I was one of the unfortunate multitudes who watched the video of the Philando Castile shooting when it first hit the internet – it was barely an hour old, and the hour was quite late here on the east coast. The sun had gone down, and my spirits were already abysmal due to personal reasons, so this footage just dragged me down even further to the inescapable depths of depression for the rest of my time awake. It was disgusting, disturbing, and (in my mind, at least) infelicitously typical. However, it was, objectively speaking, a puzzle. There was a debate among myself and my fellow editors at one of the publications I work at about whether or not to break the story before anyone else, or wait until more details came out before writing about it at all. My editor-in-chief was in favor of the latter course of action, while I leaned more toward the former. He won out, of course, and so we did not run that story. I still maintain that we could have been the ones to break it as an actual citable news source, but then again, I see the other side, as well – what could we have done with just the video?
Speculated, that’s what. And my editor didn’t want to do that. He wanted to wait until we could have enough information to be objective. Spinning this into something opinionated so early 0n from a journalistic perspective was seen as irresponsible by the winning parties in this debate, and ultimately I cannot fault said parties for their nobility and honor behind the decision. Having said that, as an individual with a social media presence unencumbered by any particular news entity when speaking on my own platform, I made my opinion on all this very known. I pulled no punches, and blamed police incompetence largely for the events that unfolded in that footage. And even to this day, after the investigation is well under way and the rest of the world has now seen what I saw in the late hours of that night, I still maintain my position.
Take a step back for a moment from the undoubtedly pathos-laden perspective you may hold on this particular incident, or even the much larger issue police brutality. Take a step back, and think clearly and objectively. Regardless of which side you may or may not be on either the shooting or the larger debate, I believe the real answer that can satisfy either side lies in the information we already have available based on the contents of the video itself, as well as what has been reported since by the involved police department.
Firstly, there is the video (linked in the first paragraph rather than embedded due to its violent nature). We can see that the officer who shot Castile is still standing there, gun drawn, while Castile proceeds to bleed to death in his seat. The officer can be heard breathing heavily, panting, shouting, and screaming – seemingly uncontrollably. It would be a pretty fair guess to say that the officer is in a state of hysterics. Why is this important to the point of this article? Because the behavior of the officer contradicts everything that we know about how the police are supposed to behave in situations like this. De-escalation is something officers are supposedly trained in these days, and firearm and combat training has always been a part of any cadet’s trials. As an officer of the law, one is expected to have earned the right to wear the badge and be among the finest of one’s local community. In addition, first responder care and first aid training is something the police should have knowledge of so that when they find a shooting victim (or shoot someone themselves), they can already start working on said victim until paramedics arrive.
Therefore, the officer who shot Philando Castile is an absolute disgrace to the badge based on these aforementioned standards. The video proves this. Even if the shooting occurred because the officer truly felt threatened by Castile’s gun (which he had a license to carry, and we as of yet have no solid proof of even being in the open at the time), it was the officer’s responsibility to be better than the average person with a gun and de-escalate the situation. But instead of just one shot in a non-fatal place in the arm to incapacitate Castile, the officer shot 4-5 bullets into Castile’s side, clearly hitting a major artery. However, had the policeman in the video even come to his senses at that point and proceeded to turn things around upon realizing there was no more immediate danger, he could have called for medical assistance and then begun to provide first responder care to keep Castile from bleeding out. But again, we see that the officer pusillanimously stays still, gun drawn, panicking, and (most importantly) not calling for any medical assistance. This is irresponsible behavior, and it should not be excused, even by the thin blue line crowd. Because even if Castile was a threat in the beginning, the video shows he is clearly no longer a threat after being shot. The officer could have, and should have, done more, as dictated by his training and his position.
And what about the fact that Castile’s girlfriend’s Facebook account was reportedly confiscated and temporarily shut down by the police? When the video first went down, I thought it was Facebook’s doing. But then I saw where the woman’s entire profile had been disabled, and then I realized it was something much more sinister. The following day, my suspicions were confirmed when Castile’s girlfriend told the press her story, and how the police had taken her phone and tried to get rid of the video. Now, could she be lying? Of course. We won’t know more until the investigation brings out more of the surrounding facts, but if the police were responsible for the video temporarily going down, then that is tampering with evidence – another example of gross incompetency and misconduct.
Finally, there is the issue of body cameras. Had the police involved in the Castile shooting simply been wearing them, and had the cameras been live streaming to a public source just like the victim’s girlfriend’s phone was, we would have seen the other side of this altercation, and that once again would be a good thing for both sides of this issue. I do not understand the resistance I see from some people in the pro-police camp when it comes to body cameras being suggested as standard issue gear for officers. If the officer is innocent, he will be proven innocent by the cameras. On the other hand, if the officer is guilty, the cameras will show that, too. But unless you are just so biased that you simply care more about preserving every single cop’s personal reputation than you actually do about truth and justice, then I still don’t see how this could be a negative thing. The police need to weed out the bad apples in their ranks to not only stop police brutality, but also to make sure that the good name of the police force escapes this decade intact. And an incompetent officer like the one in Castile shooting does that cause no favors.
So for all its ups and downs, this case in particular (and the issue of police brutality at large) can be prevented from recurring by simply implementing a few more checks and balances into the police force. And I frankly cannot think of anything more American than that.