I have lived in Roseville for almost 24 years, a mile from where Philando Castile died. I pass the site of his tragic death almost daily.
Signs in Falcon Heights and nationwide demand justice; we wait as the criminal justice system goes through its process to come to the “right” conclusion about what happened and why in those terrible moments on Larpenteur Avenue.
I would never assume to know what justice might mean to Philando Castile’s family, nor to any of the other people directly affected by this tragedy.
This week we learned that St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez will be charged and tried for manslaughter. I believe that whatever happens next, many if not most people will still be dissatisfied. Convicting Yanez will not undo Castile’s death, nor the pain so many will carry the rest of their lives. It likely will not relieve the feeling of so many that their lives do not matter in this country. And it will likely leave many police officers feeling further isolated from the communities they serve.
Regardless of the outcome of the Yanez trial, I propose the following possible components of humane, and I hope healing, justice:
1. End “Bulletproof Warrior” and similar training for police officers in Minnesota. Replace it with training that better assures the safety of police and community members, built on the premise that deadly force must be seen as an absolute last resort. Two years before Castile’s death, Yanez attended “Bulletproof Warrior” training (“Officer trained as ‘Bulletproof Warrior,’ ” July 14). We cannot overestimate the lasting effect of training based on viewing bloody shootouts between police and armed civilians combined with the key message: “Hesitation can kill you.” I believe that officers repeatedly exposed to these messages and images have in fact been trained to respond precisely as Yanez did — shooting rather than listening and thinking as first options.
2. Clarify proper procedures for police and civilians when individuals are legally carrying weapons to prevent tragic misunderstandings. News reports indicate that Castile notified Yanez that he was legally carrying a weapon, and that he would get out his permit to show the officer — doing exactly what is directed in state-sanctioned “conceal and carry” training. There must be no confusion between police and citizens who have been licensed to carry weapons by the state, as the result of any momentary misunderstanding can so easily turn deadly.
3. Bring together Castile’s family and loved ones with local political and community leaders so they can create together lasting and meaningful memorials. Possibilities might include a permanent memorial at the Larpenteur Avenue site, a powerful and visible place for community learning and healing given its proximity to the Minnesota State Fair, and renaming and dedicating Falcon Heights’ Community Park (roughly a mile from where Castile died) the Philando Castile Community Peace and Justice Park.
Following Castile’s killing, and similar tragedies across the nation, there has been much discussion and disagreement about whether police officers carry inherent bias. Of course they do — we all do, because we are human. The Random House Dictionary definition of prejudice is: “an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought or reason.” Considering that African-Americans and blacks comprise 8 percent of Falcon Heights’ residents and 5 percent of the residents of St. Anthony, the ongoing segregation of our communities and lives almost assures unfavorable opinions based on ignorance of one another.
A Philando Castile Community Peace and Justice Park could be a place where law enforcement and community come together regularly to genuinely learn from and about one another. While I do not believe that bias can be “trained” away, I believe we can learn to better understand and respect one another and live in peace. I so wish that Yanez and his colleagues had met and come to know Castile, Diamond Reynolds and her 4-year old daughter this way, long before their tragic meeting on Larpenteur Avenue.
We can and must do better at knowing, caring about and living in peace with one another. May Castile’s memory be a blessing and catalyst toward this vision.
Donald Gault lives in Roseville.