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by Peter Moskos

July 7, 2016

Philando Castile

This police-involved shooting is bad. And unlike the killing of Alton Sterling in Louisiana, I'm willing to call this one before the polls have closed.

This more recent shooting in Falcon Heights, Minnesota reminded me of Joseph Schultz. Schultz, you probably don't remember because you've never heard of him, got shot in the face in 2003 by FBI agents who were conducting a traffic stop on the wrong car. (Schultz is white, and apparently white people don't get bothered by being shot by police for no good reason.) I wonder how many traffic stops FBI agents have made before or since. The FBI agents got off. It was called an "unfortunate accident." No. It was worse than that.

Over in the twitter world -- which is like the real world but somewhat more poor, nasty, brutish, and short -- David Simon seems aggrieved (a burden he carries well) about my wait-for-the-facts position on Sterling in Louisiana but my willingness to rush to judgement in Castile's death.

I wrote:
(Actually, I'd bet Louisiana shooting not good either, but I'm not ready to call it yet. And I'm not a betting man.)
In a ever-so-slightly trolling manner, Simon prodded:
You don't need to see the beginning of the video? Or learn all the possibilities of reasonable suspicion and probable cause for car stop? Why not?
No, I don't. These shootings are very different. Because one involved a fighting man with an illegal gun.
In Sterling's death, I can imagine a scenario -- one that may or may not be true but is very much possible when three people with three guns are rolling around on the ground -- where the shooting was justified. What if Sterling was trying reach for a gun to kill somebody? My guess is this isn't what happened, but I don't know. (And neither do you.)

But it's not just that. Castile was a police-initiated engagement. That matters. The victim, judging from post shooting reactions, was compliant. There was no fight. It's a car stop, which limits the possibilities of motion. That's relevant less for the possible danger aspect than for me being willing to make some assumptions about what happened before the video. I have no idea what happened before Alton got shot and tased. I know very well how car stops work.

And I'll just keep mentioning this: Castile wasn't carrying an illegal gun.

Ah, responded Simon (foolishly trying to find flaw in my logic):
But video I saw was after shooting occurred. How do you ascertain all of the above other than witness credibility
Do you have video of the run-up to and shooting of victim in Minnesota? Maybe I saw something abbreviated.
There's no reason to think Castile was a threat or pointed his gun at the cops. The cop, later audio indicates, told Castile to reach for something, and he did. That's called being compliant. I am willing to give police the benefit of the doubt. But having done that, and also willing to admit I can't honestly conceive of a way the shooting of Castile was justified (unless there's really something big we don't know). And it's not the first time or even second time a compliant individual was shot by police.

But it's sometimes hard to explain nuance in 140 characters. So I left it at this:

And though I generally think race is overplayed as a factor in police-involved shootings (and geographic region and act of being a lethal threat underplayed). Honestly, in this shooting, with this cop, in this locale, I don't think there's a chance in hell Castile would have been shot had he been white.


JPP said...

What do you think of the governor's statements today? (Day after shooting) For his role in government, was that statement premature?

John Pack Lambert said...

Considering cases like Joseph Schultz I think Dayton's ststement was needlessly inflamatory. It is unneccesary to paint the incident as racist and to call the shooter racist. Even more so when we have no clue of the race of the cop.

David Woycechowsky said...

Looks like the outrage has become murderous violence in Dallas. Not good for anyone.

JPP said...


This is interesting, I wonder how much truth there is to it.

JPP said...

Here's the pertinent quote:

"Olson said on that day three years ago he expected the St. Anthony officer to stand just behind the driver’s side door at the traffic stop, which is generally standard practice. Instead, the officer stood about 3 feet behind his SUV and conducted the interview through Olson’s driver’s-side mirror.

“His voice had the tremor of fear,” Olson said. “He couldn’t see my hands. He couldn’t see if anyone was in the car. I thought: this is dangerous for both of us.”

Eventually the officer asked Olson for his license and registration, but he couldn’t see Olson while he was digging in the glove box.

“I realized I could have had a grenade on the seat and he’d have no idea.”

He eventually got a ticket, but Olson said he was troubled enough that about two years ago he went to talk with John Ohl, who was then St. Anthony’s police chief. He wanted Ohl to provide better training for his officers during traffic stops. Instead, he said Ohl praised the officer.

“I realized he wasn’t listening,” he said.

bacchys said...

On the Sterling shooting, you note that "Why did police shoot the man with the gun?" is a question you're "generally inclined to dismiss."

But at the time the cops tackled Sterling, I doubt they knew he was a prohibited person. The mere fact he was illegally carrying a firearm doesn't mean he presented a threat at the moment the police shot him, though I don't doubt whoever "investigates" the shooting will find it justified.

I agree with you on that shooting: we don't have enough evidence as of yet to say it was justified or not. I can't tell where his hands are, let alone if it was reasonable for the police to think he was reaching for the weapon. That they knew or reasonably believed he had a firearm, however, seems to be well-established.

Not too long ago a man was shot in California while two cops attempted to cuff him. One cop drew his pistol for some unknown reason and ended up shooting his partner. His partner announced he had been shot and they both shot the man in the back multiple times. He wasn't armed. They were initially cleard in the shooting, but I don't know if calls to reopen the investigation after a video of the killing was made public resulted in anything. From that video, it doesn't seem like a justified shooting to me.


Amanda, herself said...

Honestly, I don't know how anyone can arrive at any conclusions based on that Philando Castile video. That had to be the most bizarre video footage I've ever seen, and to me it only serves to raise more questions than answers.

First of all, the girlfriend recording the live video seems oddly cool, calm, and collected for someone who just watched her boyfriend/fiance get shot in the carseat next to her. I felt like she could have been describing a screwed-up fast food order and it would have sounded the same (actually, I've seen people get *more* upset over unwanted pickles on their big mac than this chick seems to be here).
Second -- and this is a big one -- she says early on in the video that the cop "killed" her boyfriend, while the guy was clearly STILL ALIVE. WTF?? How did she know that he was going to die? And, if she knew (or even suspected) that he was in the process of dying, why does she appear to be so unconcerned? She doesn't even bother to hold her boyfriend's hand, or hug him, or talk to him, or comfort him in any fashion whatsoever during his last moments of life? Nor does she ask for paramedics to be called? Really?? I mean, I get the value of capturing a video like this, but I simply cannot fathom how a person could completely disregard their significant other (in critical condition) whilst they play Facebook reporter instead. Totally bizarre.
Speaking of playing FB reporter, did anyone else find it utterly bizarre that the cop just *allows her* to sit there recording the situation on her phone... and, not only that, but he actually GIVES THE PHONE BACK TO HER AFTER SHE'S BEEN ARRESTED so that she can KEEP RECORDING HER LIVE VIDEO FROM THE BACK SEAT OF THE POLICE CAR?? This has to be unprecedented! I've never seen a cop (much less a group of cops) show such tolerance of civilians using their phones to record police misconduct. In fact, these cops went beyond just tolerating it, to actually facilitating it, in this case.
At this point I am completely mind-blown, and I begin to wonder if this incident took place on Mars.

There are many more bizarre aspects to this video, but I'll just leave it at that for now.