“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

— George Orwell, author (1903-1950)

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The killing of Philando Castile was the shortening of a life by police gunfire. The sequence of events was captured on video from the police cruiser dashboard camera. In the space of about 45 seconds, a routine traffic stop for a broken taillight turned deadly.

The fact that Castile was black and the officer who shot him was white heightened racial tensions across the country. This happened in Minneapolis, and puts into question officer training and rules of protocol.

The jury deliberated into its fifth day, after listening to two weeks of testimony, before coming back with a not-guilty verdict, ultimately deciding that Officer Jeronimo Yanez acted in a reasonable manner, as one who was in fear of his life.

Watching the action unfold in the dash camera, one can see the stop escalate quickly after Castile informs the officer that he has a concealed weapon. The officer starts calmly telling him not to reach for the weapon, but then quickly freaks out and begins firing one shot after another as Castile is in the process of giving the officer his driver's license, as was requested seconds earlier by Yanez.

Here is a link to the video that shows the shooting, and then the aftermath filmed by Castile’s girlfriend and put on Facebook in live time. Be forewarned, the video graphically depicts a man's death.

http://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2017/06/22/philando-castile-facebook-and-dashcam-full-mashup-video-ctn.cnn

We can all agree that this was tragic and the indictment necessary. Then it gets a little harder; was there malicious intent, was it racially motivated, did the officer fear his life was in danger, did the suspect do anything to escalate the situation – this creates as many questions as it answers.

Let’s start with the intent; at the onset, the officer was polite and calm and race did not appear to be an issue. It was only when confronted by the statement by the driver that he had a concealed weapon that Yanez began to get nervous, and then literally freaked out.

While there does not appear to be any malice, it is clear this officer was ill-equipped to deal with the situation. I have no idea what the protocol is, but I would suspect that asking Castile to put his hands on his head and to get out of the vehicle so the officer (and the supporting officer) could disarm him and then finish the inquiry should have been how this came down.

That didn’t happen and instead the officer started firing his weapon in rapid succession, yelling and screaming in a way that certainly suggested he was scared out of his wits. Meanwhile, Castile had done all the right things; he was polite, non-threatening  and, having a concealed weapon on him, informed the officer as he should have.

Castile did everything by the book, yet still lost his life in the process. Watching the tape, it is easy to see why many don’t agree with the verdict; perhaps involuntary manslaughter might have been a better call; even without intent, and an accident, a life was lost.

In the end this seems to suggest a systematic problem. Common sense suggests a better training process and an examination of protocol. Why wasn’t the officer equipped with a Taser, instead of a pistol? Why wasn’t there a more defined protocol followed?

If correct protocol were in place, perhaps we wouldn’t be talking about racial issues here; there is no doubt that racial profiling may have led to Yanez's being more cautious; racial stereotyping could have played a role, as well as the smell of marijuana coming from the vehicle, which the officer said heightened his awareness of a perhaps-dangerous situation. Injustice perhaps, a tragedy for sure.

***

Last week I was on my way back from Boston and was pulled over in southern Maine for a speeding violation; I got off with a warning. I was polite, attentive and apologetic, while wearing a seat belt and looking contrite. The officer was cordial and communicative, immediately letting me know why he had pulled me over. His comfort level was high, and I benefitted from that; did my white skin and elder gray hair help? One might assume so.

We are very lucky in the Midcoast to have current and former police chiefs who are well respected in their communities and have solid track records.

In Rockland, I think our current chief is a man of compassion; he seems to understand that we need to get to the root of the problems, and that simply punishing people only crowds our jails and fines people who can least afford it. Fixing the problems, especially drug-related ones, will ultimately make his community safer.

In Camden and Rockport, we have a chief who has also shown he cares; not only in several short personal conversations, but in his forces’ actions. A few years ago, there was an incident in Camden that could have ended badly; a young man with a gun and a drug addiction was on the run. When cornered, the suspect was disarmed through negotiation and no shots were fired. No fanfare, just solid police work; it went unknown to most because it didn’t end in tragedy.

I’m sure officers in our community, and throughout our country, are often scared for their lives; to pull the trigger, or not, must be one of the hardest things that these men and women have to deal with.

They put themselves out on the line every day when they start their shift, until their shift ends. Common sense says they need to be trained and protocol developed to help them through the simplest confrontations, as well as the ones that are threatening and complicated.

They deserve our support, not our judgment or our wrath.