Last week, Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of all charges in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, an African American man, during a traffic stop that took place last year. In an incident that shocked the nation, Mr. Castile’s girlfriend live-streamed the moments following the shooting on Facebook while sitting in the car along with their four-year old daughter.
We at the Drug Policy Alliance are horrified and distraught by yet another police killing of an African American man for which no one will be held accountable. While we cannot know the jury’s thinking in Mr. Yanez’s trial, we can know the context in which his trial took place, and should not be surprised by its outcome.
Indeed, police discrimination against people of color, often under cover of the war on drugs, has been well documented – Mr. Castile had been pulled over, usually for minor traffic infractions, 49 times in 13 years. Mr. Yanez’s defense argued that the officer “did what he had to do,” claiming that Mr. Castile had marijuana in his car and that “he was stoned,” a too-common rationalization in police killings, and an allegation that would appear in this case to be contradicted by dashboard video showing Mr. Castile to be compliant, alert and courteous.
We can also know that the demonization of people who use drugs gives license to the trampling of their civil and human rights, and provides a climate of impunity for law enforcement and others who commit acts of unjustifiable violence. While the Trump administration hardly invented the drug war, it has been quick to embrace this narrative – as Attorney General Sessions recently summarized, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
We must all own the tragedy endured by Mr. Castile’s family and community – until Americans demand greater accountability for the discrimination and violence of a drug war prosecuted in their name, it won’t be the last. Black Lives Matter.
Derek Hodel is the interim executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.