Jason Sole and Rachel Wannarka
Update Aug 24: Officer Yanez returned to administrative leave “out of respect to the sensitive nature of the tragic incident and the concerns from the community.”
On July 6, Philando Castile was shot and killed during a traffic stop by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez. As Castile lay dying in his seat, his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds described live on facebook how he had told Yanez he had a legally registered gun and how he was reaching for his ID, as ordered, when he was shot.
This Wednesday, one month after Philando Castile was buried, Yanez returned to work on desk duty even though the shooting is still under investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. This seems like a troubling indication that Yanez will be cleared of any wrongdoing by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi despite overwhelming evidence including from the video that Castile did not present any threat and should not have been shot.
Minnesota has a shameful history of failing to hold police officers accountable when they kill the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect, but it would be difficult indeed to understand how Yanez could escape any criminal responsibility for his actions that evening. A non-indictment of Officer Yanez would leave innocent blood on a police department, a county attorney’s office, and on state legislators. A good person died tragically and unfairly and the state has a duty to indict the officer who pulled the trigger. A non-indictment would mean the state of Minnesota is truly Jim Crow North!
Inexplicably, Chief Jon Mangseth took the occasion of Yanez returning to work to heap praise on his officer, even as the investigation is ongoing. Mangseth’s statements only add fuel to the fire. Did Mangseth consider Philando’s family when he decided to make this public statement? Mangseth described Yanez as having “a real sound ability when it comes to communicating and relating to people”–qualities notably absent in the video that shows Yanez yelling expletives, telling Reynolds to keep her “hands where they are” while she sat next to her dying boyfriend, and pointing his gun at Castile rather than rendering any sort of aid.
Mangseth also described Yanez as having a sterling reputation within the department. Did he also have a sterling reputation with Black citizens? Having a sterling reputation within a department doesn’t have any validity because a majority of the police departments across America are racist, sexist, xenophobic, and function within a culture of cruelty. It seems clear that Castile was racially profiled–police scanner audio describes him as looking similar to a robbery suspect “because of the wide-set nose” and as MPR documented Castile experienced years of police profiling and harassment. Sadly, Castile’s experiences were consistent with the general grossly disproportionate citations and arrests of Black people by St. Anthony police.
Mangseth also said Yanez was worried about his own future. At least he has a future. Philando Castile doesn’t because Yanez took that. The chief didn’t even make mention of the mourning family, who declined to comment to media. How painful must it have been for them to see the officer who killed their son return to work? There will be a protest starting at 11 o’clock today (August 19) where Castile’s family will speak. We hope that Mangseth and the entire St. Anthony police department will truly listen to the community’s grief and outrage.
In a week, the State Fair opens. As Minnesotans eat Martha’s cookies, drink lemonade, and enjoy roasted corn, we can rest assured that there are some Minnesotans who won’t be going: Jamar Clark and Philando Castile. Their lives were unjustly taken by the bullets of trained law enforcement officers. Two cold-blooded murders by two different departments. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman bypassed using a grand jury in the Jamar Clark case because “the accountability and transparency limitations of a grand jury are too high a hurdle to overcome.” This was a positive step, but then he dropped the ball by not charging the officers despite more than sufficient evidence: no Justice for Jamar.
Ramsey County attorney Choi has not yet said whether he intends to use a grand jury. Will he deliver justice for Philando or will he continue the trend of zero criminal indictments or charges (let alone convictions) when police kill? We saw in the Jamar Clark case that the BCA defers to the police narrative while seeking to undermine Black eyewitnesses; we must also have an independent and complete federal investigation, one which does not simply parrot the BCA or the County Attorney. History tells us that police officers aren’t held accountable in Minnesota; justice demands that we keep fighting until they are!