Philando Castile’s Killing: Some geographic background

Philando Castile told his mother that he was reluctant to carry his legal, permitted, firearm because he was afraid that if he had a run in with the police, they would simply kill him.

Later that day, a Saint Anthony Village police officer pulled Castile over for a broken tail light, and then, at the first opportunity, fired several bullets into his arm and torso. A few moments later, Castile fell into unconsciousness, apparently dead. The police then apprehended Castile’s companion, who was in the passenger seat, and, treating her like a criminal, handcuffed her and stuffed her in the back of a police car. Later, it was confirmed that Castile was killed.

I would give you a trigger warning for the following video, but I don’t care if it triggers you. I want it to trigger you. You and everybody else needs to see this.

I used to live a block from this incident. It is a city called Falcon Heights, which is the location of the inaptly named “Saint Paul Campus” of the University of Minnesota, and also the home of the Great Minnesota Get-together, the Minnesota State Fair. In fact, the intersection at which this killing occurred is at the north entrance of the fairgrounds. This makes me think that it would be a good idea to put a monument there, a monument to how dangerous the police can be, for all the fairgoers to take note of when they go to the fair, from now on.

Back in the old days, a few years ago and on back, when I lived walking distance to the fair and the site of this shooting, the police would be at this intersection in numbers, helping people cross the street, controlling traffic, keeping people safe, during the State Fair. Then, one year, there was a bogus terroristic threat against the fair, so the police apparently redistributed themselves and stopped protecting people at that intersection. Or, perhaps they changed their policy for some other reason. Crossing the street, pulling your car out, etc. was then a matter of every person to themselves. (There were always a few cops standing around watching the chaos, but not helping.) Now, that intersection is added to the ever growing list of American Police killing grounds. Yes, a monument, at this intersection, to remind the people and whatever police might remain controlling traffic during the two week long fair event would be appropriate.

A couple of blocks from this intersection are two or three blocks or corners that are in Saint Paul and that have a bad reputation for crime. As I noted, I used to live there, and after I was no longer living there, my daughter lived there part time for several years. This is the school district she went to. I also worked on that campus for two years. I know the area, and the neighborhoods.

The exact location of the shooting, and to the west and north, is a palatial residential community with small single family houses, and a few bunches of condos and apartment buildings, mainly down the street from where this killing happened. I should mention that Falcon Heights, as well as nearby Lauderdale, and Saint Anthony Village, are all patrolled by a sort of amalgamated police department. These various cities (which adjoin the well known Roseville, MN) share various such services, including police fire, etc. and tend to be umbilically connected to Saint Paul, where the major utilities come from.

The immediate neighborhood is occupied by many people who are connected with the University, a fair number of retired people, some students. Most are white, but there is a strong Asian presence, because this is one of the main neighborhoods into which the Hmong immigrated back in the day. Also, many apartment dwellers in the area are from countries all around the world, because the are connected to a major university. My daughter’s grade school, another block north of the shooting beyond where we lived, is famously international. Each year they hang flags representing all of the countries from which the students come, and there would always be dozens of them.

So that’s the basic cultural context. A neighborhood where bad things don’t happen, filled with people who probably carry out their share of white collar crime (or who are academics, and thus have other problems) but otherwise pretty quiet. Nearby are the scary neighborhoods, the neighborhoods that are actually pretty typical urban zones, with varying degrees of charm, development, decay, all that. Nothing exceptional. But I have the sense that the people of Falcon Heights, Saint Anthony, Lauderdale, and this part of Roseville, a generally liberal and highly educated enclave, collectively identify, label, and talk about those other neighborhoods, which are blacker, crimier, scarier, bits of the “Inner City” (a term disdained by Twin City dwellers, just so you know) creeping out into the “better neighborhoods.”

The victim, of course, was a school employee and citizen of good standing who didn’t live in any of those nearby scary neighborhoods, and was not part of an inner city creeping, even if such a characterization was valid (which it only barely is). But he and the others in the car were black, and they were driving down a street where the city police probably feel a duty to keep the Inner City away, keep the blackness away. One good way to do that is to encourage black people to avoid driving down that particular street, a major local thoroughfare, and instead, stay south and in the city. Let Saint Paul take care of its own problems. Don’t be driving through our quiet neighborhood. How do you do that? Pull over black people with broken tail lights, obviously. Then shake them down. Make them regret driving down that particular street.

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People who live in the area know that this is a zone where the cops pull people over all the time. For years I drove down that street twice a day or more, and very often saw people pulled over. The cops even have a trick with traffic speed postings, changing abruptly between 30 mph and 40 mph in a couple of places, allowing them to stop “speeders” more easily. I regard this traffic stop as part of that process, of the police policing the blackness impinging on a neighborhood of special snowflakes.

It is rather shocking that a murder of a citizen by a cop on this street did not happen sooner.

Here is a piece by Shawn Otto that you should have a look at.

This also:

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35 thoughts on “Philando Castile’s Killing: Some geographic background

  1. How do you do that? Pull over black people with broken tail lights, obviously. Then shake them down. Make them regret driving down that particular street. Shoot one or two of them occasionally.

    1. According to the BBC, there is a 3% chance the killer will be indited; there is very close to 0% chance that the killer will be found guilty.

  2. My mind is overwhelmed with all of the police violence. The USA has become the land of the enslaved, home of the cowardly.

  3. How common is it for non-black people to be gunned down by USA po9lice for no apparent legitimate reason?

  4. The BBC knows nothing about this case.

    This is the second killing in a short time here.

    At the end of the day, the first killing could not be prosecuted because the evidence just was not there. It is even possible that at some level that shooting was justified (though at the larger level this is all part of one huge injustice).

    This looks like a very clear case of homicide. The governor will not let this stand. the local mayor and police have no say in this or power. This is a town that really doesn’t even have a mayor of any consequence. The state BCA will take over the investigation, not even the county is going to be involved.

    The Governor was on the phone to the White House, and the White House was expecting his call. The Feds will be involved by the end of the day.

    I’m pretty confident there will be a prosecution.

  5. Putting it another way, no matter what actually happened out there, this particular cop shooting a person at this particular time in this particular location gets him the ultimate sad sac award.

    But this really does not look like a case where the cop is the unlucky guy at the wrong time and place. Rather, he may turn out to be the poster child for cops acting badly and killing young black men for no cause, and at a time and place where everyone in government and justice is waiting for the ideal case to run to ground.

  6. Rather, he may turn out to be the poster child for cops acting badly and killing young black men for no cause, and at a time and place where everyone in government and justice is waiting for the ideal case to run to ground.

    Yes.

    It’s hard to see how more – not fewer – guns is going to reduce harm, isn’t it?

  7. Mr. Laden,

    As one of your earlier posts discussed, it’s not a good thing to come to the attention of the police, even when you are the one calling 911. I was taught this when I was a teenager in the mid’70s… because I am an androphilic transsexual. Of course, I learned that I was fine, as long as I was alone, as I “pass” as a straight white upper-middle-class woman, due to my looks and natural mannerisms… but If I was with other LGBT folk, they would look closer, and then I was in danger, especially if I was with other transfolk, and even more especially if I was with black transfolk.

    I mention this, because I do not believe that any of these issues that are now getting so much media attention are new issues… its just that we now have two new technologies (one of which I’m partially responsible for developing, ironically enough), smart phones and the social media internet. With these technologies, we now can share the experience of what it is like to be outside of the socially privileged group, such that those in the socially privilged group can no longer pretend that those in certain suspect classes, were the ones to blame, that they did something to provoke these injustices.

    Perhaps a few high profile cases MIGHT cause a change in police culture… but I doubt it.

  8. Kay, basically, I agree with you. I do think there are some changes in frequency of this sort of thing over time, and variation across space. For example, in some southern cities it has become “normal” to prey on working class and poor people with predatory policing to raise money. It has also been suggested that a post war pig in the python effect (pun intended, I guess) with a lot of fucked up vets joining the police forces has an effect. I’d like to know more about that. This could explain a spate of attacks by police in the post Viet Nam era and now, partially.

    We will change society, though. But I ‘m not sure f we are going to make the change fast enough for things to go from bad to worse.

    Today’ message from the St. Anthony Village police to gun owners legally carrying their weapons was to consider standing your ground if you have a broken tail light. None of us want to see people getting pulled over shooting cops, of course, but there are 300 million people in this country. A few tens of thousands of them are currently planning to do just that. It is just a matter of time.

    I think the police, with their idiotic union leaders (and I’m a union supporter but we have the worst cop union head in the country here) and their tacit and sometimes full throated support from mayors of all political stripes, and the suburbanites who think everything is fine as long as color lines are not crossed other than in areas of entertainment and sports, are all in for a shock when BLM converts into STP and police officers start getting killed at a rate comparable to young black males (about 300 a year or so?)

    Again, I’m not suggesting this. I’m simply saying that this is eventually going to happen.

  9. There are procedures for car stops and for people with gun permits. I’m sure none of the procedures this officer was taught include shooting first after the occupant was following your orders by getting his ID. I’m going to guess the first thing you’re taught is to ask where’s the firearm. then to secure it. Why this officer didn’t say please exit the vehicle and step aside while I secure the firearm…. I guess he’s not a very good police man is he? What’s more important securing a gun or getting ID?

  10. One more disgraceful video. Awful. I don’t understand how Diamond Reynolds could sound so calm at times… she must have been in disbelief.

    I’ve been to some pretty out of the way, moderately rough places around the world, with no significant issues to speak of. But when in the U.S. I treat police officers like I would bears… dangerous and unpredictably aggressive and a law unto themselves. I really don’t know why so many Americans put up with their generally very well-paid, uniformed and armed civil servants acting like a violent street gang. It’s only a few bad apples, they say. But when all the “good cops” close ranks and defend the bad ones, who can tell the difference?

    I wonder if heavy civil penalties against municipalities and states, with the costs taken out of future police pay increases or equipment budgets might be one small way to deal with these incidents. Don’t like driving around in a beat-up police car with 150,000 miles on the odometer? Too bad.

  11. The loathsome NRA is still, apparently, in “No Comment” mode.

    Perhaps it sees the Second Amendment as more important than the Thirteenth.

  12. I`m starting to wonder if black people are the dumbest creatures alive. A guy walks around with a gun in his pocket, then he resists arrest. So he is shot dead. Good. But now a hundred thousand black people stand up and start shouting and throwing shit. And then, a guy in a car tells a police officer he has a gun, at the same moment as he reaches into his pocket. So he is shot dead. Good. But now a hundred thousand black people stand up and start shouting and throwing shit. Do you all share one brain?? This is why people are racist, you behave like animals and your first reaction is always the chimp-reaction, shouting and throwing shit. If you`re armed in public, I want the cops to shoot you. That is their job, keeping the streets safe from crap like you people. So I say good job officers. And ***** you dumb black assholes. You are forcing me to look at you like dumb animals. Because you behave like dumb animals. Over and over and over again.

    1. “Four Dallas police officers dead, seven wounded by sniper fire at protest over shootings:”

      Good fucking gods! This is *NOT* helping the problem!

  13. On comment 16: apologies. I see a certain amount of this sort of racist crap, and it generally gets deleted. But under the circumstances I felt it appropriate to let some through. So people know

  14. @ Greg #18

    And on the other thread, we have an old white American male using yet another police shooting of yet another black man as a soapbox to whine about black helicopters.

  15. #20
    Greg seems to have called it. Statistically predictable.

    #21
    Yeah, one of the perennial trolls. Loose screws. Also predictable.

    Just the Greedhead’s wingnut assembly line; still manufacturing faulty products after all these years.

  16. #12
    “…python effect…”

    And looking at some of these guys, I wonder if ‘roid rage isn’t an issue.

  17. On some of the above…
    #16….If the dumbassed laws are going to allow legal gun carry then carrying a gun is NOT a reason for a bigot cop to shoot someone!!!! But thanks for your bigotry in full display.

    Dallas Sniper…it was a good thing all those dead cops where carrying guns. They sure helped a lot!!! So why do traffic and other cops have to all carry guns???

  18. On Vanessa Smith’s video, that police officer sounds panic-stricken. I have no idea why he might be panic-stricken. Perhaps he’s just realized he shot a man for no good reason. But that begs the question of why he fired at all, much less multiple times. Could there be some traumatic episode in his past that caused this? If so, it should bear on his fitness to wear the badge.

    The thing I really worry about his how widespread this reflexive police gunfire seems to have become. Is there something in their common experience that brings about this apparently unthinking response?

    1. >b>“Could there be some traumatic episode in his past that caused this? If so, it should bear on his fitness to wear the badge.”

      I have yet to meet a police officer who should be a police officer. I suspect that the desire to be a police officer is reason enough to not hire someone for the job.

  19. Well, you might expect that somebody in a situation perceived to be dangerous would be flooded with adrenalin.

    Apparently this kind of overwhelming, hair trigger response to perceived dangerous situations is baked into police training these days. Needless to say, it’s predicated on a questionable model that’s become group-think. It’s influenced, perhaps, by all the militarized booyaa-heads that the Bush years unleashed on the world.

  20. Well, whenever I approach a car being driven by a man whose skin is darker than mine, when his girlfriend/wife is sitting next to him –and most especially when they have a small child sitting behind them in the back seat– the first thing that goes through my mind is I’m sure that he’s going to want to pull out a gun and shoot me in order to show his family how manly he is.

    Makes sense, doesn’t it? We should train all our police to think that way, shouldn’t we? Don’t we? What the hell could go wrong with teaching our cops to think that way?? (Or maybe Desertphile is onto something… They show up at the academy already thinking that way…)

    1. Well, whenever I approach a car being driven by a man whose skin is darker than mine, when his girlfriend/wife is sitting next to him –and most especially when they have a small child sitting behind them in the back seat– the first thing that goes through my mind is I’m sure that he’s going to want to pull out a gun and shoot me in order to show his family how manly he is.”

      It appears that in this case, the police officer saw an automobile tail light that was not functioning properly, so his first thought was “Oh boy! More money to pay my wages!” Police officers see motorized citizens as Automated Teller Machines first; when they see the citizen is black, then they see the citizen as a violent Automated Teller Machine.

      Makes sense, doesn’t it? We should train all our police to think that way, shouldn’t we? Don’t we? What the hell could go wrong with teaching our cops to think that way?? (Or maybe Desertphile is onto something… They show up at the academy already thinking that way…)

      In my early life (pre-teens to mid- 20s) I worked in the marine transport industry, which usually consisted of hauling fruit from Central America to Long Beach, or Port Angeles, or Honolulu depending on taxation and embargoes. Out of hundreds of law enforcement officers I met, I never met one who was not a violent petty unethical bribe-demanding thug.

      Returning to land, I worked in Search and Recovery in desert regions, notably San Bernardino County (California) and Clark County (Nevada). Of the scores of law enforcement officers I worked with, I never met one who was not a violent petty unethical bribe-demanding thug.

      Working with Military Police on and around Indian Springs Auxiliary Air Force Base to hunt down and prosecute Big Sheep poachers, I never met one who was not a violent petty unethical bribe-demanding thug.

      Currently I volunteer on various Southwest American Indian reservations in their attempts to curb the abuse of alcohol and other drugs (and fight diabetes); of the scores of tribal and federal law enforcement officers I have met, I never met one who was not a violent petty unethical bribe-demanding thug.

      My observation is that people who want to be police officers are overwhelmingly brutal, violent tyrants by nature, not nurture— they start out that way as children.

  21. It’s a combination of factors that vary a lot. Especially for social situations, monocausal explainations fall short.

  22. Desertphile writes: “My observation is that people who want to be police officers are overwhelmingly brutal, violent tyrants by nature, not nurture— they start out that way as children.”

    There are so many — hundreds, thousands — of instances every year where police officers *do* act heroically, altruistically, and with little regard for their own safety that this type of blanket stereotype is not only worthless, but worsens an already deplorable situation.

    I’d suggest you read a little; perhaps starting with I’m a black ex-cop, and this is the real truth about race and policing

    There are many good police officers. There are many bad police officers. Pretty much like any other large demographic group in this country.

  23. Actually, it seems Desertphile was being careful to not stereotype, by relating what he’s experienced. I’m also sure that there are heroic and altruistic police out there.

    Yet Desertphile’s personal experiences (which greatly exceed my own, limited to merely having a pair of loaded 9mm’s pointed at me in a case of mistaken identity — no offense taken), make me wonder what percentage of police are/are not psychologically sociopathic.

    I’ve heard the old police joke, “There are two kinds of people of the world, according to cops: Cops and assholes.” That expresses a mindset, too. An abnormal one. A possibly dangerous one.

    I don’t know how the demographics break down, but the things that are showing up in the news these days aren’t helping anyone’s image. And that’s only contributing to making a bad situation worse. The media seem to gladly jump in to fan the flames when they can… Talk about sociopaths!

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