The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Smith: Long Way to go in police and race relations

The acquittal of the police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile and the shooting of a black off-duty cop prove that America still has a long way to go in regards to African Americans and law enforcement.
Valerie Castile, mother of Philando Castile, spoke with passion about her reaction to a not guilty verdict for Officer Jeronimo Yanez at the Ramsey County Courthouse in St. Paul, Minn., on Friday June 16, 2017. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP)

By Wylliam Smith

[email protected]

The United States has come a long way in regards to being more accepting. Sadly,  equality is still just out of America’s reach. According to a study done by the Washington Post on fatal shootings by the police in 2017, 113 people killed this year were black. The number of white people shot and killed by the police in 2017 is nearly twice that number, something that may at first glance appear misleading.

Although white people make up a larger portion of the those who have been killed, they also account for nearly 77 percent of the American population, according to 2016 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. African Americans, on the other hand, make up only about 13 percent. Therefore, there is a disproportionate number of black people who are shot and killed by the police.

Most recent to hit the news was reports of a black off-duty police officer being shot by his colleagues on June 21 in St. Louis. After hearing a commotion, the police officer grabbed his gun and went to help his fellow police officer. When he got there, he was told to get on the ground, which he complied with. After being recognized and standing back up, a different officer mistook him for a criminal and shot him. The officer who fired the shot said he had feared for his life and that’s why he fired the gun.

A fair argument could be made that this was an honest mistake. The man who was shot was off-duty, near a crime scene, and armed. Also, one of the criminals was still on the loose, and in an earlier chase, there was back and forth crossfire of bullets.

I feel this officer overreacted in terms of shooting the man on sight. We know that if the officer had told the man to get on the ground, he would have followed the order because he had done that before with the other cops.

That this man shot the black man before even checking to see who he was or if he had surrendered to authorities is truly horrifying. If I were walking home from work when a crime was committed by some random black man in the general area that I am in, I can’t help wondering, would that cop shoot me?

Sometimes, black men don’t even have to go out looking for trouble to get shot. They can follow police orders, be polite and submissive, and still be shot by police.

That is what happened to Philando Castile last summer. On July 6, 2016, Castile was shot five times by a policeman and died. Castile had been following police demands, but when he told police he had a firearm on him, the officer panicked.

The video footage of what happened, while it is graphic, can be found on the internet.

Castile was with his family, including his 5-year-old daughter. Apparently, the officer still felt threatened. And apparently, the officer feeling threatened was enough of a case to acquit him of any crime.

Maybe these officers did truly fear for their lives, but if they did, that is worse than their shooting the men simply out of spite. Because if that is the case, these men had no reason to fear for their lives except that the off-duty officer and Castile were black.

I’m glad to live in a time where black men and women have the rights that they were denied 50 years ago, but as long as the color of a person’s skin determines whether they are perceived as a threat, the United States is still broken.

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