Ramsey County Attorney John Choi's decision to charge Officer Jeronimo Yanez with second degree manslaughter for the death of Philando Castile as well as felony charges in endangering the safety of Diamond Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter comes as a welcome relief and a historically significant step toward police accountability in Minnesota.
Choi's decision marks the first time in at least thirty years that a Minnesota police officer has faced charges for killing someone, and sends a clear signal that police officers' unfounded fears of Black people will no longer be acceptable as a blanket excuse for needlessly taking lives.
We commend Choi's courageous leadership in indicting Officer Yanez without use of a grand jury. Grand juries, which operate in secret and obscure transparency, allow prosecutors to avoid accountability and rubber-stamp officers' use of deadly force. Hennepin and Ramsey Counties' decisions this year to forego grand juries in cases of fatal police shootings, after thousands of community members demanded greater transparency and accountability, are an important new precedent.
While we applaud Choi's decision, we know that this is not true justice for Philando. Philando Castile should be alive today, serving kids in the cafeteria, eating dinner with his family, and building his life. True justice for Philando would have been to leave him in peace, to let him celebrate his birthday, to let him go back to his family and the schoolchildren who adored him -- and to stop the pattern of racial profiling and 40 traffic stops leading up to his death. No decision can bring him back to his family, friends, and students. Our thoughts and prayers today are with Philando's loved ones, grappling again with the horrible facts of his needless death.
Though no decision can bring back Philando, today shows that police officers are not above the law; that senseless fear is not legally justified; that police cannot operate with total impunity. While today's decision cannot bring him back, it is our hope that a new precedent of accountability can save the lives of others.
To many, today's decision comes as a surprise because it is so rare to see any resemblance of justice in cases of police force. Accountability for police officers should not feel like an act of God. It should be expected.
Today's decision would not have happened without thousands of community members in Ramsey County and around the country demanding accountability. We will continue to demand accountability as the case proceeds to trial and as we work to build a system of public safety that truly prioritizes the safety of all community members.