In July, just a few miles from my home in St. Paul, Minn., Philando Castile was fatally shot by a police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, during a traffic stop.

A horrified nation watched Castile’s death play out live on Facebook, as his girlfriend had the presence of mind to livestream and narrate the final moments of his life. Soon after, we learned Castile was a beloved cafeteria manager at an elementary school. He had no criminal record, and his only previous interactions with police were the endless harassment he was subject to thanks to abusive policing for profit.

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Yesterday, we found out Officer Yanez will face criminal charges for his actions, specifically, second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.

Though it’s too soon so say how this trial will go, just the fact that it is happening is great news. I’m glad to see my city providing a better (though certainly not perfect) model of dealing with police misconduct.

And that model is badly needed, because far too many police killing cases simply dissolve into nothing. No charges are ever brought or real accountability ever offered. Those few officers who are charged are almost never convicted — just look at what happened with Freddie Gray in Baltimore or, so far, Eric Garner in Staten Island.

The cops who killed these men walked away scot-free.

For Philando Castile’s family, justice may be possible. The decision to bring charges was made by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, who gave a compelling account of his choice at the press conference Wednesday.

“The totality of the circumstances indicate that Officer Yanez’s use of deadly force against Philando Castile during the July 6 death was not necessary,” he said, “was objectively unreasonable and was inconsistent with generally accepted police practices.”

“To those of you who may say this incident was Philando Castile’s fault, I would submit that no reasonable officer — knowing, seeing and hearing what officer Yanez did at the time — would have used deadly force under these circumstances,” Choi continued. “I have given officer Yanez every benefit of the doubt on his use of deadly force, but I cannot allow the death of a motorist who was lawfully carrying a firearm under these facts and circumstances to go unaccounted for.”

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Choi’s decision to opt for accountability and fairness can’t be commended enough. As Castile’s mother, Valerie, said the morning after her son’s death, police must be held to the same standard as everyone else or deaths like Castile’s will just keep happening. A two-tiered justice system in which police can walk away from violence that would land a regular person in jail is no justice system at all.

“These police officers need to be held accountable for their wrongdoing,” she said. “If you made a mistake, you made a mistake, and you need to suffer the consequences. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you. We need checks and balances.”

For Philando Castile, these charges mean we might actually get it.

The charges against Philando Castile’s killer are a model of police accountability done right Philando Castile Facebook Screenshot
Bonnie Kristian is a columnist at Rare, weekend editor at The Week, and a fellow at Defense Priorities. You can find more of her work at or follow her on Twitter @bonniekristian
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