Every acquittal of a killer cop grievously wounds our common life (“Trial was ‘very difficult,’ juror says,” June 17). No case is a matter of only the letter of the law, and even that you got wrong in the acquittal of officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi rightly said: “No reasonable cop would have acted as this officer acted.”
What you and other juries and prosecutors have done is create a class of people, police officers, whose actions are treated in a radically different way than those of other offenders. You have colluded in giving them a license to kill. You have made harder our work to hold incompetent and murderous cops accountable.
One of you was quoted as saying that the jurors felt sympathy for the Castile family. They don’t need your sympathy; they, and all of us, needed your decision for justice, and you failed us.
Helen Hunter, St. Paul
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In theory, our system of justice, with trial by jury, sounds fair, but how can that be when people with an active interest in the news are systematically excluded from the jury? In their search for impartial jurors — those who know little to nothing about the case or who have had no similar experiences — attorneys obstruct justice by keeping educated, informed people off the jury. We can only expect decisions like the one in the Castile case when juries are stacked with people who don’t think it’s worth their time to learn more about what’s going on in society, and stacked against those who are, dare I say, more intellectual? We have to change the way our jurors are selected.
Esther Benenson, Minneapolis
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We should all remember that being found “not guilty” in a court of law is not the same as being not guilty. Only Yanez knows if he is truly guilty or not guilty. The jury’s verdict cannot absolve him from the truth.
Cathy Nelson, St. Paul
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Was Castile really reaching for his gun when Jeronimo Yanez fired the first time? Was he still reaching for his gun when Yanez fired the second time? Did Castile continue to go for his gun when Yanez fired the third and fourth times? Was he still attempting to grab his gun when Yanez fired at Valerie Castile’s son the fifth and sixth times? Was Castile still trying to reach for his gun when Yanez fired the seventh time? Just wondering.
Bill Herring, Minnetonka
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I am astonished at the Star Tribune’s June 17 editorial in response to the verdict in the Yanez trial (“Hoping for calm after Yanez verdict”). The justice system did nothing remotely like its “job,” and to claim so reveals a profound ignorance of the way systematic racism dictates just who gets justice in our country. Now, after the black people of the Twin Cities have seen, once again, that they can be killed by police officers with impunity, the local newspaper has told them to remain “calm.”
Instead of writing about any of the factors that led to this miscarriage of justice, the Editorial Board chose to devote its space to urge against violence in reaction to it — despite the fact that the most notable incident of violence at a local Black Lives Matter rally was a white supremacist shooting protesters. When the state has done so much violence to the black community, why would the board’s knee-jerk reaction be to admonish that community about violence in return? Perhaps it is not only the police and the judiciary that need to examine their institutional racism.
Anne Ursu, Minneapolis
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Like so many others, I was deeply disappointed in the not-guilty verdict in the Yanez case. As an early participant in the investigation of this tragic shooting, I believed the case should be prosecuted and supported John Choi’s decision to file charges. Dissatisfaction with a verdict too often leads to finger-pointing and Monday-morning quarterbacking. In a June 17 commentary (“Verdict of Yanez trial was predictable, due to wrong charges”), Marshall H. Tanick does just that. Tanick inexplicably insults the prosecution team and, with remarkable hubris, pronounces that misdemeanor charges against Yanez would have brought justice where felony charges did not.
I could not disagree more. I know the three lawyers who volunteered to take on this case; they are the epitome of seasoned professionals with a strong commitment to justice. They made tough decisions using their good judgment and vast trial experience. Moreover, I recall how prosecutors from two different offices weighed the appropriate charges and considered the alternatives. Under the facts of this case, the felonies charged were the most appropriate and provided the best chance to achieve justice. The lawyers involved deserve respect and admiration for their hard work and dedication to the cause of justice regardless of the result — not insults and second-guessing.
Contrary to Tanick’s bald assertions, Minnesotans were well-represented in this trial by highly experienced prosecutors. The prosecutors’ judgment was sound, and their professionalism unquestionable. Rather than second-guessing and insulting them, we should thank them for their commitment to justice.
Andrew M. Luger, Minneapolis
The writer is a former U.S. attorney.
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How many deaths with either no indictment or a not-guilty verdict does it take for Americans to realize that our system of “justice” concerning police shootings is broken? Valerie Castile wanted justice for Philando just as I wanted justice for my mentally ill son Jeff. Jeff was killed by the Richfield police in October 2012. Race was not a factor in my son’s death; however, fear and misunderstanding were evident in both cases. We need to train police to de-escalate situations rather than use violence so quickly. We also need a system in which police are held accountable for their actions. How can officer Yanez be not guilty of even reckless discharge of a firearm? Let us work to create an America where people of all races and creeds can proudly say, “Yes, all lives matter! We value tolerance and acceptance of all people.” That’s where I want to live. Not here.
Beckie O’Connor, Richfield
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I hope we can all agree that Philando Castile’s death was tragic, unnecessary and unjust. All Minnesotans need to honestly acknowledge the factors that contributed to his death and implement solutions. A good start is adopting the policies and laws identified by Campaign Zero to reduce police violence. For example, placing stronger limits on use of force by police is shown not only to reduce killings of community members, but also to reduce deaths and injuries to officers in the line of duty. We owe it to Philando’s memory and to ourselves to take these common-sense steps. Learn more at https://www.joincampaignzero.org.
Arlene Mathison, Minneapolis
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The system we all live in has experienced another failure because someone has died. As with all catastrophic system failures, there is no single action that caused this. The space shuttle Challenger deaths wouldn’t have happened without cold temperatures, bad O-rings, a lack of an escape system and those in control too eager to push the launch button. This failure in Ramsey County wouldn’t have happened without racism, poor police training, too many guns and those in control too eager to pull the trigger. We are all part of this system and bear responsibility for fixing all of the pieces of it. Will you run for office? Will you sit down in a coffee shop and have a conversation with people you don’t know about everything going on in this world? Will you do something so civilians aren’t in an arms race with other civilians, and officers and civilians aren’t afraid of each other? What will you do to fix this system?
Michael Bendzick, Falcon Heights
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We must continue the struggle to improve a culture in which the average citizen fears a black man more than a white one. At the same time, we should recognize that through our desire to provide people with ready access to deadly, legally concealable firearms, we burden law enforcement officers with the expectation that they make split-second decisions, with 100 percent accuracy, about whether someone is reaching for their wallet or their weapon.
What an impossible situation we have created for our officers. And how shameful that we’ve placed the deadly burden of our prejudices and policies on members of our society who already suffer the legacy of decades of hardship and persecution.
John L. Ibele, Minneapolis