The First Rule of Policing And Philando Castile

Ealier in the day, it appeared that the only video giving rise to outrage would be that of the police killing Alton Sterling. But the day wasn’t yet over. Before it was done, there would be the video of Philando Castile.

The two videos provide a juxtaposition of where, along the threat spectrum that turns on that switch in a cop’s head, there is a sufficiently real threat to justify killing a human being. In Castile’s case, he was a passenger in a car pulled over for having a broken tail light.  Unlike the call in Sterling’s case, there was no hint of a weapon, no suggestion of a threat going in. It was a minor equipment violation, and Castile wasn’t even the person responsible (edited: Castille was the driver and the video was flipped).

In the video, the woman explains that after being pulled over for a broken taillight, her boyfriend was shot several times while reaching for his license. She says that her boyfriend had told officers before the shooting that he had a gun in the car.

Castile had a permit to carry a weapon. He informed the police that he had a weapon, as is the best practice to prevent the cops from seeing a weapon and reacting poorly.  And it was, after all, a broken tail light. Nothing to get all crazy about, although it you need an example to demonstrate the profound notion that, before calling for any conduct to be criminalized, decide whether it’s worthy of execution, this makes a damn good one.

Going out of sequence to complete the scenario, the officer’s reaction to the shooting was to give yet another command.

When the officer tells the woman to keep her hands on the wheel, she replies: “I will, sir. No worries. I will.”

The woman, Lavish Reynolds, in stark contrast to the hysterical unspecified* St. Anthony police officer, loosed on the streets of Falcon Heights, Minnesota, conducted herself with exceptional care and self-control.  There is a horrific message here, that she was so cognizant of how her life hung by a thread in the face of a cop with a gun that she realized it was safer to be excessively polite than care for her dying boyfriend.  That, pathetically, is how afraid people can be of cops.

But what gave rise to the shoot?

In a panicked voice, the officer tries to tell his side of the story.

“Fuck! I told him not to reach for it!” says the officer, his handgun still trained on the bleeding passenger. “I told him to keep his hand open!”

Calmly, the driver says, “You told him to get his ID sir, and his license.”

So many questions in such a brief narrative. Why did the cop have a gun drawn for a broken tail light stop, with no hint of a potential threat beyond the generic “every traffic stop is potentially dangerous”? Why did the cop order the passenger to provide her license? Why did he shoot Castile for doing what he commanded?  What could Castile have done to live?

If the knee-jerk shooting sounds familiar, it’s eerily reminiscent of this total cop-botch by South Carolina Highway Patrol Officer Sean Groubert, which cost the trooper his job and earned him a conviction.  Not every cop walks away from every shooting free and clear. Not every shooting can be explained away by the hired help.

While the muzzle flash may be the extreme on one end of the threat spectrum, the shooting of someone doing exactly as ordered is the opposite extreme. It finds no support in the law. That’s the first hurdle to surmount. But then there remains the second hurdle, how is a person to survive an interaction with a police officer when compliance results in death as surely as non-compliance?

This can be explained away with some routine rationalizations. Better training. Better hiring. Smarter, tougher, less hysterical cops.  Add to this toxic mix the sub rosa concerns, whether a black man with a gun strikes special fear in a fragile teacup with a shield. It may not alter the threat level on a rational basis, but that does a dead man little good. He’s still dead, no matter how much money they pay his family.

And the police reaction to their killing a person reflects their inexplicable hysteria.

At the command of police, she exits the car, asking about the whereabouts of her daughter. A moment later, a child’s voice is heard crying. While the woman’s phone is set on the ground, she is placed in handcuffs.

Why, one may reasonably wonder, did the police place Reynolds in cuffs in the aftermath of a cop killing her boyfriend without any lawful, or rational, reason?  Unless they’re going to claim this was their response to the broken tail light, the only alternative is that in the aftermath of their killing a man for nothing, they were running on mindless hysteria.

The woman’s daughter, who was in the back seat, appears several times in the video. Near the end of the 10-minute clip, as the two are sitting in the back of a police car, she comforts her mother, saying, “It’s O.K., Mommy. It’s O.K. I’m right here with you.”

In contrast to these highly trained, professional police officers, a little girl was capable of calm reaction in the face of the killing of Philando Castile, of arrest, of being placed in the back of a police car, of watching her mother react to the murder of her boyfriend, of facing the insanity of a cop who was so afraid that he would kill a man for nothing.

Or to put it more bluntly, these cops were put to shame by Lavisha Reynolds, and her 4yearold daughter, Diamond.  Yet, Philando Castile is dead because the cops had the gun.

*Edit: I had provided the names of two officers here, but was later informed that they were the cops involved in Alton Sterling’s killing, which I mistakenly noted here. The names of the cops who killed Castile remain unknown.

16 thoughts on “The First Rule of Policing And Philando Castile

  1. Randall

    One very quick, mostly immaterial, point:
    Castile was the driver, the video was flipped horizontally during the broadcast.

    1. SHG Post author

      Ah. I will correct that. It doesn’t make a material change, but I should get the details right.

      1. Scott Moore

        I read elsewhere that the car was a right hand drive car like the one in Great Briton. Ca’t remember the source of it now.

  2. REvers

    Well now. It turns out that the deceased had a record for driving under revocation and driving with no insurance, according to one website I found. I’m sure that will be used as part of the “no harm, no foul” argument we know is coming from the cops.

    1. B. McLeod

      Also, we do not yet know what the officer is going to say, or what the forensics will show, and the video begins only after the shots were fired. Presumably, the passenger will give testimony consistent with what she said on the video feed. I’m guessing the officer will not, and the forensics may not provide a basis to determine who is relating the facts correctly.

      1. SHG Post author

        The officer won’t say anything. He may have lost his cool in the car, but he’ll get it back and then lawyer up.

        1. B. McLeod

          I’m guessing he will say something when he gets to the end of whatever period bargaining unit rules allow him to go without answering questions. However, I don’t expect that he will say he shot the decedent for complying with his directives (even if that is exactly what happened). Because he probably knows that would be wrong, and would also be hard to explain. It will likely be something more like, “I told the subject not to move, but he conspicuously reached for something. The subject had already advised that a firearm was located in the vehicle, and I was concerned that he was attempting to reach the said firearm.”

  3. Phillip Freeman

    I’m a former deputy sheriff in Florida and this is involuntary manslaughter at minimum. Unacceptable and I understand the shooter was a reservist officer and as such I’m sure he had not received his FT – field training certificates, so he should not have been alone working patrol period. I say that as a floriduh sheriff Deputy who resigned due to corruption. I will honour my oaths! Uniformed, or not..

  4. Tom Moor

    It does appear to be a RH Drive car like the ones we use to deliver mail. We have been stopped by cops who became confused and embarrassed when they came to the window. We are white and this is Vermont nothing happened.

  5. B. McLeod

    When shaky Jeronimo rode his beat, the bad guys they would hide,
    They’d hide,
    But still he’d find unwary motorists he could pull aside,
    For the point of a gun was the only law Jeronimo understood,
    When it came to conducting a routine traffic stop,
    He was no damn good.

    On Larpenteur Road, Philando drove, but was his tail light lit?
    A man,
    The kind of a man who had been cleared to hold a gun permit,
    But the point of a gun was the only law Jeronimo understood,
    When it came to living through his traffic stops,
    A permit was no good.

    A victim to Jeronimo’s gun, Philando soon would fall,
    The man who shot Philando Castile,
    He shot Philando Castile,
    He was most brainless of them all.

    Phil-an-do drove along, with tail light out (or maybe not),
    That drive,
    Not once suspecting he would meet Jeronimo or be shot,
    But the point of a gun was the only law Jeronimo understood,
    When it came to conducting a routine traffic stop,
    He was no damn good.

    Phil-an-do’s girlfriend Diamond prayed that they’d survive that stop,
    Aw, that stop,
    They had no safeguards that were good against a shaky cop,
    Even from their earliest childhood days, a key thing they had learned,
    When a Barney Fife with a gun turns panicky,
    Someone’s getting burned.

    Suddenly multiple shots rang out, and made Philando sprawl,
    The man who shot Philando Castile,
    He shot Philando Castile,
    He was most brainless of them all.

    The man who shot Philando Castile,
    He shot Philando Castile,
    He was most brainless of them all.

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  7. Dennis

    I’m a white American which I watched this video. It was very shocking to me and my wife which we both agreed that the shooting wasnt necessary. I feel for the family and the other two in the car but the comments and opinions goes straight to racism witch we all have the right to are opinion. I’m not going to back his actions in anyway but the main thing I wanted to say is that there is know way to know what went threw his head in a split second. My opinion is that he should be charged there is no way to justify what he done. I seen what everyone else seen but he will have his day in court only thing that isn’t clear is why did he have his gun drawn and why did it start there. Are government should train all police in a better way that works for all races. Another thing is that if he feared for his life in that split second and paniced and shot him in fear I could understand one shot but four really. But the first thing you heard or read was it was fueled by race. I’m just putting my opinion out there that we are all humans and no telling what fear would do to anyone’s judgement. It takes special people to put there life’s on the line to help and protect others. I do think there has to be a change to train the ones that put there life on the line to better prepare them in all types of things. Train them like are military In war and combat.

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