After I filed my column about the NRA's response to the shooting of Philando Castile (or lack thereof), Colion Noir, a lawyer and prominent NRA member who hosts an NRA-TV show, posted some interesting and perceptive comments about the case on Facebook. Although I don't think Noir's personal observations qualify as an official response from the NRA, I suspect his views are shared by many of the organization's members:
In the case of officer Jeronimo Yanez [who shot Castile], I don't feel he woke up that day wanting to shoot a black person. However, I keep asking myself, would he have done the same thing if Philando were white? As I put on my Monday morning quarterback jersey, it is my opinion that Philando Castile should be alive today. I believe there was a better way to handle the initial stop. If he suspected Philando was a suspect in a robbery, there were ways to conduct that stop in a way that would have completely avoided the shooting altogether, but Yanez neglected to do so.
Beyond that point, things get a little fuzzy for me. Other than Yanez's testimony, there is nothing I read about the trial or any newly revealed facts to suggest that Philando was going for his gun. However, I don't know what Yanez saw that made him think Philando was going for the gun, I wasn't there, and I only have his words to go by. Sadly, Philando isn't here to tell us other than his last dying statement of, "I wasn't reaching for it."
Personally, I feel because Yanez pulled Philando over under the suspicion that he was a robbery suspect coupled with the presence of a gun, it put Yanez in a heightened state. I feel he lost control of his wits and overreacted. This now brings me to the question of race. Do I think Yanez felt threatened by the fact that Philando was black? It's very possible Yanez was indifferent about Philando's race. However, because of the negative stereotype reinforced in the media about black men and guns, it wouldn't completely surprise me if Yanez felt more threatened by Philando because he was black. This is the same negative stereotype that I've been trying to combat for years now.
Legally, I'm left asking myself, was Yanez failing to conduct a proper felony stop reckless or negligent enough to warrant a Second Degree Manslaughter conviction? As a lawyer, I'm hard pressed to think so. But the young black male in me says hell yes. Admittedly, I don't have all the facts the jury had; I didn't hear the testimony the jury heard. Maybe after hearing his testimony they believe Yanez honestly felt his life was in danger and justifiably so. However, I have to be honest and say, he shouldn't be able to just walk away freely without legal consequence. I just don't know what that consequence should be….
In my eyes, Yanez screwed up big time. I don't feel he was out to take a black life that day, but it doesn't matter because his actions cost Phliando his life. My legal mind can see why they couldn't get to Manslaughter in the Second Degree based solely on the facts at hand, but Yanez walking away from this case a free and clear man is just wrong.
I mostly agree with Noir, except that I have less trouble concluding that Yanez was guilty of second-degree manslaughter. Under Minnesota law, a conviction required proof of "culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another." If Yanez "screwed up big time," if he "lost control of his wits and overreacted," which led directly to Castile's death, his actions certainly seem to fit the statutory definition. As prosecutor Jeff Paulsen put it in his closing argument, "Yanez used deadly force as a first option rather than a last resort, and because he was so reckless he's guilty of culpable negligence."