Reflections on Jeronimo Yanez and Philando Castile

Reflections on Jeronimo Yanez and Philando Castile

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Today in the Twin Cities a jury determined that Officer Jeronimo Yanez was not culpable in the death of Philando Castile when the officer shot him in the summer of 2016 during a traffic stop. For most of my African-American friends this is a verdict that is consistent with their expectations. It is no surprise. Their grief and pain is very deep, and very real.

As the lead pastor of a large majority-culture church in the Minneapolis-St. Paul community, I cannot appeal strongly enough to my own majority-culture community that we lean in and truly learn of the deep, collective pain found among our African-American neighbors. Philando’s death, and the experience that followed it, is tragic enough, but the emotions it produces for our African-American friends are not isolated. This whole matter is one more reminder that our African-American neighbors live with an array of fears: fear that their bodies are vulnerable, fear that the systems of life leave no meaningful space for them, fear that justice is elusive, and fear that their voices do not really matter. Verdicts like that handed down today only deepen these fears. Just ask any African-American family about “the talk” they are compelled to have with their children about police, and you will begin to sense how deep this truly is—a striking reminder that within the broad narrative of the African-American experience displacement, debasement, dismissal, disadvantage, and disrespect have been all too defining.

It is Jesus, of course, who offers wisdom for moving forward. Matthew 9:36-38 tells us that as Jesus moved throughout the community “he saw the crowds, [and] he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.'” Yes, these words speak to the intentionality of gospel-proclamation and the countless people whose life can be changed because some—the laborers—go and tell the story. But herein is also a pattern of empathy and care, modeled by Jesus to those paying attention. Jesus reveals how we in the majority-culture might respond to the deep pain found among our African-American neighbors.

First, we in the majority-culture need to see our African-American neighbors. Jesus “saw the crowds.” He paid attention. He did not merely look past them; he saw them. We need to choose to see our neighbors of color; we need to see the world through their eyes. We need to listen to their stories, acknowledge the myriad ways their experiences within society differ from ours, and seek to appreciate the dynamics that have defined their history and continue to define the present. We need to see them.

Secondly, we in the majority-culture must be deeply moved by their reality. The ancient word describing the compassion Jesus had for the harassed and helpless crowd is a word suggesting Jesus hurt deeply in his gut for those he saw. It suggests that suffering erupted within him on their behalf. This is true empathy. We must be people tender enough and teachable enough to be moved deeply within ourselves for the hurts and fears that are so real among our minority-culture neighbors. As the Apostle Paul puts it in Romans 12:15, we need to “weep with those who weep.” Make no mistake about it: our African-American neighbors are weeping. We need to hurt with them.

Thirdly, we in the majority-culture must pray earnestly. When seeing those marginalized and hurting, Jesus called for prayer. Too many in the majority-culture offer the side-eyes at best toward our African-American neighbors when they express themselves regarding their collective journey. Rather than be dismissive of their concerns or complain about yet another protest, let us pray to understand the world through the eyes of our neighbors of color, let us pray to have postures of deep humility and empathy, let us pray in repentance for ways we have contributed to the dynamics of injustice, let us pray for collective wisdom that addresses issues of injustice within our various systems, and let us pray that true dignity and honor would be experienced among all. We must pray.

Finally, we in the majority-culture must move toward our African-American friends with postures of humility, teachability, and an earnest desire to truly know them as fellow bearers of God’s image. This is the “sending” part of Jesus’ wisdom. Most of us in the majority-culture do not have truly meaningful friendships with African-Americans or other neighbors of color. We may engage many in the day-to-day of work and school and so forth, but can we say we truly know them? Is that co-worker or fellow student or neighbor truly a friend? We need to be intentional, not passive. We need to move toward our neighbors of color, engage them in ways that honor them and edify them. We need to humble ourselves and avail ourselves to meaningful relationships where platform and power are not just shared but surrendered.

We need to see our neighbors of color. We need to lament with them. We need to pray earnestly that God would allow us to come together and that true justice would define our engagement. And we need to avail ourselves to meaningful relationships that can enrich us all, create understanding, facilitate justice, and build trust.

The tragedy and lingering trauma relating to Philando Castile and Officer Yanez underscore yet again that we must employ Jesus’ timeless wisdom—not later, but now.

11 thoughts on “Reflections on Jeronimo Yanez and Philando Castile

  1. Pastor Mathew,

    Although I am not a part of your current church family in New Hope, I used to be a part of your church family in Fargo, which also has diversity. That said, I have always appreciated and admired your deep scholarly approach, sensitivity, humbleness, and most importantly biblical approach to difficult subjects and circumstances. In this case, I do however have a few thoughts respective to your reflections on the Philando Castile case. The second paragraph of your reflection, in my opinion, is the heart of what you are saying and thus my comments.

    It seems to me you are dividing the church family by majority and minority cultures and to do this you are using politically correct words, which makes it hard for me to understand what you are really saying and to whom you are writing. For example, it appears the “majority-culture” community means “white” community and “African-Americans” means black neighbor community. When you lump all whites (such as German, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish, etx including Asians) into one group, I assume you are calling that group the white culture. So, in effect, I see it as you are talking to both white and black people.

    You then go on to describe the fears of the “black” culture very well. I am not disputing what you say and I am sympathetic and empathetic respectively. With that said, It seems you are implying that the black culture has more of these “justifiable” fears that the white culture and additionally you bring in “police” enforcement of laws as one of the current reasons the black culture has fears, which are further reinforced by the judicial system, which are on top of all the persecution of blacks by whites in the past.

    1. Why the separation by skin color? And is this the most important dividing line for why people have fear?
    2. Is fear the only thing used to make decisions? It appears yes, because it is the only thing mentioned as a cause in your reflection.
    3. Are black fears more important than white fears? Don’t we all have fears…and as a white person will my “seeing” through a black person’s eyes remove their fears? If it works that way, should it not also work in reverse, that a black person seeing through a white person’s eyes would remove my fears?
    4. How does one really overcome fear and what causes it?

    My limited and simple understanding of what the Bible says describes this differently, in my humble opinion. I certainly do not nor would I attempt to debate substantive and philosophical biblical issues with you so I will respectfully say only the following:
    It seems God talks about the human race and does not separate by skin color, however, He does talk about His children and those that are not his children. God specifically addresses “sin” as the problem, and that sin is the absence of his righteousness. My understanding from your preaching, (simply put) is that we all are born into sin and slaves to sin until we repent and submit to the Lordship of Jesus, at which time we are set free from the bondage to sin and are given the Holy Spirit to guide us in what we say and do and then God calls us his child. If this is indeed the case, doesn’t this mean God sees the human race as those who love, fear and obey Him and those that do not?

    In short, I believe we are to do for the non-Christian just as you have stated in your reflection of this tragic incident, but we are also to help them find the freeing from fear that comes from knowing and serving Jesus.

    As an aside, most of the comments to this article imply that the police officer was wrong and the driver was doing nothing wrong. They also imply that the jury gave the wrong verdict and the verdict caused additional fear in the black community. It appears to me that many are looking at the situation, not the merits of the situation, and respectfully I would suggest this is with a mind colored by a secular worldview. I am not implying the officer was justified, nor that the verdict provides him vindication from any wrongdoing, I am trying to look at the situation objectively without bias either way.

    As a police officer, it pains me to think (subject to different demographic/population communities) that all African American families are so fearful of the police that they are compelled to have “the talk” with their children. In defense, I can personally attest to many Native/African and New-American Families who have a true respect and support for law enforcement.

    That aside, The wages of sin ravages upon our society, which I think we can clearly agree causes so much injustice, suffering, greed, hate, and hurt. But as God promises in Romans 5:20, 21, “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

    Regardless of our individual interpretations and viewpoints, I wholeheartedly agree with your end statement, “the tragedy and lingering trauma relating to Philando Castile and Officer Yanez underscore yet again that we must employ Jesus’s timeless wisdom-not later, but now”.

  2. Pastor Mathew,

    Although I am not a part of your current church family in New Hope, I used to be a part of your church family in Fargo, which also has diversity. That said, I have always appreciated and admired your deep scholarly approach, sensitivity, humbleness, and most importantly biblical approach to difficult subjects and circumstances. In this case, I do however have a few thoughts respective to your reflections on the Philando Castile case. The second paragraph of your reflection, in my opinion, is the heart of what you are saying and thus my comments.

    It seems to me you are dividing the church family by majority and minority cultures and to do this you are using politically correct words, which makes it hard for me to understand what you are really saying and to whom you are writing. For example, it appears the “majority-culture” community means “white” community and “African-Americans” means black neighbor community. When you lump all whites (such as German, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish, etx including Asians) into one group, I assume you are calling that group the white culture. So, in effect, I see it as you are talking to both white and black people.

    You then go on to describe the fears of the “black” culture very well. I am not disputing what you say and I am sympathetic and empathetic respectively. With that said, It seems you are implying that the black culture has more of these “justifiable” fears that the white culture and additionally you bring in “police” enforcement of laws as one of the current reasons the black culture has fears, which are further reinforced by the judicial system, which are on top of all the persecution of blacks by whites in the past.

    After much prayerful thought, I have a few sincere questions.
    1. Why the separation by skin color? And is this the most important dividing line for why people have fear?
    2. Is fear the only thing used to make decisions? It appears yes, because it is the only thing mentioned as a cause in your reflection.
    3. Are black fears more important than white fears? Don’t we all have fears…and as a white person will my “seeing” through a black person’s eyes remove their fears? If it works that way, should it not also work in reverse, that a black person seeing through a white person’s eyes would remove my fears?
    4. How does one really overcome fear and what causes it?

    My limited and simple understanding of what the Bible says describes this differently, in my humble opinion. I certainly do not nor would I attempt to debate substantive and philosophical biblical issues with you so I will respectfully say only the following:
    It seems God talks about the human race and does not separate by skin color, however, He does talk about His children and those that are not his children. God specifically addresses “sin” as the problem, and that sin is the absence of his righteousness. My understanding from your preaching, (simply put) is that we all are born into sin and slaves to sin until we repent and submit to the Lordship of Jesus, at which time we are set free from the bondage to sin and are given the Holy Spirit to guide us in what we say and do and then God calls us his child. If this is indeed the case, doesn’t this mean God sees the human race as those who love, fear and obey Him and those that do not?

    In short, I believe we are to do for the non-Christian just as you have stated in your reflection of this tragic incident, but we are also to help them find the freeing from fear that comes from knowing and serving Jesus.

    As an aside, most of the comments to this article imply that the police officer was wrong and the driver was doing nothing wrong. They also imply that the jury gave the wrong verdict and the verdict caused additional fear in the black community. It appears to me that many are looking at the situation, not the merits of the situation, and respectfully I would suggest this is with a mind colored by a secular worldview. I am not implying the officer was justified, nor that the verdict provides him vindication from any wrongdoing, I am trying to look at the situation objectively without bias either way.

    As a police officer, it pains me to think (subject to different demographic/population communities) that all African American families are so fearful of the police that they are compelled to have “the talk” with their children. In defense, I can personally attest to many Native/African and New-American Families who have a true respect and support for law enforcement.

    That aside, The wages of sin ravages upon our society, which I think we can clearly agree causes so much injustice, suffering, greed, hate, and hurt. But as God promises in Romans 5:20, 21, “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

    Regardless of our individual interpretations and viewpoints, I wholeheartedly agree with your end statement, “the tragedy and lingering trauma relating to Philando Castile and Officer Yanez underscore yet again that we must employ Jesus’s timeless wisdom-not later, but now”.

  3. Thank you Pastor Matthew for the above article. It was well-written, honest, needed and full of promise and hope.

    To weep with those who weep and mourn for those who mourn. This that happened to Castile is most difficult for any of us to really understand or accept, Caucasian, Black, young or old, rich or poor. We all have been impacted by this unnerving incident. It has left us with a plutherer of emotions. Some we can understand and others we don’t . Some are having difficulty expressing themselves in a healthy and responsible way. However, this is not the time to judge them for the way they are expressing their emotions, but hold them up in prayer until they can do so. People are hurting and devastated by the verdict. They are trying to make sense of a senseless act of violence to an innocent man. We people feel hopeless they act in that way. But please dint judge them. Let everyone vent in their own way. I am not condoning breaking of the law, but this is fallout when people feel hopeless and don’t see things changing.

    But here is the real issue. The mishandling of this traffic stop by this officer is a clear indicator that he lacked appropriate and necessary training, along with some biases. Which in turn lead to his releasing seven unnecessary shots into a car with three innocent people. Never taking in account that their lives are worthy of living.

    Training is deemed necessary for our police officers. This was avoidable. But because he allowed his inner thoughts and emotions get the best of him, here we are! All police should be adequately trained to handle situations such as this. Stop racial profiling should be a big part of their training. Stoping a car because the driver is Black, leaves you vulnerable to be be reckless, fearful and irresponsible to handle the stop appropriately.

    Let’s continue ur to pray for our young African American Boys / Men that they will remain safe when confronted by police. That their lives do matter! Secondly pray for our officers who want to protect and serve with dignity and honor. We know that all of our officers are not like this officer in this case. I know some awesome law enforcement officers. Have law enforcement in my family, so I am looking from both lens. Pray for each other and let’s learn from this tragedy do it does not happen again.

  4. Excellent article and expression of my thoughts on the matter. Our fellow citizens are hurting and we must reach out in the love of our Christ and offer friendship, change and hope.

    An innocent son, brother, nephew, cousin, fellow-worker, and friend was killed. That’s a problem. We must address it and improve our police system to prevent this happening again.

    I do disagree with the first sentence of the post. “Today in the Twin Cities a jury determined that Officer Jeronimo Yanez was not culpable in the death of Philando Castile when the officer shot him in the summer of 2016 during a traffic stop”.

    The decision of the jury was NOT about culpability in the killing. It was merely about the very specific laws that were in the charges against. He was found not guilty of those very specific charges. His culpability in the situation overall was not addressed. There are many ways he can still be guilty and many things he can be guilty about–overreacting, using racial profiling, disrespect, irrational behavior. Unfortunately there are no charges that can be brought about those things.

    In the meantime, yes, Yanez (who IS Caucasian, Kerri, has to live the rest of his life with the actual culpability. I hope the Lord works it in his heart to repent of the sins he committed against Mr Castile and to repent. He needs to give back to the community he has harmed.

    Being a policeman doesn’t remove you from being able to sin and make horrid choices.

    1. Just because i may disagree with someone on certain points does not mean i lack empathy. To assume so in public forum belies one’s own inability or unwillingness to accept the validity of another’s opinion.

      Yanez is an image bearer, just as Castillo was an image bearer. American justice is imperfect as it is meted out by human beings. Only God’s perspective is perfect and only God’s justice is perfect.

      May God have mercy on us all . . . .

    2. Unfortunately, Kerry is the exact person that we would run away from because instead of taking the time and effort to hear our concerns, she began to tell us how we (those in unrest) were an inconvenience, a nuisance, wasting our efforts.

      Minorities are losing their lives, not a basketball game or a football game or attending a pumpkin festival (situations when the majority of non-minorities have rioted), minorities are dead. Dead, and being upset that some people blocked a highway without taking the time to understand why they are frustrated, and hurt, and in pain, and suffering is why your comments are not ever going to be well received.

      #AllLivesMatter can’t be true if you can’t bring yourself to simply acknowledge that there is a vast difference in the treatment of minorities, when it comes to policing, and they are disproportionately killed by police, at a much higher rate. Have you ever, in the open, said, Yes, Black Lives Do Matter? We all know your life matters, we never have to be told that. But Blacks, other minorities, watching them die on video over and over and over again, and the ones you sealed their fate, the ones hired to protect and serve us, never being convicted, how is it that we are supposed to believe that our lives do indeed matter to you?

      I hope you begin to see the world differently, and through the eyes of the people in pain, instead of the way you see it now, which is through privilege.

  5. Kerry, with all due respect, your comment goes directly to the heart of what Pastor Matthew just wrote. We need to show empathy, solidarity and love, which your comment lacks. We can honor our Law Enforcement community while ALSO weeping with our our minority brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Just a few weeks ago, I sat with other attenders of Pastor Matthew’s church (including minority friends) and wrote out thank you notes to every single police officer in the city. Police officers have an incredibly hard job. We honor their sacrifice. But we also need to acknowledge the unconscious bias that exists within ALL of us. It’s a bias that often leads to terrible outcomes for minorities when police officers are forced to make that “split second decision”. That’s exactly what happened in this case. An officer allowed his bias to make him fearful which resulted in the death of an innocent man.

    Philando Castile was an image-bearer of God. He did not deserve to die. He was innocent. Let’s acknowledge that. Let’s weep with those who weep.

    And please, for the sake of our witness, let’s stop saying, “All Lives Matter”. This is like a knife in the back of our minority friends and neighbors. The fact is, for the entirety of our nation’s history, we have not treated black lives like they matter. From slavery, to the three fifths compromise, to Jim Crow, to the systemic racism that still exists without our systems of power, we have shown that all lives do not matter equally. It’s incredibly patronizing to say, “All Lives Matter”. Stop it. For the sake of your neighbors and our witness as a Church. Instead, do what Pastor Mattthew says above: See, Weep. Pray, Act.

  6. Sadly, this has been going on ever since I’ve been alive. Every time an unjust verdict, no matter the skin color, happens, I realize how little things have changed. Yet I remain hopeful. Hopeful that all lives matter, hopeful that change will come. I agree with what Kerry said above. Protesting in ways that block traffic on a major highway is not in the best interest of those who, rightly so, are outraged at this verdict. What it does promote is more anger. People cannot get to hospitals etc. they become angry with the protesters and thus whatever message was meant to be conveyed is lost in the vitriol of loud and angry protesting. What is a right way to protect? I haven’t an answer. Protest is good. I was brought up in a decade of protest. Martin Luther King Jr is a steller example of the need to protest. He and others did it peacefully (yet look at their treatment for doing so). The verbiage, anger of today is very different than back then. Mr. Castile should be alive. No question in my mind. I shall continue to pray for justice, peace, communication, understanding, tolerance.

  7. Sadly, police officers are often forced to make split-second, life-and-death decisions every day. The public, by and large, has no true understanding of this.

    While being acquitted by the judicial system, Yanez will essentially have to live looking over his shoulder with a target on his back for the rest of his life. He is neither African American nor Caucasian. He is Mexican American.

    While law-abiding citizens have the right to peaceful assembly and protest,blocking traffic on the interstate, acts of vandalism, looting and violence are NOT acceptable. Such actions do not SOLVE problems, only exacerbate them.

    Unfortunately, i fear some will not be satisfied unless or until Yanez himself is killed. He is human being with a wife and child.

    ALL lives matter.

    1. Kerry i don’t think you understand its not black lives matter because black lives matter more or all lives don’t matter. A better name for black lives matter would be black lives matter too because apparently if your a black man you have a higher chance of jail and excessive force from police officers

  8. When ever anyone loses their life, it is a travesty. We are all made in the image of God and that is sacred. Criminals should be held responsible for their criminal acts no matter who they are. The reaction to the verdict, including this article, indicate that justice was not done in this case. Is it clear that the facts of the case were ignored to give the not guilty decision? I have not followed this case close enough to know.

    Regardless of the answer, much of your article is applicable. Empathy, concern, and listening all need to be involved. However, is there a piece that can be different depending on the answer to the above question?

    If justice was not served, as the cultural majority, is there a place to pressure the powers that be to change? What went wrong in the trial? Etc.

    If justice was served, it seems to me that, at least in this piece, our response would be different. Why was the policeman aquitted? What circumstances led up to the not guilty verdict?

    As one who was born and raised in the Cities, this unrest is hurtful and sickens me. No one should in general be afraid of the police. That being said, not all behavior is acceptable by citizens or by the police. Is it clear to which side the facts of this case point?

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