Brennan Pope: What I learned from Philando Castile

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 - 6:20pm

“You shot four bullets into him, sir,” were the words Lavish Reynolds, uttered over Facebook livestream after Officer Jeronimo Yanez shot Philando Castile on July 6, 2016. Both the livestream and the recently uncovered dash cam video are very disturbing, but they are also enlightening and representative of the African-American experience with law enforcement. This is particularly evident when observing (1) the language Castile and Reynolds used when addressing Yanez and (2) the Reynolds’ instinct to livestream the incident.

The dash cam video shows us the automatic fear that the police put into Castile. He is so worried about something going wrong that he feels the need to calmly inform Yanez, “Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me.”

Countless encounters of when police are surprised by someone’s firearm, legal or not, have resulted in the worst. Castile tells Yanez he has a firearm to make sure Yanez knows he isn’t up to anything nefarious. Who would warn an officer about his firearm before using it?

Many cite that the victims of police brutality ask for it by being disrespectful to the officer, however this incident goes to show that many times it doesn’t matter how respectful you are — sometimes “sir” doesn’t cut it.

Even after watching Yanez kill her boyfriend, Reynolds still has the will to address the officer as “sir,” saying, “You shot four bullets into him, sir.” The fear of also being shot and blamed for being disrespectful continues after an officer has killed an innocent man. The officer deserves no “sir” at this point, but Reynolds finds it imperative to her own safety.

This language helps show the lengths that African-Americans have to go to stay safe in the face of law enforcement. Carefully placed “sirs” and deliberate warnings are representative of the fear that police produce.

Not only do encounters with the police spark fear, but they are also a call to action. This is to say that when Yanez shot Castile, Reynolds fought through the grief of the incident and had the instinct to document the injustice. She knew the fight against police brutality would be furthered by showing what had just happened, so she livestreamed almost immediately after shots had been fired. Personally, I would have never had the thought to livestream after my significant other had been shot, but it just goes to show how even through the worst, African-Americans have to fight for improved conditions.

The livestream shows how documenting a greater injustice is of a higher priority than personal emotion. This is a priority that many of us will never have to deal with.

Despite the unjust treatment uncovered by this case, many people blame Castile for his death by saying he should’ve stopped reaching. We live in a world where we punish people of different skin tone for existing, then blame them for acting innocently. I don’t doubt that Yanez was a good person and not outwardly racist, but it is okay to blame law enforcement. Yanez murdered an innocent man. If we don’t punish cops for acting inappropriately, things will never change.

Brennan Pope can be reached at popeb@umich.edu