“Not guilty” – Law and Justice in America

“A jury found St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty Friday in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, whose livestreamed death during a traffic stop stunned a nation.

“Castile’s family called the decision proof of a dysfunctional criminal justice system, while prosecutors cautioned the public to respect the jury’s verdict “because that is the fundamental premise of the rule of law.” – StarTribune, June 17, 2017.

The acquittal of the officer Jeronimo Yanez opens again the pandora’s box of racial profiling, justice, law, police training, jury instructions, and race in America.

Shortly after the verdict was announced, Minnesota State Senator Tina Liebling, a candidate for governor, sent the following email.

My heart goes out to the family and friends of Philando Castile, and to all who mourn him. His killing was a tragedy that should not have happened and the verdict today brings back the pain and horror of that day. While I share the outrage of many over the unnecessary killing and its aftermath, I do not blame the jury or even Officer Yanez. The law itself is to blame, and this is something that can and must be changed.

Minnesota law allows police to use deadly force “only when necessary to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm” and to prevent death or great bodily harm to others. Whether the officer believes the force is “necessary” is examined only in the moment when the officer reacts, and it is hard for a jury to find beyond reasonable doubt that the officer did not have that fear at the moment he fired the gun.

Our law should require officers to avoid creating the situation in the first place-and police agencies should train and reward them for doing so. The officer’s first obligation should be to protect the life and safety of everyone involved in an incident-whether a suspect, victim, or the officer-as it is in many other nations. This may mean waiting for backup before approaching a vehicle, setting up a perimeter and waiting out a suspect, or similar tactics. If we are to reduce the horrible killings of innocent people by police, we must change our laws.

Serving as Executive Director of the Legal Rights Center (1998-2006), I experienced daily the tilting of the scales of justice against African-Americans, American Indians, Latinos, and other people of color. LRC was born of the shared commitment of north Minneapolis African-American civil rights leaders and south Minneapolis American Indian founders of the American Indian Movement to righting the scales of justice. Racial profiling on the streets, racial bias in the courtroom, and finding ways to overcome those disparities of law and justice were and still are Legal Rights Center’s reason d’être.

On days like this, I remember who we are and who we are not. I remember the reality of the law and justice that are not blind, the jury members, all who weep, those who speak and protest in whatever nonviolent ways they can, and hope and pray we will yet find a reason d’être way in America to move beyond “not guilty” to a time that has become harder to imagine.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 17, 2017.

 

 

Acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez – a Response

The following letter from Presbyterian Church (USA) leaders in Minnesota arrived this morning in response to the acquittal of police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile.

“Nearly a year ago, in a community overwhelmed with anger, grief, frustration, and despair at the shocking video images of the shooting death of Philando Castile, and then at the roiling protests that have followed, we—the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area—joined our voices together with each other and with many others in a cry for comfort, for equality, for justice.

“We committed ourselves to prayer for the family of Philando Castile, that they would know our God’s deep and abiding presence, and for the many others so deeply grieved by these events. We prayed for our community,that amidst its deep divides and fractured relationships, amidst the fear and anger especially of our black community, we in the church might find words of comfort and challenge to speak into the yawning chasm of societal fractures and divides. We prayed for our police officers and all who daily place themselves in potential harm’s way in order to protect us. And we said, firmly and unequivocally, that Black Lives Matter, and we committed ourselves as a Presbytery to the work of understanding white privilege and to anti-racism.

“That work is not done. Today, we are compelled to revisit those prayers and commitments in the aftermath of the acquittal of police officer Jeronimo Yanez, a verdict that ripped open a family’s overwhelming grief and further caused our African-American brothers and sisters to fear anew that their lives indeed do not matter in this country.

“As followers of Jesus, our task is to listen, to hear, to act, in response to the call of God and the voices of the people. And so we again join our voices in prayer for the family of Mr. Castile. But we must not stop there. We must commit ourselves anew to work for end the perpetual sense of fear and suspicion under which our African American brothers and sisters constantly live. Whetherwe live in a community with very few people of color or with many, no one of us has the luxury of being detached and unaffected. Those of our society who feel suspect and vulnerable are our very sisters and brothers in Christ. As Christians, we must stand with them.

“We are challengedto look anew into the imperfect structures of our society; and to speak our belief that every person is created in the image of God, even as we confess our denial of that very belief in the sin of institutional racism. We must speak our belief that “Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church,” knowing that, too often, we have allowed our ideological differences to fracture our unity in the One Body. We must challenge ourselves anew to proclaim Christ’s words, “that they may all be one,” knowing the essential need for all Christians of privilege to seek deeper understanding when so many of our brothers and sisters cry out for a justice they do not know.

“Our African American brothers and sisters have implored us to raise our voices on their behalf. Together, we in the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area re-commit our voices and our actions to better seek justice and work for the good of all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.Give us the determination to build new or deeper relationships, as together we seek new ways to partner in work for a just society. Give us courage, in all that we do, to be not simply speakers of peace, but peacemakers.”

The Presbytery Leadership Team, Sue Rutford, chair
The Executive Presbyter, Jeffrey Japinga