The killer of Philando Castile, an employee of the St. Paul public schools, has been found not guilty. The killer worked at the time as a police officer for the St. Anthony Police Department in Minnesota and had pulled Castile over in a traffic stop. Castile was licensed to carry a concealed handgun, and his declaration to the killer that he was legally armed was the excuse given during the trial for the shooting — the killer claiming that he acted in fear for his life.
I’m going through the convoluted avoidance of the killer’s identity because he does not deserve the honor of being remembered by name — except in court documents for the civil lawsuit that is to come.
This case, as much of an individual outrage as it is, also speaks to a fundamental sickness in the relationship of our government to the people of this nation. Castile was the victim of police harassment for his entire adult life. He was stopped again and again by cops in a pattern of abuse that is all too familiar for the country’s minorities and the poor.
Perhaps it’s time to adopt the British approach to law enforcement. When Robert Peel founded the Metropolitan Police — his name becoming the nickname, Bobbies, for officers generally — he did not arm them because he didn’t want the public to feel that their liberties were being violated by what today we’d call a paramilitary occupation.
This is not to say that there are never circumstances when the police need weapons. The shooting in Alexandria of members of Congress and their aides demonstrates that armed law enforcement have place. But the cops have proved themselves to be too much in a hurry to draw and fire, especially when they encounter black Americans.
I’m a supporter of ordinary citizens being able to carry firearms legally. This is an expression of our natural rights to live and to defend ourselves against a violent attack, and it’s a reminder to the government of where power originates in a free society. But when agents of the government feel entitled to take life so easily, it’s time for the people to call a halt. If we take away their guns, they’ll learn to be more cautious in their interactions with us. Given the excessive amount of power that the badge already provides, the gun is a temptation to abuse that power.
We can let them have their toys back when they’ve proved themselves to be worthy of them. Or it may be that by then, the diminished threat of government violence against the people will have calmed things to the point that the police have a much reduced need for weapons.
For more of my writing, go here.