Philando Castile Was Pulled Over 49 Times – Why?

It’s been a few weeks since Philando Castile was shot and killed. Philando was shot and killed by officer Jeronimo Yanez, after a traffic stop. Not much has been said about the case in media circles of late. My guess is that the targeted shootings of police officers, in recent weeks, is to be blamed.  

This is unfortunate, but understandable. With eight police officers shot and killed, in separate incidents, in two weeks, police officers feel like they’re walking targets. As such, less of a focus on the unfortunate circumstance of being a person of color killed by the cops. While seemingly unfair, it makes sense. After all, unlike everyday civilians, cops are not targeted daily for execution. Even so, as hyper-vigilant as cops might be, they are less likely to be killed by civilians in encounters.

While fatal shootings of police officers are up from a year ago as USA Today reports. Research shows, that the average rate of police officers shot and killed has been the same from 2005 to 2015. While more officers have been killed this time last year than in 2015. There’s no need to believe that there’s an upward trend in police officers being shot and killed on the job.

Minorities are being disproportionately killed

What is scary, however, is that there were ten civilians killed by police officers in the same week Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were killed.

Here’s a list of them:

The circumstances surrounding the each of the above police-involved deaths may be different. The common theme is that with the exception of Dylan Noble, everyone killed was a minority. Like Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, it is highly likely that they too commonly traverse spaces that are over-policed. This is an important point to remember. Especially if you’re a person who uses black and brown criminality as justification for our deaths at the hands of police. Interestingly enough, 70% of the violence committed against police officers to date, have been committed by white men.

Yes, imagine that!

Philando was no more criminal than anyone

The lie that says that minorities are inherently criminal, is just that: a lie.

Yet and still, the assumption is that much of what people are protesting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter represent factual inaccuracies. In the minds of opponents, the presumption is that dead victims who are no longer able to speak for themselves had to have done something wrong. And naturally, this justifies the use of deadly force. And by doing wrong, they often always mean doing something criminal. Isn’t it funny that the concept of being innocent until proven guilty seems to elude people of color?

Well, let’s look at what happened to Philando Castile, in particular. Philando didn’t go out of hs way to come into contact with the police prior to being killed. As I pointed out recently, Philando was stopped by the police simply because he had a “wide-set nose,” similar to that of a robbery suspect. While this stop sounds much like your garden-variety racial profiling. Overlooked is the fact that Philando Castile had been pulled over by the police a total of forty-nine times prior to his death.

In a still image from a video posted to Facebook, a shooting victim, identified by relatives as Philando Castile, 32, lies bleeding in a car after being shot by police during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minn. on Wednesday evening, July 6, 2016. The video was posted live to the Facebook page of Lavish Reynolds.
In a still image from a video posted to Facebook, a shooting victim, identified by relatives as Philando Castile, 32, lies bleeding in a car after being shot by police during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minn. on Wednesday evening, July 6, 2016. The video was posted live to the Facebook page of Lavish Reynolds.

Bening pulled over by the cops forty-nine times is extreme. Mind you, these were stops that occurred between 2002 and 2016. Even for the average black person, being stopped that many times is insane. Personally, as  someone driving since the late eighties, I can count the number of times I’ve been stopped on one hand. While that in itself may sound absurd to those with whom I share a skin color. Admittedly, being pulled over as little as I have has nothing to do wth me being a good boy. While my experience may be a stroke of luck, to date. The fact is that in many communities of color, there are many people who are stopped as many times as Philando was while walking.

Yep, ever heard of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk?

Well, as a New York Times report indicates, there's a big difference between the way whites and non-whites are treated when they encounter the police.

“A new study confirms that black men and women are treated differently in the hands of law enforcement. They are more likely to be touched, handcuffed, pushed to the ground or pepper-sprayed by a police officer, even after accounting for how, where and when they encounter the police.”

To that point, Ilya Sornin suggests a few remedies to reduce interactions with police, that may have the unintended consequence of injury or death.

“We could start by cutting back on the War on Drugs, which accounts for a large proportion of the hostile interactions between the police and African-Americans. We should also consider curbing the enormous proliferation of other criminal laws, which have reached the point where the vast majority of adult Americans have violated one or another such law at some time in their lives. Eric Garner, the victim of one of the most notorious abusive police killings in recent years, died in the course of an arrest for selling untaxed cigarettes. We should think carefully about whether it is really necessary to criminalize such transactions, even at the cost of killing and injuring people in the process.

As Conor Friedersdorf points out, we can also reduce the incidence of traffic stops, of the sort which led to the-the death of Philando Castile. Too many jurisdictions use traffic tickets as a source of revenue, rather than as a tool for protecting public safety. In recent years, the Dallas police department has greatly reduced revenue-raising traffic stops, without thereby increasing the rate of car accidents. Other jurisdictions can learn from that example.

More generally, we should avoid passing laws we aren’t willing to kill to enforce. Ultimately, any law whose enforcement requires the police to arrest and otherwise coerce people creates a risk of violence and death. For any given arrest, search, or traffic stop, the risk of such escalation may be very low. But multiplied over thousands or millions of such cases, it becomes almost certain that innocent people will be injured or killed in some instances.”

Racial profiling is very real

At any rate, it’s hard to imagine that Philando was stopped forty-nine times for simply having a “wide-set nose.” It’s also hard to imagine that Philando was pulled over as many times as he was because he was in the act of committing a driving infraction. You can argue that it’s possible that he was a reckless driver. You also can use this as justification for that many stops. After all, some people are just heavier on the gas pedal than others. The problem with that argument is that Philando received a total of two citations for speeding . Think about that. Philando was stopped while driving forty-nine times between 2002 and 2016. And even so, he was cited only twice for speeding.

Philando Castile Driving Record (PDF)

Okay, so he was only caught speeding twice. This, of course, doesn’t mean that Philando was not a criminal. After all, according to Minnesota records, Philando was caught not wearing a seatbelt three times. And, well, there were the few times he was caught driving without car insurance. Which I’m sure was the reason his license was suspended a time or two. Again, hardly the profile of a predicate felon. However, when it comes to policing for profit, as was the case in Ferguson, Missouri, per a federal investigation. It makes perfect sense as to why a black man would be stopped as many times as Philando Castile was. While I can’t prove it. I must say, it sounds like Philando was as much a target as the police officers killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

After all, Philando was black.