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McFeely: If Philando Castile was white, he'd be alive

FARGO--If Philando Castile was white, would he be dead? That's the question America needs to ask about the shooting of a black St. Paul, Minn., man by a suburban police officer.

A man kneels at a make-shift memorial at the site of the police shooting of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Miller
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FARGO-If Philando Castile was white, would he be dead?

That's the question America needs to ask about the shooting of a black St. Paul, Minn., man by a suburban police officer.

Given what we've been told to this point, the answer is no.


If Philando Castile was a white man, perhaps named Terry Johnson or Bill Tucker, he would be alive today.
If Terry Johnson or Bill Tucker were pulled over for having a broken tail light on their car (and it's questionable whether they'd be pulled over for such a nothing infraction), if they had their girlfriend and a child in the car, if they were gainfully employed and had been for years, if they'd kept their nose clean, if they'd told the officer they were carrying a gun, if they'd reached for their license and registration-they'd be alive.


It's that simple.

Philando Castile was black. He is dead.
Those who've been dismissive of African-Americans' cries of police injustice and their calls for reform should take notice.

It seems every time a black man is shot by a police officer, the onus for getting killed is placed on the victim.

"He didn't take his hands out of his pockets."

"He talked back."

"He didn't raise his hands."

"He was running."

"He had a record."


"He was a bad guy."

"He didn't comply."

Sometimes these excuses have merit. Most times they don't. An unarmed suspect running away from a police officer is cause for the use of deadly force, as has been the case a couple of times recently? That shouldn't fly.

Nor should what happened in the Twin Cities, if what we've been told holds true. Castile complied, did what those who want to victim-blame wanted him to do, yet he was shot dead.

There is a problem with the concept of coolly saying "comply or die" whenever Black Lives Matter or the NAACP protest a police shooting. The idea of a black man having to completely subjugate to law enforcement or risk being shot to death is the 2010s version of "don't get uppity" or "know your place." There is no wiggle room, no space for discussion or a misstep.

It's time for those who've been skeptical to recognize that. There is a higher bar for black men to clear. To expect an African-American man to have to act differently, better, than a white man after being pulled over by a cop is racism.

Castile's girlfriend said the officer asked him for his license and registration.

"He told him that it was in his wallet, but he had a pistol on him because he's licensed to carry," the girlfriend said in a remarkable video taken moments after Castile was shot. "The officer said don't move. As he was putting his hands back up, the officer shot him in the arm four or five times."


In the video, the distressed police officer is heard saying, "I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand out."

If that's the line used to say Castile didn't comply, we've crossed into unrealistic territory. Black men will never be able to comply if the line is that razor thin.

The investigation into the shooting needs to be completed quickly. There can be no dilly-dallying. And if what we've been told is true, the St. Anthony Police Department (of which the officer who shot Castile was a member) needs to stand up and admit full fault. No excuses. No qualifications. Admit your officers screwed up and will pay the proper price.

Being a police officer is a difficult, stressful job. There is no such thing as a "routine" traffic stop. Any day could end in tragedy for an officer. It's entirely possible the officer in this case panicked and overreacted to those pressures.

None of which changes the fact Philando Castile is dead.

In his girlfriend's words, he's dead "for no apparent reason, no reason at all."

If Castile, indeed, didn't do anything wrong and "complied," that's not entirely true.

If he was Terry Johnson or Bill Tucker, he wouldn't be dead.

That leaves a fairly obvious reason.

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