On Friday, after a jury found St. Anthony, Minn., police officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty in the fatal shooting of black motorist Philando Castile, I went numb.
I didn’t feel the anger I’d experienced in the wake of other high profile police shootings involving black victims. Instead I felt an ugly sense of resignation. Like blacks all over the country, I have learned to expect the worst in cases such as this.
But I would think there are others who want to speak out on Castile’s death. Not from a racial perspective, but on the basis of the Second Amendment.
Where are the groups that typically roar so loudly in favor of gun rights? Where is the National Rifle Association? Where, for that matter, are President Donald Trump and the other conservative politicians who’ve consistently supported the gun lobby?
I would think Philando Castile’s death would be a rallying cry for those who support legal gun ownership and the right to carry concealed firearms. After all, Castile was exercising his constitutional right to bear arms in July 2016 when Officer Yanez stopped the vehicle Castile was riding in with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and Reynolds’ 4-year-old daughter. And according to Reynolds, Castile did what he was supposed to do in that situation.
Castile informed the officer that he was carrying the weapon, and told him that he had a concealed carry permit. Reynolds said Castile reached for his wallet to show his papers. Yanez claims Castile reached for the gun before Yanez shot seven bullets into the car, critically wounding Castile. Yanez claimed he did so because he feared for his life.
After Castile, a man who was licensed to carry a gun, was shot dead by Yanez, Minnesota’s governor immediately posed the question that was on everyone’s mind.
“Would this have happened if those passengers, the driver were white?” asked Gov. Mark Drayton. “I don’t think it would have.”
The National Rifle Association (NRA) waited nearly two days to speak out about the shooting, and when it did, the organization that normally speaks forcefully about the right to keep and bear arms was noncommittal.
“The reports from Minnesota are troubling and must be thoroughly investigated,” the NRA said in a statement released on Facebook. “In the meantime, it is important for the NRA not to comment while the investigation is ongoing. Rest assured, the NRA will have more to say once the facts are known.”
Today, the facts are known. And in the immediate aftermath of Officer Yanez’s acquittal, the NRA has said nothing.
But their silence speaks volumes. By refusing to speak up for Philando Castile, the NRA has made it clear that their defense of the right to keep and bear arms is restricted to a select group. They have said to the black community that we are not worthy of their backing.
Blacks aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed.
“Why the silence on Philando Castile?” wrote Facebook user Chuck Nagy on the NRA Facebook page. “The right to bear arms is for ALL of us, is it not? It is disheartening to say the least. I’m pretty sure that you will never ever see another cent from me. I would have expected at least a half hearted half-assed statement, but your silence speaks volumes. Add an FW at the end of your name to signify that you are “For Whites” only. I don’t expect an answer from you or your organization, but please explain to me why I should continue to defend you to all of my liberal friends when you will not do the right thing and speak out to defend the rights of ALL Americans to bear arms.”
It’s a good question—one that deserves an answer. But as of press time, the NRA had not commented on the verdict in a case involving a licensed gun owner being shot dead by a police officer.
Others, however, have spoken through their actions.
The City of St. Anthony, Minn., fired Yanez from its police force shortly after the verdict was announced. Protesters took to the streets. And as Gov. Mark Drayton promised to seek the changes necessary to bring justice to all Minnesotans, Castile’s mother raged against the system.
“I am so disappointed in the state of Minnesota,” Valerie Castile said at a news conference after the verdict was read in court. “My son loved this state. He had one tattoo on his body and it was of the Twin Cities — the state of Minnesota with TC on it. My son loved this city and this city killed my son. And the murderer gets away.”
Perhaps there will come a time when black mothers aren’t left behind to speak for their sons in the wake of such tragedies. Maybe there will come a time when we can exercise our rights in the same way others do.
Until then, we must know that organizations like the NRA will not speak for us.
Instead, we must speak up for ourselves.
Listen to Solomon Jones weekdays from 7 to 10 am on WURD Radio