The death of Philando Castile at the hands of a police officer on Thursday afternoon in Falcon Heights, a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota, was the latest episode in a series of shootings of civilians by cops across the United States. And in Minneapolis, the killing of Castile fits into a pattern affecting, by a vastly disproportionate margin, people of color: the city is white by a large margin, but people killed by police are black and brown by an even wider margin.
The death of Philando Castile, captured by his girlfriend on video she streamed on Facebook Live, was the catalyst for a new wave of protests by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Diamond Reynolds live-streamed her boyfriend's death in a video that would be watched by millions of people in the coming days. According to Reynolds, the police officer, whose name is yet to be released, asked Castile for his identification after a traffic stop for a broken taillight. Castile warned the officer he was legally carrying a gun, and reached for his wallet. The officer then fired at least four shots at Castile, continuing to aim the gun at his body as he bled out in the driver's seat. Their four-year-old daughter was in the car when the shooting occurred.
Police departments in the area have been accused of using unnecessary lethal force in the past. VICE News examined four years of police reports to find that Castile is the 21st person to be killed by police in the area since 2012. Every completed investigation of local police killing a citizen ruled the officers' actions to be justified.
Castile's death caught the nation's attention also because it followed the police shooting of Alton Sterling, another African-American man, in Louisiana by less than 24 hours. Most importantly, both incidents sparked rage because many say the videos suggest the officers were not in any real danger. The majority of the other police shootings in the area, which involved officers from a number of different local departments, were investigated solely on police reports and occasionally eyewitnesses.
Of the 21 shooting deaths since 2012, 17 have been people of color, 11 of them black. Minneapolis is 64 percent white and St. Paul is 67 percent white, according to the 2010 national census. The disproportionate amount of non-white people dying at the hands of police across the nation has been a central issue of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has a strong presence in the Twin Cities.
The data fits a nationwide pattern. An investigation by the Washington Post found that unarmed black men are seven times more likely than whites to be killed by police.
Another familiar pattern throughout the shootings, both in Minnesota and across the nation, is that officers who kill the suspects say they feared their lives were in danger. In November 2015, Minneapolis police officers shot Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old black man, in the head while he was pinned to the ground, because he allegedly reached for one of their guns. Some witnesses said he was handcuffed when he was shot.
Local police also killed Sam Holmes, a 31-year-old black man, and Marcus Golden, a 24-year-old black man, both in 2015, because they allegedly tried to hit the officers with their cars. The same happened with Victor T. Gaddy, a 41-year-old black man, who was pulled over during a narcotics investigation in 2012. There was no video evidence to corroborate any of the police reports in these incidents, and there were no other witnesses.
Additionally, there was a pattern of police killing suspects when they could have been considered low-threat, or could have been subdued without lethal force. Officers killed Philip Quinn, a 30-year-old Native American, because he allegedly charged at them with a screwdriver. They were called to the scene because Quinn was said to be suicidal. Again, the officers were the only ones present to report what happened. Another man, Guillermo Canas, was killed in 2014 because officers said they feared for their lives after he threw large rocks at them.
Gov. Mark Dayton signed HB 4229 into law in May, mandating that Minnesota police officers wear continuously-activated body cameras while on duty. Some activists against police brutality say this is a start to holding police officers who use unnecessary deadly force accountable, while other believes the issues lay in the training.
According to the Washington Post, police killings have increased six percent in 2016 from last year.
Follow Adam Hamze on Twitter: @adamhamz