Philando Castile was one of more than 200,000 Minnesotans legally permitted to carry a handgun. He was shot to death Wednesday night by a police officer who feared for his life; that shooting was avoidable.
As a fellow permit-holder, I have spoken out about the very right Philando was exercising. At a Thursday rally in support of Philando in front of the governor’s office, I heard people asking where the voices from conservatives and permit-holders were. Believe me, we are also speaking out, and we are looking for answers.
Rather than being a partisan issue, this is a call to action for people of all beliefs, races and ages. The days of tragedies being hijacked by those with the loudest voices and the angriest messages must come to an end. Now, for Philando’s sake and the hundreds of thousands like him, we must come together to support a common-sense solution. Let’s join hands and rally to have peace officers adopt a common protocol for interacting with Minnesotans legally permitted to carry firearms.
As a volunteer special deputy with Hennepin County, I know that licensed officers almost always respond professionally to citizens who are exercising their right to carry a handgun. However, I also know that the responses vary from officer to officer. A common protocol would help both citizens and officers know what to expect during an interaction, which ensures the safety of everybody involved.
Moreover, permit-holders live, work and play across dozens of city boundaries, so the state Department of Public Safety should recommend that all peace officers adopt a set of common protocols for interacting with Minnesotans legally permitted to carry firearms.
First, the officer should instruct the person to hold still and keep both hands in plain sight. Second, the officer should ask the person to use words only to communicate the location of the weapon. Third, the officer should ask the person to use words only to communicate the location of the ID and permit to carry. Fourth, the officer should slowly and clearly articulate the desired next step. This plan buys everybody involved more time to assess the situation and ensures that nobody is surprised by sudden movements or unexpected decisions. This protocol might have saved Philando’s life.
Peace officers risk their lives every day, and they deserve our respect. The lengths to which officers have gone to save people are truly inspiring. Officers have run into burning buildings, jumped into flowing water and breached into barricaded rooms to save victims. The trouble is people like Philando Castile are deemed suspects rather than victims. Two adults and a child in a car with a broken car light should be viewed as victims rather than suspects if that’s what it takes to prevent an officer from being jumpy.
Detecting whether somebody poses a threat — deciding whether to shoot or not shoot — is among the most difficult judgment calls anybody can face. As a former U.S. Army officer with service overseas, I know the weight of that decision. I’ve had to make the decision to shoot or not shoot in a war zone. I accepted the risk of waiting, knowing it was the moral, legal and ethical thing to do.
I knew that my ability to go home at the end of my tour was not the most important thing. I had sworn an oath to protect and defend the Constitution above all else. I understood that those who wear the uniform of a country, state, county or city must accept that going home is not the most important thing. That’s a slogan for factory workers like my father or for office workers like my mother. Peace officers already accept the risk of patrolling our neighborhoods, but they must also accept the risk of viewing a person with a broken tail or brake light as a victim rather than a suspect. Only then can they live up to their duty to protect and serve all communities.
Not everybody is suited for the duty and responsibility of making that call; those who are deserve the best training and policies that we can offer. Yet if we can expect that every gun permit-holder can refrain from shooting another armed person, then we can certainly expect it from our peace officers. After all, if I as a permit-holder called 911 to report that I just shot somebody who was armed because he had made a sudden movement and I got scared, I’d be jail-bound. The best way to avoid out-of-control situations is to make potentially volatile stops routine and predictable. Let’s have peace officers interact with Minnesota permit-holders in a way that’s controlled, common and calm.
Amir Arnold Gharbi, of Edina, is a teacher.