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Protesters Block Freeway After Officer Acquitted in Philando Castile Shooting

A 90 minute standoff on a stretch of Interstate near St. Paul, Minnesota, that involved police and angry protesters ended peacefully. I am happy to be able to report that.  I am not saying they were happy, and caused zero issues, but they knew violence was not the way to resolve violence.  Traffic on the Interstate was affected, and 18 protesters who refused to leave the area ended up being arrested.

Why all the drama?  Because, once again, an officer was found innocent after shooting a civilian. Almost one year ago, Philando Castile, 32, was shot by Officer Jeronimo Yanez, 29.  On July 6, 2016, Yanez conducted a traffic stop, under the guise of a faulty taillight, because the young officer believed he had located the suspect of a recent armed robbery.  Yanez later told investigators that he also smelled marijuana when he approached the vehicle, which held Castile, his girlfriend Diamond (aka Lavish) Reynolds, and her 4-year old daughter.  Dash cam footage from the officer's vehicle shows Yanez approaching, and he could be heard requesting the driver's license and insurance information. Castile reached for the documents and handed something to the officer. As that was happening, Castile mentioned he had a concealed carry permit.  Unfortunately, his handgun was in the same area where Castile accessed his wallet and papers.  Yanez saw the weapon and immediately began firing into the vehicle.

I do think that Yanez was hasty in pulling the trigger, but I do not think he did it because of Castile's skin color.  It was a fear thing; a gun thing.  Not a race thing.  

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Prosecutor John Choi had charged Yanez with second-degree manslaughter, but after 29 hours of deliberation, which spanned five days, a jury found Yanez innocent.  Reminiscent of other acquittals for officers involved in fatal shootings, a protest quickly followed the announcement.  Emotions were high, and large groups of people hit the streets, many of whom eventually ended up on the freeway.  John Thompson, who had been a coworker of Castile's, got the crowd fired up, shouting

You all murdered my friend and got away with it!

That is somewhat confusing, since only one person fired a gun that day. 

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Jurors deliberated for about 29 hours over five days before reaching the verdict. Prosecutors argued that Yanez had overreacted and that Castile, a school cafeteria worker, was not a threat. Yanez, who is Latino, testified that Castile was pulling his gun out of his pocket despite his commands not to do so. The defense also argued Castile was high on marijuana and said that affected his actions.

Those who knew Castile emphasized what a calm and loving man he was.  He had worked for more than a decade at a school cafeteria and shown a great deal of love to the children there.  Castile was no stranger to traffic stops, but he was innocent of the robbery charges.  Even with video evidence from two cameras, the truth is somewhat elusive.  There are some discrepancies in statements and testimony from both Yanez and from Reynolds.  Reynolds said that Castile made Yanez aware of the fact that he had a weapon, while Yanez's account makes it sound like Castile was pulling out his weapon along with his documents.  If speculation about Castile's marijuana usage near the time of the traffic stop is valid, then it is possible that Castile's thoughts and movements that day were muddled.  Perhaps he really did look to the officer like he was poised to shoot.

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Prosecutor John Choi, who made the decision to charge Yanez, said he knows the acquittal is painful for many people, but that the verdict "must be respected."

"I don't doubt that Officer Yanez is a decent person, but he made a horrible mistake from our perspective, and that's what this case was about. I know that if he could, he would take back what he did, and we all wish, and he would too, that this never happened," Choi said.

It is not as if Castile's death is being celebrated.  There is nothing right about an innocent, kindhearted man being killed.  Yanez did not celebrate his acquittal with visible joy.  He sat in his seat, staring straight ahead.  He is lucky to be going home to his family, but he surely wishes Castile was doing the same. The city of St. Anthony also acknowledges that the public would no longer benefit from Yanez's presence as an officer.  As Prosecutor Choi said, the acquittal was painful for many, but the verdict must be respected.  

Thousands of people met near the state capitol and planned to march to the St. Paul Cathedral. Though the protest remained peaceful, a large handful of those in the crowd walked onto a freeway entrance ramp, and blocked part of Interstate 94.  The commotion was enough to eventually snarl traffic to the point of necessitating the Interstate's complete closure heading in both directions.  After the crowd received its third warning to vacate the area, the arrests began.  According to Minnesota State Police spokesperson, Lt. Tiffani Nielson, 18 people were booked into Ramsey County Jail, at around 12:30 am.   

We should stand up for what we believe in, but it should not be license to wreak havoc with other people's lives, impeding their path to jobs and homes by blocking roadways.

Have you ever been a part of a protest, or march?  Do you think everyone involved is really into a particular cause, or is it sometimes a way to be a part of something bigger than themselves?  Live streaming video stirs more emotion than a written article.  We have all become eye witnesses to incidents that years ago, we would have simply read about in the newspaper the next day.

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