Former Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted this week of manslaughter charges following the shooting death of Philando Castile, a black man killed by the former cop during a traffic stop as his girlfriend and daughter watched on. Now, thanks to a report released after the jury’s decision to absolve Yanez of any wrongdoing, it has become clear that the smell of marijuana was a large factor in Yanez’ decision to shoot Castile seven times without pause.
According to the Associated Press, officer Yanez, who has since been fired from his job as a police officer, said that he smelled an odor of “burnt” marijuana when he approached the car, and in the immediate aftermath of the traffic stop shooting, Yanez told investigators - “I thought if he's, if he has the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the 5-year-old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me?"
In a video recorded from the dash camera of the police cruiser that was also released following the jury’s decision, the audio clearly shows that Castile tells Yanez that he is carrying a firearm while reaching for his wallet. Castile tells the officer he is not reaching for the gun, but Yanez continues to yell at Castile to not reach for the gun. The men go back and forth for a second and in a flash, Yanez shot seven times into the car’s window, killing Castile.
Put in context, Yanez’ after-the-fact comments about the smell of marijuana seem to imply that the former police officer had completely unwarranted pre-conceived notions about Castile before a gun was mentioned by either party.
Marijuana may be fully legal in eight states and Washington D.C., and legal for medical use in over half the country, including Minnesota, but thanks to the systemic, pervasive racism in America, getting stoned while black is still a crime, that in some instances, is punishable by death.
While we can’t see into his psyche, something tells us Yanez wouldn’t have feared for his life had he had pulled over a white man smoking a cigarette.