Will the racist killers in blue ever be convicted?

June 26, 2017

Chance Lunning and Elizabeth Wrigley-Field report from Minnesota on the outpouring of anger and sorrow after the acquittal of the cop who killed Philando Castile.

THE ACQUITTAL of the Minnesota police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile a year ago--in Philando's car, as his girlfriend filmed the aftermath from the passenger seat--sent shock waves of sadness and anger through St. Paul and around the country.

"I will continue to say murder," said Philando's mother Valerie Castile on the day of the verdict. "I am so very, very, very disappointed in the system here in the state of Minnesota. Nowhere in the world do you die from being honest and telling the truth."

On July 6, 2016, officer Jeronimo Yanez pulled over Philando Castile in a St. Paul suburb for a traffic stop. Castile stayed calm, followed the officer's directions and notified him of the legally permitted firearm he had in his possession. Within moments, Yanez shot Castile, who died 20 minutes later.

The video taken by Philando's girlfriend Diamond Reynolds went viral, as she described in terror what was happening live on Facebook. On June 21, another chilling video was released of Reynold's 4-year-old daughter trying to comfort her mother later that night--from the back of a police car as they were being driven to the station.

Marchers take to the streets after the acquittal of the police officer who killed Philando Castile (Fibonacci Blue | flickr)

The day the not-guilty verdict was announced on June 16, some 2,000 people rallied at the Minnesota state Capitol. After the rally, protesters marched through St. Paul, loudly chanting, "Your fear is not a license to kill!"

Yanez testified that he stopped Castile because he thought he looked like someone who had robbed a convenience store a few days earlier. The car had a faulty brake light, so he used this as an excuse to pull Castile over. The officer said that he smelled burnt marijuana in the car and was "scared to death."

WHEN THE murder happened a year ago, it sparked a massive response. Thousands marched through the streets of St. Paul. The avenue in front of the Minnesota governor's mansion was occupied for several weeks. One march ended up shutting down Interstate 94, the main highway through the Twin Cities, near the Dale Street exit and resulted in over 100 arrests.

Due to this pressure from the community, there were signs of hope that justice might prevail in the legal process. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi decided to indict Yanez for multiple counts, rather than sending the case to a grand jury.

But despite the fact that Philando followed the officer's orders and did nothing wrong, Yanez's claim that he was afraid was enough for the jury--10 of whom were white and several of whom espoused pro-police views--was enough to find the officer justified in firing seven shots at point-blank range into a car containing two adults and a 4-year-old child.

Allowing police to use fear to as an excuse for their violent behavior essentially eliminates any possibility of holding the police accountable. It means that, regardless of the evidence, any attempt to prosecute the police can be swept aside, if the officer claims they were frightened--something there is no practical way to disprove in court.

This is a terrifying prospect--especially for Black drivers who encounter the police. In just a week's time, that have been at least two more examples of police getting by with murder after stopping Black men for supposed traffic violations.

On June 23, a judge declared a mistrial for the second time in the case of a University of Cincinnati officer who shot and killed African American driver Samuel DuBose during a traffic stop in 2015. And the Milwaukee cop who killed Sylville Smith during a 2016 traffic stop--sparking several days of mass protest in the city--was cleared of first-degree reckless homicide on June 21.

All these deadly cases of "driving while Black" also expose the rampant use of racial profiling by police in every U.S. city. As Valerie Castile told CNN last year, "We're hunted every day. It's a silent war against African American people as a whole."

ON FATHER'S Day, supporters turned out to show that they stand with Philando Castile and his family on the third consecutive day of protest since this unjust verdict.

Some 300 rallied outside the St. Anthony Police Department in a rally named "Father's Day for Philando," marking the loss of a man who had learned the name of every child in the school where he worked in the cafeteria.

The mood in the crowd combined devastation with determination. As Ojay Wicker, who was juggling an infant in the crowd, put it, "It just wasn't right--it's not justice. I can't believe in justice when it doesn't work for everyone. When will Black lives really matter?"

Following speeches, the crowd marched through a nearby shopping center and occupied a major thoroughfare, chanting, "No justice, no peace! Prosecute the police!" and "No cops, no KKK, no racist USA!"

Philando's sister Allysza Castile addressed the crowd sitting down in the intersection:

We really thought that Minnesota was going to get it right, was going to show the nation that Black lives matter. My brother was a good man; he was a righteous man. He didn't deserve to go the way he did. I will never, ever, ever stop fighting for justice for my brother. One way or another, we're going to get it.

That commitment was widely shared. Sixteen-year-old Mone had attended her first protest, a march for Philando, the day before. She decided to come back the next day, she said, because "this has been happening for a long time. And sometimes the only way to get justice is to stand up for what you believe in."

IN CHICAGO, supporters on the South Side were also taking up the fight for justice for Philando Castile on Father's Day.

Some 400 people gathered at of 53rd and King for a rally that began with Dorothy Holmes, a Chicago mother whose son Ronald "Ronnieman" Johnson was shot and killed by Chicago cops in 2014.

Activist Dr. Barbara Ransby said the date was exactly in between Soweto Day, when South African youth rose up against the U.S.-supported apartheid regime in 1976, and Juneteenth, when the last scourge of slavery was abolished in the U.S. in 1865.

Ransby explained that state violence against Black people is deeply connected to street violence, in that the mechanics of "racial capitalism" disenfranchise and destabilize communities of color while simultaneously over-policing and incarcerating them, leaving families fragmented and economic opportunities few and far between.

Protesters then marched down King Boulevard, chanting "Black Lives Matter" and "Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail." Families, elderly people and children could be seen emerging from their windows and balconies, cheering on.

The march went on to the Real Men Cook event at Hales Franciscan High School, and then to Dyett High School, which was the focus of an intense campaign aimed at stopping its closure, including a hunger strike.

Yanez's acquittal is painful, but this case shows the potential of what a mass movement against the racist criminal justice system can achieve. The police have fear on their side--both as a means of control over us and as an excuse for themselves. But we have solidarity.

We won't stop fighting until Philando, and the many other victims of police violence, get justice.

Gabriel Paez contributed to this article.

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