I am packing for the weekend and watching a little TV news this morning, and from that box a witness to a fatal shooting in Louisiana offered this explanation for the dramatic killing of a black man by a police officer there: “Officers threw him to the ground, got on top of him and shot him dead.” So it would seem from the video now readily available online. Then this morning’s newest shooting – it happened again last night, in St. Paul, Minnesota. You can even get a link to the “live stream” and watch an officer kill another black man. This time the officer had stopped the car he was riding in for a broken tail light. His girlfriend says that Philando Castile told officers he had a concealed weapon and a permit to carry. Check out the NY Times article describing how an officer shot Castile while seated in the car, after asking him to retrieve his identification. This victim was not even driving the car!
This is every persons nightmare, but it is every black person’s reality.
It must stop. Prosecutors must get brave. They must prosecute officers who needlessly and unlawfully shoot and kill persons who have done nothing to justify the use of deadly force. Prosecutors must act – if only to show us that all lives matter. These killings may have been racism but it is not just racist cops who have kill civilians “just because.”
Law enforcement officers are entitled to use reasonable force, but not deadly force in every situation. Deadly force is the last choice. It seems to be the first response, too often. Citizens must be able to trust the police to enforce the law, not to take it into their own hands. And there is no excuse for shooting unarmed people who do not pose a risk of serious injury or death to the officer. All lives matter. That’s why officers are called on to protect, serve and lead.
And it is not just urban areas where officers shoot first and lie later.
In rural Idaho, Jack Yantis’s life mattered. It mattered enough that local law enforcement officers should have been better trained and better educated on the law. They should have been better supervised. They should not have killed a man called by the Sheriff to help them. They should never have shot Jack Yantis. They should have known that he was there, with his rifle, to do what he had been asked to do – take down his bull – the same bull that officers had shot and wounded after it had been hit by a car on the highway.
The folks who enforce the law; Idaho’s Attorney General, and the United States Attorney should act. Act. Now.
Eight months later neither office has been willing to let Idaho jurors decide whether officers in Council, Idaho acted within the narrow confines that are required to justify their having killed Jack Yantis. Deadly force must be the last choice, not the first.
And yes, I have skin in the game. I am one of the lawyers representing Jack’s survivors, including his wife Donna Yantis, and his nephew Rowdy Paradis.
Police officers need to get back to being our protectors, our friends, part of our lives. A traffic stop should not result in the death of a passenger asked to produce identification.