MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For the first time, we’re able to see what happened the night former officer Jeronimo Yanez shot and killed Philando Castile. Evidence from the trial, including dashcam footage of the shooting from a police squad car, has been made public.
The release of the video is sparking reaction from all over, especially from leaders in the black community.
“I was in the trial — in the court — and I was sitting next to Valerie Castile, and we were literally holding hands,” said Michelle Gross of Communities United Against Police Brutality.
Gross said it was hard watching the squad car video in court, and even harder to watch it now that the officer involved has been cleared of all charges.
Gross believes the video is proof Yanez overreacted.
“This video was so egregious, in terms of the officer’s behavior, that I was certain that any thinking person who saw this video would recognize that Yanez was guilty of manslaughter and endangering the lives of the two other people in the car, as well,” she said. “There is no question in my mind that he just lost it and started shooting.”
Civil rights attorney Nekima Levy-Pounds says the video is proof the system does not work for African-Americans and needs to be fixed.
“The first thing that I did was to weep,” Pounds said. “Officer Yanez had an unreasonable fear of Philando Castile as a black man. It is unfathomable to me that any member of the jury could have watched that video — not once, but multiple times — and reached the conclusion that Officer Yanez was justified in killing Philando Castile. That is absolutely absurd.”
Levy-Pounds shed a tear when asked how she would explain the video, the case and the outcome to her son.
“Thinking about a situation in which he could be pulled over like that — shot and killed — and the officer simply being able to say, ‘I was afraid for my life,’ being used as a justification under the law — it boils my blood,” she said.
Jason Sole is the president of the Minneapolis NAACP, and is working toward his PhD in criminal justice. After watching the video, his thoughts turned to the classroom.
“There’s no faith in this system, if that’s validated. None. None whatsoever,” he said. “What can I tell my students who are going into law enforcement? What can I tell them? What can I tell my criminal justice students? What do I tell the young, black students who want to do something positive? I don’t know what to tell my daughters, man.”
Community leaders are encouraging those traumatized by the video — or those who want to talk about what they’ve seen — to come to several listening sessions and healing spaces across the Twin Cities. One is at the Walder Institute in St. Paul and two others are in north Minneapolis at the Urban League and at North Point.
Later Tuesday evening, more than a hundred people gathered at the Wilder Foundation in St. Paul for the fourth of eight community conversations scheduled since the not-guilty verdict. And this time both Mayor Chris Coleman and Police Chief Todd Axtell were present, not just to say a few words but to listen.
Pausing for a moment of silence, what followed at the event was another opportunity for community members to vent, grieve and demand change.
“Everybody empathizes with people that pass away, what are your actions,” one man asked the mayor and police chief. “What’s your game plan for this?”
Mayor Coleman mentioned how all city employees undergo racial bias training. Chief Axtell emphasized how the latest class of recruits was 55 percent racially diverse. Both mentioned there are several initiatives already underway to better train police officers and connect with the community, but that didn’t seem to temper the anger and angst several people in the crowd were feeling.
One point several people also mentioned is that they’d like to see St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth at the meetings, as well as representatives of the local police union.
As for how he reacted to the dashcam video, Mayor Coleman said, “I can’t make sense of it. I can’t make sense out of why Philando Castile is not still serving meals to 500 young people who he knew by name.”
Chief Axtell also said to the crowd, “I really believe that as we move forward, better times are ahead with police service throughout our country.”