Waking up Thursday to the news of Philando Castile’s death, I would like to remind our state’s and our nation’s police officers that to protect and to serve does not mean to execute (“Police kill man during traffic stop,” July 7).
As a police officer, you sign up to potentially lose your life every day. This is no light task, nor is it worthy of derision or scorn. Those who put their lives on the line for what is barely a living wage deserve an immense amount of respect.
However, it’s the risk you’ve taken, and you do not have the right, in your panic, to freely murder innocent civilians. Your fear is not worth the cost of a single life. It is your responsibility to place the lives of everyone you serve above your own, and that includes those you suspect are about to commit a crime. No crime merits on-the-spot execution.
Not only do murderers deserve no respect, they deserve to be held accountable for the crimes they’ve committed. If even one police officer goes to prison for second- or first-degree murder, I doubt the next police officer will be so careless in his moment of panic.
If we start trying these men for racially motivated hate crimes, perhaps the next police officer will second-guess the fact that he is about to destroy a life.
The state of Minnesota has the opportunity to shift this tide in a new direction. I hope that we make the right decision and indict “the officer involved” for murder.
Patrick Nathan, Minneapolis
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It could have been me with that phone camera.
I know that intersection in Falcon Heights far better than Google’s Street View does. My husband has had a permit to carry, as Castile did. Anyone can end up needing to drive with a broken car light.
It could have been me with the camera. It could have been my husband lying bleeding, dying. It could have been — except that we’re white.
We’re white, so we have respectable business being in this college suburb. We’re white, so a permit means passing a background check and being trained to handle guns responsibly. We’re white, so we’re less likely to be pulled over in the first place. We’re white, so we’re on the same “team” as the police despite the crime of a broken light. We’re white, so we’re not inhumanly terrifying. We’re white, so our lives matter before the protests, before the demands. We’re white, so there are consequences for killing us.
It wasn’t us in that car. It won’t be.
That isn’t reassuring. It’s nauseating. Someone died Wednesday night, and all the reasons that it wouldn’t happen to me make it more likely to happen again to someone else. We need accountability for police violence, for police racism. It won’t be me in that next car, but it shouldn’t be anyone else, either.
Stephanie Zvan, Minneapolis
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One can easily argue that Castile’s death at the hands of a police officer was directly caused by his “right” to carry a weapon. Had he not stated that he had a weapon, but merely pulled out the requested identification, he would be alive now. Taking the broader view, it seems that having the right to carry handguns causes more deaths than it prevents. All Minnesotans will be safer if we collectively take a stand and repeal a dangerous law.
Carl Johnson, Minneapolis
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I am almost certain that the Legislature has not passed a law to exact the death penalty for a broken car light. None of the incident happens if the officer does not make a profiling stop for a broken light. In general, it seems that the psychological testing required to be a police officer is not even close to what it should be. The video of the incident indicates that the officer immediately goes into CYA mode, making it up as fast as he can. Just the latest incident in a long string of bad police work and bad judgment.
Wayne Sather, St. Paul
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We have a problem with law enforcement, in this community and nationwide. My daughter has been pulled over twice by police. Both times she was reduced to tears by the officers’ words and actions, was screamed at, was accused of things she did not do and, in the second incident, after the driver of the car (her friend) was taken away by police, she was left alone to walk along Hwy. 100 at 1 in the morning, with no phone or purse, as these were left in the car and she was not allowed to retrieve them. Terrified and crying, she was allowed to use the phone at a convenience store after walking up the exit ramp on the highway! My only consolation? That because she is white, at least she was not shot and killed.
But now another innocent man has died at the hands of the police. His “crime?” A broken car light. When he informed the officer he had a licensed firearm, he was doing everything correctly, letting the officer know he was armed.
But we forget — the gun-rights crowd only assumes white males have the right to carry and conceal. If you’re black, you can’t have a broken light, and you most certainly cannot reach for your license even when asked to do so. Because if you are black you are presumed guilty of “something” and shot.
As I said earlier, we have a problem with law enforcement. “Protect and serve” is what I expect from police. Instead, we have summary executions. I am beyond disgusted and horrified. This must stop.
Eva Lockhart, Edina
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The police officers involved in Wednesday’s shooting will not be prosecuted, through no fault of the county attorneys, the prosecutors or a grand jury. Those individuals are tasked with determining whether the police officers involved in the shooting violated state or federal law in the killing of Philando Castile. This is the same task of those involved in the investigations of the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or the hundreds of other black men killed by police every year. In the 346 cases in 2015 where police officers killed black men, those tasked with determining whether those police officers should be prosecuted decided not to prosecute in 97 percent of those cases (mappingpoliceviolence.org). Given those statistics, you have to wonder whether the police killing of black men is even illegal. Looking at the applicable Minnesota statutes, it may not be as illegal as you think, and therein lies the real problem.
Minnesota Statute 609.066 covers the use of deadly force by police officers. The statute says, in relevant part, “the use of deadly force by a peace officer in the line of duty is justified only when necessary to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm.” The keyword here is “apparent.” While that term isn’t defined in the statute, it has been interpreted to mean that when the police officer believes that he is in danger, he can kill the person posing the “apparent” danger. The statute does not require that the police officer’s assessment of the danger be reasonable, or even rational. It only requires that the officer claim that he, himself, believed he was in danger. The reason for that belief can be anything, and is not limited by the statute. So if an officer believes he is in danger because of a person’s actions, or speech, or clothes, or skin color, as long as the officer himself is afraid, he can legally kill that person.
I can absolutely believe that the officer who shot Castile was afraid at the time. Why he was afraid, I can’t know. But as long as he claims that he was afraid, for whatever reason, he won’t be prosecuted under Minnesota law. There is no check or balance for reasonableness in Minnesota Statute 609.066. And until it’s changed to hold police officers accountable for killing people based on unreasonable or irrational fear, we will continue to see these police killings of black men go unchecked.
Ochen Kaylan, Minneapolis
The writer is an attorney.