I was going to write something else tonight, but suddenly the idiocy of a Democratic senator from West Virginia doesn't seem particularly important. Late this afternoon, I took a minute or so to watch the police dash-cam video of last July's police-involved killing of Philando Castile, the African-American man who was shot seven times during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minn., last summer. Let's say it was a minute and seven seconds, because I had to watch the key footage — the seven seconds when a very routine police traffic stop turned into the violent death of a legally armed black driver — a second time. Because I couldn't believe what I was watching the first time I saw it. And because the video of this tragedy — taking place in front of his fiancee's 4-year-old daughter, no less — is so nauseating.
The video was released just a few days after the officer who fired the lethal shots — Jeronimo Yanez — was found not guilty of murdering Castile and endangering his fiancee, who filmed the aftermath and posted that harrowing footage on Facebook Live, and her daughter. From a purely public relations standpoint, it's understandable why the authorities tried to keep this under wraps as long as possible, It also explains why police unions and their legion of political allies are fighting so hard to limit the public's ability to see these kind of videos. Because the proper exercise of the public's right to know what its government is doing happens to also undermine the moral authority of that same government.
But now — in the (barely) better-late-than-never department — you can watch the sickening video yourself. Every citizen should.
It's no secret that a civil society gives enormous leeway to our law-enforcement officers to make difficult snap judgments on when to use lethal force. That leeway has saved innocent lives, and obviously the jury at Yanez' trial gave enormous weight to that tradition. Still, is that leeway earned when Castile — a popular school cafeteria worker with no felony criminal record — is clearly heard on the video volunteering the information that he is carrying his legally permitted handgun? Or when Castile tells the officer, in response to his command to not take the weapon out, that he is in fact not taking it out? None of his seemingly proper actions stopped a decision to kill with seven shots, the decision that took only seven seconds.
And there's more going on here than can be captured in the video. The video doesn't show that Castile — who was returning from the grocery store — was stopped because cops were looking for a criminal suspect with "a wide-set nose," a feature shared by many African-Americans, or that Castile, a regular guy with a regular job, had been stopped for minor traffic violations a remarkable 52 times. It doesn't show that the officer, Yanez, had recently watched a police "training video" called "The Bulletproof Warrior" that critics — with a lot of justification — say amps up levels of paranoia among the cops who watch it.
How else to explain making such an awful, deadly decision in just seven lousy seconds? Something else I learned tonight is that there's a "thing" on the internet called "the 7-second challenge." Because 7 seconds is such a short, thrilling time period to complete a complex task. Name five breeds of dogs! Touch all the walls in your house! Take off your socks and put them back on, inside out! Write your name backwards!
Somehow, shooting a compliant motorist who happens to be black didn't make the list.