My God, this video below of the immediate aftermath of Philando Castile’s shooting by a suburban Minneapolis police officer leaves one speechless. His girlfriend, Lavish Reynolds, started uploading the video to Facebook live, moments after the officer shot him in a traffic stop for a busted tail light. In the video, you see a wounded, bleeding Castile in what were the last moments of his life. Do not watch this if you are not prepared for it! It is NSFW! But I hope you will watch the horror that this woman and her seven-year-old daughter endured, to say nothing, obviously, of the dead man:
As Castile moans and appears to lose consciousness, the officer can be heard in the background shouting expletives in apparent frustration.
“Mam, keep your hands where they are,” the officer shouts at Reynolds. “I told him not to reach for it! I told him to get his hands up.”
“You told him to get his ID, sir, his driver’s license,” Reynolds responds. “Oh my god. Please don’t tell me he’s dead. Please don’t tell me my boyfriend just went like that.”
From her video, Reynolds appears to have begun recording seconds after her boyfriend was shot, just after 9 p.m. local time. (The footage appears to have been flipped when it was uploaded to social media sites, mistakenly suggesting Castile was the passenger in the car when, in fact, he was the driver.)
In the video, Reynolds tells the police that her boyfriend is “good man” who works for St. Paul Public Schools.
“He doesn’t have no record or anything,” she says. “He’s never been in jail or anything. He’s not a gang member or anything.”
A website for J. J. Hill Montessori Magnet School lists Phil Castile as its cafeteria supervisor.
Clarence Castile, Philando’s uncle, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that his nephew had worked in the school’s cafeteria for 12 to 15 years, “cooking for the little kids.” He said his nephew was “a good kid” who grew up in St. Paul. Philando Castile’s Facebook page says he attended the University of Minnesota.
“He was reaching for his license and registration. You told him to get it sir! You told him,” Reynolds says. “He tried to tell you he was licensed to carry and he was going to take it off. Please don’t tell me boyfriend is gone. He don’t deserve this.”
The screen goes black.
“Please Lord, you know our rights Lord,” Reynolds says, apparently praying. “You know we are innocent people, Lord. We are innocent people.”
Keep in mind that we don’t know what happened in the moments before the shooting. Why would a police officer approach a car stopped for a busted tail light with his weapon drawn? The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that Castile had only misdemeanors on his criminal record. Did the cop order Philando Castile to keep his hands up, and did Castile defy him by foolishly reaching into his coat to remove the gun that, according to Reynolds, he told the cop that he had? Was the gun licensed and legally owned, as Reynolds said? Does that matter?
To be clear, the only people who saw what Castile did in the seconds before the shooting are the cop, Lavish Reynolds, and perhaps her daughter. I want to be careful here and not judge the cop based only on partial information. But this is a horrible situation, and … what can you even say at this point, other than may God comfort those suffering people, keep the peace, and bring forth justice.
Question for the room: should we be grateful that technology brings us videos like this, because it tells us the true story with vivid immediacy? Or should we regret it because the imagery is extremely emotional, and obscures the search for truth?
Me, I’m grateful that we have this technology now, because police can’t get away with abusing their authority. But I’m writing this as someone who just watched this video, and who is in an emotional state, shocked and grieving for Castile, Reynolds, her daughter, and those who loved Castile. I know that emotion conditions the way I regard this killing. We watch a man die on video, shot to death by a cop at point-blank range. We hear the sobbing and the pleas of his girlfriend, and the cries of her daughter, who may have seen it happen too (this isn’t clear from the video). The humanity of this scene tears your heart out and, if Reynolds’ account is accurate, infuriates you. That is a black man, a school cafeteria worker, who was pulled over because he had a busted tail light. And now he is dead.
The video is so emotionally direct that it’s hard to keep straight the fact that we don’t know what happened in the moments before she started recording. The partial truth is so vivid and shocking that it may obscure our ability to take in the whole truth. This is the problem with video: it makes us think we’re getting the whole story, when that may not be the truth.
How Lavish Reynolds kept her cool and recorded this I will never know. However this comes out, that woman showed grace under pressure that is heroic.
I will update this post throughout the day as more information becomes available.
UPDATE: Reader Wes:
Describing the officer as “frustrated” really doesn’t do it justice. Listen to the guy — he’s clearly torn up over what has happened. He’s wailing in pain.
I have many friends and family in law enforcement, and I can tell you this proliferation of cell phone footage is always a major topic of concern with them whenever they discuss their jobs. Many of them live in terror of losing everything over a video like this that’s stripped of context and makes them out to be the bad guy. I realize that seems like a petty fear next to someone losing their life, but it’s still very real. Just like it’s hard for a black person watching videos like this to avoid asking, “what if that was me getting shot?”, it’s hard for me to watch stuff like this without thinking “what if that cop was one of my loved ones?”
One also needs to realize that nearly every experienced law enforcement officer has a haunting story about a colleague who was killed in the line of duty while performing some utterly dull, routine task, like pulling someone over for a busted taillight. They were walking up to the dude’s car window and the driver, without warning, just whipped out a gun and started shooting. Or they’re knocking on a door to ask a person if they saw someone stealing the neighbor’s jet ski … but unbeknownst to the cop, the inhabitant is a wanted felon in an unrelated case. He sees a blue uniform, figures the cops have finally caught up to him, and thinks he’ll go out like Butch and Sundance, so he opens the door and starts blasting. And another cop’s kid grows up without a dad.
This doesn’t excuse an unjustified shooting, but it does provide some context — officers aren’t going about gunning down black people because it gives them a thrill. They walk around highly aware of the fact that for some people, their uniforms are a big flashing neon sign that says “please shoot me.” Frankly I don’t know how some of my friends and family find the courage to keep doing it. I couldn’t live with the stress.
UPDATE.2: A fascinating perspective from reader John T. Broom:
As a concealed carry instructor, this deeply troubles me. I’ve had several encounters with law enforcement while carrying and have never had a problem. But, then again, I’m white, in my 60s, and live in a very gun-friendly area.
For the cop haters out there, it is a rough world right now for police officers with a lot of them being shot for being cops. So let’s suspend judgement for a while. This doesn’t look good for the officer, but first impressions can be very deceiving. So let’s let the smoke clear and do justice to all concerned here.
For the cops out there, I’m just guessing here, but if someone announces that they are a concealed carry holder and they are carrying, they typically — 99,999 out of a 100,000, are law-abiding citizens and they are telling you this for your safety and theirs. If you’re nervous, ask them to step out of the car so you can secure their firearm during the course of the stop. I had this happen one time, by the end of the stop we were comparing handguns and enjoying one anothers’ company. Most of the folks you come in contact with are good folks. Be patient, be safe — a clear, Sir or Ma’am, please put your hands on the steering wheel, I want to talk to you for a minute; would go a long way to defusing situations and allowing everyone time to think through what they’re going to do.
For the CCW or CHL holders out there; do what the FBI and DEA teach their plain clothes unmarked car agents to do. Roll down your window, cross your hands outside your car near your review mirror. Tell the officer once he or she arrives at your window that you are a permit holder and that you are carrying and ask them how they want to handle this. Be clear in telling them where your firearm is located and tell them that you wouldn’t mind if they retrieved it and secured it during the stop. NEVER NEVER refer to it as a ‘gun’, law enforcement is trained to use the term GUN as a warning to others and hearing the word immediately changes their state of mind.
To the family and friends of both the shooting victim and the officer, let’s be quiet and patient, let’s honor the victim who appears to be not only innocent here but a good man by our patience and our respect for the rule of law, not the rule of lawlessness. Let’s honor all law enforcement officers by not rushing to judgment and by allowing the investigation to follow its natural course rather than baying for more blood now. Maybe this is the time for all of us, the people, to show our leaders what a respect for the law is and what that looks like.
If the officer is in the wrong here, then let us examine it thoroughly and determine was this willful, negligent, or misfortune and act accordingly. Clearly though, this is a time for prayer and thoughtful consideration of the state of our nation.
The situation is complex precisely because such injustices are so longstanding and are often hidden from majority populations, who don’t pay attention to such questions because they rarely have to think about them. My oldest two sons are learning to drive. I have many fears, but I’ve never worried about one of my sons being shot after being pulled over. My perspective is thus radically different than my African-American neighbor or colleague or fellow church member. Notice the differences even on social media over the past couple of days. An African-American colleague of mine noted that the divide is glaring, with black evangelicals interacting with this set of news while many white evangelicals continue on discussing the presidential race or the upcoming Olympics, with no reference to these shootings. That divide ought to cause us to reflect on how we’re experiencing the culture differently, and what implications that has for our unity and our witness.
I think that’s a good point. One reason (a small reason) whites don’t talk about it publicly is that if you say the “wrong” thing, however innocently meant, you might bring a storm of social media condemnation down on your head. Moore talks in his essay about the danger of the moment that we’re in socially and culturally, with everybody being so polarized. I’ve thought for a while that the church is just about the only “safe space” for people of all races to come together and talk about these things in a constructive way. Campuses aren’t it, and heaven knows Twitter is the last place in the world for it to happen.
UPDATE.4: Reader PeterH comments. Notice his last line:
This hits close to home. I live within 2 miles of where this took place. The kids across the street attended the school where Castile worked, and I have a church friend who teaches there, too.
Falcon Heights is a small town just to the north of Saint Paul. It’s not at all unusual for me to see a car pulled over on that stretch of road. I suspect it will come out that there’s a significant amount of revenue for that small town coming from citations for broken taillights, etc.
FWIW, on a facebook thread, one of my white neighbors mentioned that when she was pulled over in that area for a minor infraction, she was approached by a police officer with his weapon drawn.