What is there to say after a tragedy? It’s always difficult to know what to say when some terrible event happens to us or in our nation. Too often, we feel like we have to say something, even if we don’t really understand the situation. This is true of regular folks, politicians, and organizations. Conversely, there are times when something does need to be said. In those situations, the right words can be difficult to come by, but are so very important, and silence is deafening. The National Rifle Association (NRA) finds itself in just such a situation following the resolution of the trial of the officer that killed Philando Castile.
As a refresher, here’s a run down of the Castile case. On July 6, 2016, Philando Castile was stopped ostensibly for a broken tail light. Castile was a 32 year old school cafeteria worker near St. Paul, Minnesota. He was driving with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her four year old daughter. He was pulled over by St. Anthony’s Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who believed Castile resembled a suspect from a recent robbery. At some point during the stop, Castile stated that he had a firearm on him. In spite of Yanez’s orders to not reach for the gun, he felt that Castile was in fact trying to draw his weapon. As a result, Yanez shot Castile, who died at the scene of his wounds.
As you no doubt remember, Diamond Reynolds, who was riding in the passenger seat, broadcast the aftermath live over Facebook. I will say that her attitude and actions while watching her boyfriend bleed out were deeply disturbing, but she isn’t the subject of this piece, so we’ll skip her for now. Her video, of course, ignited another series of protests and borderline riots before any facts were known.
The investigation resulted in Officer Yanez being charged with 2nd degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a weapon. He was tried and found not guilty of all charges on June 4, 2017. Yanez said that Castile was excessively defensive and appeared to be reaching for something on his right side, in spite of being ordered to not move. Like every officer in the age of the cell phone video, Yanez was tried and convicted in the court of public opinion before he was ever formally charged. Since the trial ended, the dash-cam video of the incident has been released. I’ve watched it several times and it provides little clarity. It shows an officer who is genuinely frightened, but it does not show us if he reacted properly or not. It seems that he fired very quickly, maybe too quickly, but we have to remember that none of us were there. Not one of us really knows what happened in that car or what was going on in the officer’s head.
The aftermath of the jury’s decision has been predictable, if somewhat subdued. Even though not more than a few dozen people saw the presentation of the evidence or heard the testimony during the trial, there are millions of opinions about the outcome. I’ve been silent on the matter, just because of the above. I don’t have enough information to really form a solid opinion. I think Yanez reacted too quickly based on what I’ve seen, and I saw no evidence that race played a part in his decision to fire. I could be completely wrong, but that’s how things appear to me.
The largest stream of vitriol I’ve seen is directed at the NRA. Every Twitter post by the NRA right now is answered by trolls bringing up their lack of response to the verdict. The general premise of the replies being the NRA and all gun owners should be greatly upset by the decision because Castile had a permit to carry his gun. Do they think a permit is a magical shield which relieves the bearer of all responsibility to follow an officer’s orders? Do they also think the permit itself telepathically communicates its presence to any officer in the vicinity before they are within conversational range? These folks then make yet another incredible leap of logic and declare the NRA has been silent because Castile happens to be black. Frankly, it won’t matter what they say or if they ever say anything. The same people attacking them for not saying anything would no doubt attack anything they did say. I’m an NRA member and have been for many years, but I don’t know why there has been no formal comment from them. I suspect they feel the jury did its job and actually didn’t find sufficient evidence to convict Yanez, so there isn’t much to add. In the immediate aftermath, they had the good taste to say very little, unlike so many who didn’t let the last shell casing hit the ground before they tried to turn the event into political hay. NRA contributor Colion Noir has been anything but silent, expressing himself eloquently in a video and very personal Facebook post. I urge you to watch and read Mr. Noir’s contributions regularly.
So what should the NRA say about this situation? I feel it safe to say no one within the NRA has more information than any of the rest of us. Assuming for a second the verdict in this case is just (based on law and evidence, not how we feeeeeeeel about it), I think they should issue a cautionary statement for those of us who carry concealed. They should emphasize the importance of being calm and doing exactly what the officer tells you to do when you encounter law enforcement while armed. Part of our responsibility as gun owners is to do everything we can to prevent something so innocuous as a traffic stop from turning into an armed confrontation. We owe it to those who protect us to not put them in a position where they feel threatened. At the same time, as citizens, we have an expectation of either walking away or heading downtown in one piece, even if we’re legally armed. I think the NRA should simply express the sympathy many of us feel for Castile and Yanez and remind us all to be safe and responsible gun owners.
In the end, there is nothing which can be said to make this terrible situation better. A young man is dead and another’s life will never be the same. A little girl will have to live with what she saw for the rest of her life. I don’t know if it had to be this way or not, but words won’t fix it.