In the case of Philando Castile’s homicide, the officer who shot the gun has made a statement through his attorney that it was the gun that caused him to fire repeatedly at Castile. According to this attorney, Mr. Castile told Officer Jeronimo Yanez that he had a gun, Mr. Yanez gave him an order that Castile didn’t follow, and so he shot his weapon at Castile in self-defense. That’s a pretty trigger-happy officer with an over-developed sense of personal safety.
What would we say if the firefighters’ unions suddenly wanted to negotiate into their contracts that they would no longer go into burning buildings? It seems that the tendency toward self-preservation in police training, especially with a shoot-to-kill mantra, has come at a cost to black lives
As someone who dislikes guns, I would be more than happy to blame it all on the gun. The gun that never made an appearance. The weapon said to have caused it all that was never drawn.
Mr. Yanez and his attorney, and even Mr. Yanez’s college professors, insist he is not racist. What they are forgetting is there are two kinds of racism: explicit and implicit. I’m sure Officer Yanez does not think he is racist. It’s just speculation, but as a minority himself, he may even be quite sympathetic to the Black community. It’s difficult to say what is in a man’s mind.
So, that settles it. The officer has spoken. It was the gun. It’s never the gun in the commission of a crime. In those cases, it is the person behind the gun, according to the NRA. Didn’t Charlton Heston say, “There are no good guns. There are no bad guns. Any gun in the hands of a bad man is a bad thing. Any gun in the hands of a decent person is no threat to anybody — except bad people…?” But let’s put that bit of lost logic aside. We can all resume taking a sigh of relief that we found the culprit in Mr. Castile’s death. The gun.
Not so fast. We have to discuss implicit racism. It’s insidious and prevalent. It comes from living in a white supremacist culture. It’s the racism that White, Native American, Asian, Latinx, and yes, even Black people, have against Black people. Within the African American community, you see discussions of internalized racism, such as preferences for lighter skin, straightening hair, or stereotyping their own race.
Did Officer Yanez have subconscious, implicit racism as a backdrop to his decision-making when he approached Castile? Almost certainly.
I propose that a lot of what happens in our police forces is an overwhelming desire to deny the scientifically undeniable. Implicit racism is a problem for everyone, especially for the law enforcement community who are reinforced with the stereotype that there is a link between Blacks and threat
UPDATE [This video came across my Facebook feed and it was so typical and yet so shockingly racist, it is a must-watch]
Implicit associations are shortcuts in decision-making in our brain. We all make them. I’ve taken the test, and I show a moderate bias toward Black people over White. I already knew my bias was to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but now I know how my brain makes associations in my mind between good and bad and White and Black.
I am going to try to be more open to listening to the struggle of police in an effort to combat my automatic, knee-jerk responses to essays written by police officers. For example, this essay by Emjay Em on being the sister of a law enforcement officer brought home the reality of exactly how it can’t be us versus them. In her essay, she describes how her sister became one of the few African American women on the force in Dallas. [She was not harmed in the shootings]. As a matter of fact, my aunt was the first woman deputy sheriff in our county. I was always proud of that. I don’t have an inherent dislike of the police having been so close to an officer.
A wrinkle comes in if you want to include the reporting of a right wing website called the Last Resort in the conversation. Based on reporting from KARE 11 NBC affiliate in St. Paul, this right-wing website has jumped on the story that Castile was pulled over because he matched the description of a robbery suspect. The police have not verified this, but an audio recording has leaked that suggests it is true. The only thing the police on the recording say the robbers have in common with Mr. Castile is a “wide set nose.” The right wing site tried to make this seem like that means racism was not a factor in Castile’s death.
If true, it proves exactly the opposite. Mr. Castile does not look like the robbery suspects shown on KARE 11. Instead, it appears to be a case of “They all look alike to me.” If we’re pulling people over solely for their ethnic features, the police better start pulling over the first blonde they see after a white guy is announced as a robbery suspect on the loose.
Along with the several dozen times he was pulled over by police since 2002, mostly for what we call poverty offenses (e.g. not having insurance, not having a muffler), we can add this supposed “robbery” pullover to racial profiling that seemed to target Mr. Castile throughout his life. Getting pulled over must have become a routine for Mr. Castile. I’m sure he had the whole deference, obedience, and kowtowing-to-police routine down as an expert skill.
To answer the issue of whether of a Black officer would have made the same calculation as Officer Yanez or whether Officer Yanez would have pulled his trigger on a white man in the same situation, we could find the Implicit Association Test (take it yourself here) very useful. According to research, these two hypothetical men are both likely to have a negative bias toward African American men, especially when it comes to crime. Unknowingly, the black officer would still pull the trigger on the black man, and Officer Yanez would not shoot the white man.
As a star student with a solid law enforcement education, Officer Yanez should have been able to keep his cool in the situation he faced with Mr. Castile. He passed his classes with high grades. I would argue that implicit associations between black men and danger he held in his mind caused him to pull out his gun and kill an innocent man.