I've had some experience with being pulled over by law enforcement, but not recently, thank goodness. My pullovers have resulted in tickets for speeding and in kind warnings to get that taillight fixed or pay closer attention to my driving. But never did I fear being beaten or shot by an officer who pulled me over.
That's why the shooting death of Philandro Castile during a traffic stop is so shocking to me. I would never imagine that an officer would pull his weapon and shoot me as I sat in the driver's seat. Yet, it happened to Castile. It was captured on video. It inspired scores of protests. But the end result was this: Castile died after being pulled over because of a faulty taillight.
Righteous protests after the shooting devolved at times into a fiction that cops are fighting a war against black men. That is as false as any other racially charged conspiracy claim. There is no war, but there appears to be a lack of understanding and a lack of communication.
Castile was licensed to carry a firearm, and he told the officer that he had a firearm in the car. He may not have provided that explanation, however, in the manner prescribed in concealed-carry classes. The officer apparently heard the weapon explanation as a threat and saw Castile's reaching for his identification as reaching for a weapon. Was race — and perhaps fear of black males — a factor in the cop's misinterpretation? Probably.
This is a shooting that never should have happened. It is a situation when the service weapon never should have been drawn, unless, as some have suggested, the officer thought Castile was the armed robber he had been alerted about. But that scenario would have triggered a different protocol involving calling for backup and requiring the driver to exit the vehicle with his hands up.
The last time I was pulled over, the Wilson officer approached my car, touching the left rear fender as she walked to my window. (I assume she was marking the car with her fingerprint in case anything went wrong and my car had to be identified by her fingerprint.) She asked if I knew one taillight was out. I respectfully told her I didn't (which was the truth). She told me to get it fixed as soon as possible. I promised her I would, and she returned to her vehicle and drove on.
I went home, then to the store and bought a taillight bulb and replaced the burned-out bulb.
End of story.
But had I appeared threatening or belligerent — even short-tempered — things might have ended differently. Had my skin been darker AND my demeanor had been more confrontational, things almost assuredly would have ended differently.