- Sterling was told to not move and continued moving his right arm
- Sterling was shot and killed.
Now, I already know that this article is going to do absolutely nothing to change the minds of those folks who have already decided the officers were wrong. We’ve seen this time and time and time again whether it’s Ferguson or Freddie Gray or Eric Garner, no amount of facts, no amount of laws, no amount of reason is going to change the minds of those who think first and foremost with their emotions and whose primary lens that they view the world through is a lens of skin color.
That’s not the point. The point is to eliminate the straw men arguments from those folks’ reasoning and to hopefully educate. Perhaps one or two objective minded folks will read this and learn something and think about it going forward when the next controversial shooting occurs.
Here’s the video…
First and foremost the video is gruesome to watch. I think we can all agree on that. Watching a man’s last moments is never going to look “good.” And I bring that up for a reason. That initial gut wrenching feeling you have when watching it is often where the thinking starts and stops in these cases. Because it’s sickening to look at it, that’s all some folks need to know in order to automatically bring the gavel down and declare the officers guilty of cold blooded execution.
This is where you have to set aside your emotion and THINK. Put yourself in a cop’s shoes for 38 seconds and actually think about it. They know there’s a strong likelihood that Sterling has a gun because that’s the entire reason 911 was called. So that’s in their minds before they even arrive. We don’t have video of what happened when the officers initially confronted Sterling, but it’s safe to say things didn’t go well.
Here’s Sterling’s arrest record. What isn’t mentioned is that he is also an alleged member of the Bloods gang. I’m posting it because it’s going to play a factor here. It’s not to say that Sterling deserved to be shot for any of these arrests so you can squash that thought right now if you’re going there.
The importance of his arrest record is this: Sterling is a convicted felon who is prohibited from even owning a gun much less carrying one in his pocket. And yes, a gun was recovered from his pocket.
Having said that and knowing Sterling’s long rap sheet, he knows full well that if those officers find that gun on him he’s going back to prison. The thought of going back to prison has caused many a person to resist arrest, Sterling was no different.
Now let’s go back to the video. The taser didn’t work, so one of the officers goes hands on and tackles him to the ground. At this point the other officer jumps in to pin his left arm and head. That’s where this particular video picks up although there’s another one that shows the tackle, etc.
Now if you listen closely you can hear one of the officers say, “He’s got a gun! Gun!” in a panicked voice. I don’t know how the officer figured that out, perhaps he felt it through Sterling’s pocket, but he knew it. And you can see a tangible difference in the officers demeanor the second that realization is made. The pucker factor went from 7 to 10 in a heart beat.
The officer pinning Sterling’s left arm says, “Hey boss, if you (expletive) move I swear to God…” then the other officer says something indistinct but you can tell by the fear and panic in his voice that he’s terrified.
Now watch the video again, and just a fraction of a second before he says “He’s got a gun!” watch Sterling’s right sleeve. You can see it moving up and down, indicating that the officer did not have control of Sterling’s arm. So the officer knows Sterling has a gun and knows that he doesn’t have control of his right arm, which is statistically most likely his strong hand.
That my friends would leave ANY reasonable person to be in fear for their lives. The shooting is justified. If Sterling had simply complied with every lawful order given to him the moment the police arrived, he would’ve been peaceably handcuffed. He would have gone back to prison undoubtedly, but he’d be alive. Once again, the SUSPECT’S actions ultimately led to his own demise, just like we saw with Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Mario Woods, Sam Dubose, etc. etc. etc.
Now some want to say that 6 shots was excessive. But if you watch the video again, after the initial 3 shots you can hear an officer scream “Get on the ground!” It’s obvious that the first 3 shots were not enough to stop the threat that Sterling presented. They wouldn’t have said “Get on the ground!” if Sterling was lying completely still. It’s clear that he still presented a threat. The video doesn’t show if he’s trying to get up, if he’s reaching for his pocket or what, but he still presents a threat so 3 more shots were taken which put a definite stop to the threat.
The next part of the video is important as well. The officer closest to Sterling says “Shots fired!” through his radio, and then drops a very loud F-bomb. That F-bomb tells me that the officer didn’t enjoy what he just had to do. It tells me that he felt he was forced to do it. If this was just a cold blooded execution I imagine they both would have been a bit more nonchalant about the whole thing or perhaps even jovial. You see neither of those things here. Instead you see the reaction you’d expect of someone that was both in fear of his life and upset that he was forced to go to that extreme.
I want to eliminate some of the other straw man arguments I’ve seen regarding this case.
- “Louisiana is an open carry state.” That’s utterly irrelevant here because Sterling is a convicted felon prohibited from even owning a gun in a safe in his closet much less carrying one openly or in his pocket. And even if Sterling wasn’t a felon and did legally own a gun, it’s still illegal to threaten someone with it which is what the 911 call was about.
- Sterling didn’t have a gun in his hand when he was shot. Again, irrelevant. If an officer knows you have a gun on you and you’re resisting arrest that’s already enough reason for the officer to fear for his life. Especially if you’re already wrestling around on the ground. Disagree? Go pick a fist fight with some gang banger who you know carries a gun and tell me you aren’t afraid that he’ll pull it out and use it on you at any second. It takes less than a second for someone to pull a gun and use it.
- He was shot for selling CD’s. If you’re saying this, you’re completely dishonest. He was not shot for selling CD’s. Officers didn’t even confront him because he was selling CD’s. They responded to a 911 call, you know, the kind of call that they’re obligated to investigate, because Sterling had allegedly threatened someone with a gun. He was shot because he was armed and was resisting arrest and put those officers in fear of their lives.
I also want to address the officers’ body cameras. It’s been reported that both of their cameras got knocked off during the struggle. Obviously some people are already assuming that the officers took them off intentionally, despite no evidence that this is the case. I’m sure the DOJ will look into that, but would it be asking too much to see what those body cameras actually recorded first before we jump to wild conclusions? I know from experience that it’s easy for many things to become dislodged from the uniform during a struggle, including name tags, radios and yes, body cameras. In fact you can see that the officer’s radio mic was dislodged from his uniform as it’s dangling by the cord when he gets off the ground. Same thing might have happened to the body camera. It sounds suspicious but it’s quite possible that the cameras actually were knocked off. Let’s see what comes of that before we rush to judgement, is that asking too much?
Yes, I imagine it is.
Admittedly, I jumped on the defensive when the Sandra Bland story broke. Seeing people accusing the officer of murder with absolutely zero evidence of that tends to irk me.
Having said that, I don’t feel like the officer should escape some criticism here as well. Don’t get me wrong, I still fully believe the officer acted completely within the scope of his authority. The arrest was perfectly legal.
But the question I had to ask myself was, “Was the arrest necessary?” I can’t tell you the number of times I really wanted to put someone in jail who was giving me attitude but didn’t act upon it. In the end I would almost always realize it just wasn’t worth it, even if I felt they really deserved it.
Being fully honest, if someone I care about was thrown in jail for initially failing to use a blinker, I can’t sit here and say I wouldn’t be pretty mad about it. Granted, no one I personally know would treat the officer the way Sandra Bland did, but still.
99% of the criticism police officers have come under lately has been without warrant in my opinion. People say police brutality is an epidemic as if it’s an undeniable truth, even though it’s been proven to be a very rare problem.
And I still feel it’s hypocritical for people to imply that police target blacks to murder them when blacks are murdering each other at a fever pitch. If you really believe that Black Lives Matter it seems like the ghettos of Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore might be a good place to start your campaign.
Having said that, I think today’s police officers should be mindful of the climate we now live in. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they should be push overs or allow crime to run rampant, but in a situation like with Sandra Bland, I think the right thing to do would have been to swallow your pride and explain to her why you want her to put the cigarette out if you’re afraid she may try to burn your arm with it when you hand her the warning to sign.
And if she still refuses after being told why a cigarette presents a danger, then do what you have to do. But I’m not sure immediately ordering her out of the car was the smart or right thing to do either.
Perhaps if he had told her she actually wasn’t getting a ticket her entire demeanor would have changed. She may have even apologized for her behavior. Or she may have continued with the bad attitude, who knows, but a little effort on the officer’s part to come to an understanding and just communicate with her may have gone a long way to prevent the whole mess.
If you want, write her a ticket if you feel like that’s appropriate, but putting someone in a cage because they got a little mouthy is not going to help anyone. Of course the officer had no clue that she would end up committing suicide, and I’ll bet he’d like to do the whole thing over again if he could, but that’s why it’s important for officers to think things through before they commit to putting someone in jail. Because let’s be honest, once he told her to get out of the car, that decision was all but irreversible.
Anonymous has now doxxed the officer and have released his address and phone number, putting him and his family in danger, which is absolutely deplorable. I just wish both sides of this culture war could try to see things from each other’s perspective a little more often. But with the media stirring up the hornet’s nest and with wild conspiracy theories being thrown out there, it doesn’t look like this battle will be ending any time soon.
God help us.