I Am Still Speechless, But—

“Video of Police Killing of Philando Castile Is Publicly Released”
New York Times, 20 June 2017

Last week the video made from the dash cam of the cruiser belonging to the police officer who killed Philando Castile was made public by Minnesota state investigators. I’ve seen the video shot by Diamond Reynolds. I am deeply troubled by the acquittal. I don’t even know where to start.

Thank goodness Kimberly Hammers, a smart and thoughtful friend of a friend of mine, did know where to start. I have her permission to to reproduce her comments.

If this is not one of the most troubling things you have ever seen, try to remember a few things:

  1. This was a man with no violent criminal history.
  2. This was a man who was loved by his community, and reportedly took the time to remember the names of all 500 children he served in an elementary school cafeteria, and their food allergies.
  3. He was described as an ideal employee and role model for others.

While all of that is the more personal side of this travesty, and the one that I find myself responding to the most, here’s food for thought for all of the Second Amendment fans out there (and I’m friends with a bunch of you; I know because any time I mention stricter gun control laws I hear from you):

  1. This was man who was exercising his Second Amendment rights, with a legally bought weapon that he had a license to carry.
  2. This man had already complied with police officers by pulling over in a timely manner and providing his proof of insurance. He had been told to reach for his wallet, which contained his license and proof of registration.
  3. This man did exactly what he was supposed to do, which was inform the officer in a calm, clear voice “I need to let you know that I do have a firearm on me.”
  4. This officer was acquitted of all charges this week.

Just Mr. Castile saying those words, “I need to let you know that I do have a firearm on me”—that triggered this officer to grab for his weapon. You can see it clearly on the video. Note that the other officer, who reportedly couldn’t hear what was said, didn’t react until the first officer began shooting—because he didn’t hear that Mr. Castile had a weapon, nor did he see it.*

Also, you can literally hear Mr. Castile, with his dying breath, respond to the officer’s “I told you not to reach for it!” with “I wasn’t reaching for it …” Not to mention (also on video) the officer states, “I didn’t see the gun. He looked like he was reaching for something larger than a wallet.”

If you want to have your Second Amendment rights, fine. I don’t agree with the scope of it all, but fine. But—that is everyone’s right, not just the right of white people. Make no mistake that this man was killed because he was a black man exercising his legal right to carry a firearm. So theoretically you, gun-rights supporters, should be making the most noise right now. Your silence is deafening.

As I write this article, the Washington Post reports that the NRA issued only a halfhearted statement following the shooting last July, and has had no comment whatsoever about the acquittal. Slate’s headline speaks volumes: “Philando Castile Should Be the NRA’s Perfect Cause Célèbre. There’s Just One Problem.” You guessed it: “If Castile had been white instead of black, the NRA would have been rallying behind him and his family since the moment of his death and fundraising off his memory for the rest of time.” (To their credit, and in spite of Ms. Hammers’s—and my—personal experience, some NRA members have spoken out in defense of Philando Castile. Some have even resigned their memberships.)

I’ll be frank: I don’t like guns. I have personal friends who are responsible gun owners, but I believe we need more restrictions, not fewer. My father, though a military veteran, hated firearms. And I see no reason for people to be walking around my small town with a gun on their person. Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is not the Wild West. Take that gun to the shooting range, take it out to the country, but don’t take it to Kroger.

* In fact, the gun was found in Castile’s pocket by paramedics when they were loading him into an ambulance.