Dick Bernard: Castile-Yanez

If you opened this post, you know the names and that the Jury decision in this case was national news last night; and occupied a great amount of space in today’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune (our at home newspaper).

I’ve written twice about this case, both in the summer of 2016. You can read them here; and here.

The most powerful recent writing I’ve seen about Yanez-Castile is this Jon Tevlin column, written June 11, 2017, at the conclusion of the trial and as Jury deliberations were about to begin. It is worth your time.

I deliberately connect the two names, the motorist who was killed; the policeman who killed him.

They are both the victims, but in our “win-lose” society, it will be difficult to see this mutuality of relationship. We tend to take “sides”. Both polarities are valid, but not if one polarity is considered exclusive of the other. Both Yanez and Castile, to my reading, were good people, contributors to society. Castile is dead; Yanez and his family have to remake a life, somewhere, somehow, after a year of almost certain personal hell. In a sense, they died as well.

My hope is that there is lots of room for rational conversation about the issues raised. I can understand the polarities of the opposing camps. The demonstrations at the State Capitol last night were 15 minutes from where I write; when I did the second post cited above, after a Minnesota Orchestra concert last summer, a demonstration was gathering close by Orchestra Hall. The hard work will come when people can have civil conversations about what we can learn from this and other tragedies.

Fitting our gun-wealthy society, Yanez and Castile both had guns, both had them legally. (Tevlin says 265,728 Minnesotans – about 1 of every 20, perhaps one of 15 if you factor out kids – have permits to carry a gun).

Every police calculation has that in mind when engaging with any personal situation.

All of the rest about this issue you can read on your own. My editorial: “no guns, no death”. Of course, that won’t solve the argument.

Then I’ve noticed the other matter, conveniently dropped into the conversation, marijuana….

(The most accurate descriptor of me would be “tee-totaller” from youth to now. A soft-drink guy at gatherings.)

The “pot piece” will be discussed while folks are indulging – a beer, a drink, what have you; probably with a distinction for the drug, pot, what role did it play?


If you’re into reading, I’d recommend the new book “A Colony in a Nation” by Chris Hayes. Very early in the book – pages 16-19 – the stage is effectively set for this book, whose title comes from Richard Nixon’s speech to the 1968 Republican Convention (p. 30).

Take the time to read the book. It is timely.


As always, Castile-Yanez will disappear in a few days, as will the protests.

The goal ought always be long-term solutions, which are messy, and take lots of work, but are always worth it.

from Gail: Thanks, Dick – you always give us something to think about!

from Norm: A good and thoughtful set of observations, Dick.

Consistent with the concern Shawn Otto expresses in his book, the War on Science, this is another situation where people will focus on what they believe at least in the short term and ignore what the evidence showed or did not show. Obviously, in this case, the 12 person jury of his peers, including two African Americans, did not find that the evidence presented by the prosecution was sufficient to find Yanez guilty of the charges against him beyond the high bar of a reasonable doubt.

And, not surprisingly, the many folks who “knew” that Yanez was obviously guilty claimed that the system was rigged against them and one person even claimed that he/she hated the state of Minnesota in spite of all of the benefits that it provides to many folks thanks to the largess or generosity of its taxpayers.

Interestingly, while so many folks believe that the system failed them once again, not too many years ago, they thought that the system worked just fine when O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of the two murder charges brought against him because the prosecution, ill fitting glove and all, had not proven Simpson’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt…even though to many, many folks, the star NFL running back was “obviously” guilty as all hell.

Later, a civilian court did find him responsible for the death of the mother of his children using a less stringent level of doubt.

from a friend of many years: I am having a difficult time seeing any equivalency between losing your life and leaving a grieving family behind …. and losing your job because you are immature or just a scum bag like those folks that were responsible for all the Native American deaths reported in that package of articles that you recently sent me. With the host of ongoing discussions about the deaths of minorities at the hands of law enforcers, I have had a number of discussions relating to this issue with our local sheriff and other local law enforcement officers that I know. A common theme amongst the law enforcers is that they are trained to shoot to kill versus shooting to disarm. There was an elderly Native American wood carver sitting on a bench in Seattle carving a piece of sculpture who was killed by a police officer a couple of years ago because he had a knife and did not put it down quickly enough to suit the officer, and the officer went scot free. We cannot know what was in the heart of Yanez, but to pump five bullets into his victim brings both factors, bigotry and immaturity, into question. If Yanez was gripped by fear, a bullet into the leg of Castile would have quickly brought his hands to his wound. When I was a kid, 11 or younger, I would toss a stone up in the air and shoot it with regularity, taught to do so by my sister, who could do the same. So if we could shoot a small stone moving through the air, why can’t a trained law enforcer hit something as large as a leg? Immaturity or bigotry? When you pump a clip of bullets into a person, the intentions are clearly to ensure that you have killed that person. Yanez or someone in the force that provided him a gun should spend their lives in prison. Think about this false equivalency that you put forth.

from Dick, brief response to my friend, and others: For whatever it’s worth. I qualified as expert with the M-1 rifle in the Army days, but otherwise my gun career was plinking at gophers with a 22 – that sort of thing. I have never owned a gun, and consider their use whether offensively or defensively as a liability, not an asset, regardless of whether you’re a “stand your ground” homeowner, policeman, or gang banger settling scores. With a gun, you always lose. And that’s why I emphasized the gun in the Castile-Yanez article.

Every senseless death is a tragedy for an entire constellation of people. The larger problem, I think, is that we all tend to retreat into our preferred response…the many commentaries on this I see tend to start from a particular frame of reference. One really excellent and powerful response I had asked to print, the writer did not want printed, for whatever reason. It would have helped this conversation grow. Hopefully the writer will do more than just share the observations with me. So it goes.

from Dick, June 21: There were three comments to this post; only two of them are above. The third was very powerful but the writer asked that it not be posted, and I respect those boundaries.

Last night, the police car dash cam coverage of the shooting was broadcast for the first time; today’s paper was full of news….

How to deal with this tragedy as a learning opportunity is not at all clear. The tendency is to take a polarized position one way or another.

We all can pronounce what could have/should have happened in all aspects of this case. We have the luxury of this judgement. Philando Castile and Jeronimo Yanez had their deadly and tragic moment. I wonder how I would have reacted, if in either persons position that fateful afternoon in 2016. A couple of years ago I was pulled over for what turned out to be failure to signal a turn. For me, it was not a neutral event. I was very nervous. And I’m just an old white guy justing driving from point A to point B.

It would be nice to have a rational and ongoing conversation, but early indications don’t seem to point in that direction.

I think it will be difficult, and it may be impossible, to learn from this tragedy to help prevent the inevitable next one.

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