What Happened to Philando Castile?

Demonstrators hold signs across the street from the scene of a Wednesday night shooting in Falcon Heights, Minn., Thursday, July 7, 2016. Philando Castile was shot in a car Wednesday night in the largely middle-class St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights. Police have said the incident began when an officer initiated a traffic stop in suburban Falcon Heights but have not further explained what led to the shooting. (Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via AP)

Let’s discuss this soberly.

What We Think We Know: That Philando Castile was reaching for his concealed carry permit when a police officer — who had pulled over him and his girlfriend Lavish Reynolds (who was driving the car) for a busted taillight — shot him three times.

What We Don’t Know: What actually happened before Castile was shot.

What We Saw on the Video: Quite a lot. I’ll list what I think are the important points.

• The police officer kept himself a safe distance from the car, weapon still drawn and pointed at Castile.

• Castile was, at least from Reynolds’ point of view from the driver’s seat, bleeding out.

• Reynolds is one impressive woman. During the worst of the shooting, watching her boyfriend die during a routine traffic stop, she kept her cool.

• The police officer, shouting at a dying man, did not appear to have kept his cool.

Let me tell you what impressed me most about Lavish Reynolds, and what indicates to me that Castile was probably behaving lawfully, and that the officer badly misread Castile’s intent. And I’ll reiterate that this is only a preliminary impression based on Reynolds’ reaction.

If you’ve taken any kind of concealed carry safety course, you have been instructed to refer to your pistol as a “firearm” and never a “weapon” or “gun.” “Weapon” contains an implied threat that you intend to use it as such. “Gun” is police code, as it were, for a bad guy’s weapon — as in “GUN! Everybody duck and start shooting!”

When you are legally carrying, you refer to your pistol as a “firearm” so as not to alarm the police when you inform them that you are carrying, and to indicate that you have received proper training. The word “firearm” is supposed to help put the officer at ease in a tense situation.

Throughout the video, Reynolds refers to Castile’s pistol as a firearm. That might be a small detail, but it is a compelling one. Reynolds kept her calm and used the proper language in a life and death situation. I’m inclined to believe then that she has had some kind of firearms training. When she says at the start of the video that “He’s licensed to carry, he was trying to get out his ID,” I’m inclined to believe that, too.

What the video doesn’t show is how Castile was pulling out his license. Was he as cool and calm as Reynolds? Was he moving quickly? Had he used the word “gun” or “weapon” when telling the police officer that he was carrying? Was he following instructions? Were those instructions lawful?

We just don’t know, but there are some things we may reasonably conjecture — subject, of course, to whatever new evidence may come out later.

According to Reynolds in the video, Castile had “never been in jail, anything. He’s not a gang member, anything.” Add that to the calm, good sense, and tactical knowledge demonstrated by Reynolds, and my inclination is to believe that Castile’s behavior during the initial phase of the traffic stop was also lawful and proper.

We should learn more when (if?) the police officer’s dash cam footage is released. It would be even better if there’s body cam video, but I don’t know if local police wear those or not.

I also don’t know what procedure is in this situation, nor do I know what type of ammunition the officer was using. I would think that the officer was using hollow-point rounds, meaning that Castile’s fate was probably sealed when three (four?) bullets entered his upper arm and/or torso from short range. Should the officer have rendered medical assistance to a bleeding man? Should he have allowed someone else to? Would it have made a difference?

So many unknowns.

Maybe we’ll learn that Castile was threatening the police officer. Maybe he was on drugs or behaving otherwise badly. Maybe he was reaching for his firearm instead of his license, and drew it quickly enough to scare the officer. But there’s nothing, either from Castile’s history or from Reynolds’ behavior at the scene, to indicate any of those things. From what we can see and hear, the police officer fucked up badly, and now a decent man is dead.

But what we can see and hear doesn’t tell the whole story, so there’s no sense in shouting “RACIST COP!” or “CRIMINAL BLACK MAN!” just to please an audience — let’s leave that to the paranoiacs and the race hustlers of both sides.

One thing I can say with near certainty, however. Lavish Reynolds seems like one helluva woman, smart and cool — and however it came about, she didn’t deserve to watch her boyfriend die sitting next to her in her car.

CORRECTION? Her Facebook page says Lavish Reynolds, but CNN reports her name as Diamond Reynolds.