What Is This About? A Report On The Response To The Yanez Verdict

On June 17th, 2017 Officer Jeronimo Yanez was let off the hook by a majority white jury after murdering Philando Castile in cold blood. Obviously, the verdict was devastating, cruel and absolutely absurd. Most of all, though, it was unsurprising. That night over two thousand people took to the streets in the Twin Cities. Tensions were high and so was energy from the growing crowd. Young people came out by the hundreds, clad in masks and armed with anger. Earlier in the day, on a video posted to social media, Philando’s mother Valerie Castile tore in to the verdict and the police:

“They murdered my motherfucking son with his seat belt on. So what does that say to you? Now they got free reign to keep killing us any kind of way they want to. So I just want to say one thing to everybody out there, I don’t give a fuck what you do. Do what your heart desires… Fuck the police!… I hope that mother fucker die tonight.”

And yet, as in demonstrations time and time again before that night, a somewhat small group of Black Lives Matter organizers led the massive crowd in a winding route around the city of St. Paul and ultimately, via an orchestrated effort, onto Interstate 94. Police, in communication with organizers, quickly re-routed traffic to flow far around the people standing on the highway. During the march, liberal-minded activists and their dutiful ‘white allies’ shouted at and shamed people expressing their anger through graffiti, and in some instance even attempted to turn them in to the authorities.

Accusations of “violence” flew, along with claims that “that’s not what this is about,” even after Valerie Castile explicitly called for people to express their anger in whichever manner their heart desired. People donning masks in order to avoid further police repression and information doxxing by the far-right were called “cowards” and “instigators”. It almost seemed like these people had forgotten that a man’s life was taken by the state, and that earlier that day it had been made clear that officers who do the same thing in the future will not be punished. But somehow writing on a traffic sign to remember and avenge Philando Castile is considered “violence”.

At the end of the night, as the crowds trickled out and went home, police moved in and arrested 18 people. The police were careful not to let crowds gather on the pedestrian bridge or along the side of the highway, from where volleys of rocks and fireworks seemed to originate last July when I-94 was first shut down following Philando’s murder.

The State should consider itself lucky that the city was not in flames after the verdict came out. There is a process of silencing that is occurring that is enacted not by the police departments or National Guard but by the very organizers of such rallies as well as some of the attendees. One in which a young person who fears for their life in the face of police violence is held to unrealistic and ahistorical standards of respectability towards public property and corporate shop windows. Where the dispossessed are still expected to take orders from the wealthiest and loudest non-profit voices. One where they are commanded to politely ask the slave owners to give up their plantation.

The marching, the signs, and the chants aren’t enough. They never were. It’s time to put the ‘peace police’ to rest, and to make the State fear our strength instead of re-routing traffic for us. The white supremacist police institution of the United States has a vested interest in getting away with shooting black folks, and it is clear that until it faces consequences for its actions it won’t stop killing.