On Friday, a jury acquitted Officer Jeronimo Yanez of second-degree manslaughter for the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old Black man. The NAACP extends condolences to and stands in solidarity with the Castile family during this time of profound disappointment. Although the St. Anthony Police Department has made the important decision to terminate Officer Yanez’s employment, without a conviction justice has not been served.
The egregious facts of this case underscore the failures of the criminal legal system even in clear cut cases of police violence. Without provocation, Officer Yanez shot Philando Castile five times during a 2016 traffic stop. Officer Yanez’s statements at the scene contradicted his testimony and that of other witnesses, yet he was acquitted. This case makes it crystal clear that police officers may murder with impunity.
“Mr. Castile’s family has already lost their loved one to violence and now they are being denied justice. If Philando Castile was not safe driving his family to buy groceries, no one is safe,” said W.C. Jordan, State President of Minnesota NAACP. “Law enforcement has to begin to acknowledge the racism that many times shapes both their decisions and the outcomes that result from those decisions. Despite multiple discussions with state leaders on this issue and others, we have seen no change. Progress must start with accountability.”
The fatal shooting of Mr. Castile is another in the cascade of examples in the gut wrenching trend of assaults on civilians in which offending officers have not been held accountable. In the last 12 years, thousands have been killed by police officers. In the same time period, only five officers have been convicted of murder, and four of these convictions were overturned on appeal.
In many cases, officers have successfully claimed that they feared for their lives despite evidence that the victim posed no threat. This evasion of responsibility based on unsubstantiated fear is more than disheartening; it is dangerous for the Black community. Studies have affirmed the lived experience of generations, proving that Black men are perceived as dangerous, threatening, and violent. As a result, simply being a Black man in a police encounter can be a death sentence.
“The acquittal of Officer Yanez, coming on the heels of the acquittal of Betty Jo Shelby for the murder of Terence Crutcher, is an affront to justice, and a chilling reminder of the urgent need for reforms. We have seen this scenario play out too often, and we cannot accept the status quo: no accountability when our trust is betrayed and our lives are taken by the people who are sworn to protect and serve us,” said Leon Russell, Board Chairman of the NAACP.
Police violence cannot go unpunished. As a result, the NAACP calls for:
The federal prosecution of Officer Yanez for civil rights violations A Department of Justice investigation for use of excessive force The State of Minnesota to enact immediate measures to provide greater transparency, accountability, and civilian oversight of police
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Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. You can read more about the NAACP’s fight for a fair criminal justice system by visiting www.naacp.org/issues/criminal-justice/.