The System Failed Us All: The Castile Verdict is a Feminist Issue

Jeronimo Yanez has been found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile at a traffic stop in St. Paul last July. This decision, one of many in which police officers have been acquitted for killing black men, rings out as an example of the failures of a political and judicial system that upholds whiteness and minimizes police accountability.

And Valerie Castile, Philando’s mother, knows it. “The system continues to fail black people,” she declared in a press conference today, “and it will continue to fail you all.”

In addition to emphasizing our societal responsibility to fight anti-blackness and racial profiling in America, Yanez’s acquittal, and the acquittals of many others, reminds us that police violence is a feminist issue—one which hurts and marginalizes women.

The killings of young black men not only hurt black women and mothers—women themselves are also assaulted and killed by police officers, cases which often go unreported. According to The Washington Post, 11 black women were shot and killed by police in 2016. Since 1999, 20 percent of unarmed people killed by police were black women. When it comes to black women being killed at the hands of police brutality, many are not given the attention and outrage they deserve.

But even outside of these cases of direct violence, police brutality also limits black women’s reproductive rights. Ensuring that women are not afraid that their children will be killed is a fundamental factor in reproductive justice—and one that cannot be promised to black mothers.

Castile’s mother, Valerie, has been vocal about the injustice of the ruling and how it is symptomatic of the systemic racism that leaves so many black people without justice. And although this case is unique in that Yanez is a Latino man of color, and the attorney who decided to charge Yanez, John Choi, is a Korean-American, the prevalence of ultimately acquitted white police officers undergoing trials with white prosecutors and judges leaves all police officers as beneficiaries in an unjust system of power. In Yanez’s case, the jury that acquitted him was comprised of two black people and 10 white people.

Girlfriends, wives and children inevitably become entwined in these killings as well. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, filmed the incident through Facebook Live after Castile was shot five times, and the video played a crucial role in inciting immediate outrage and in the trial itself. Reynolds’s four-year-old daughter was sitting in the back seat. Last August, Korryn Gaines was killed and her five-year-old son was shot by police raiding her apartment on an outstanding traffic charge. In 2010, seven-year-old Aiyana Jones was shot to death by police raiding her home searching for her aunt’s boyfriend, murder suspect Chauncey Owens.

Reproductive justice, threatened motherhood and violence against women and children all come into play in the complex aftermath of racial profiling and police brutality, and these injustices are only exacerbated by how little coverage and dialogue these issues receive. And it is exactly these systemic failures—past, present and future—that should stir us to examine these intersections and support black women when the system will not.

feature image via Basil-Malik / Creative Commons


Maddie Kim is a former Editorial Intern at Ms. studying English and creative writing at Stanford. Her poetry and prose have been recognized by the Norman Mailer Center, Princeton University, Sierra Nevada Review and Adroit Prizes. She is a prose reader for The Adroit Journal. When she’s not writing, she likes tap dancing and taking blurry photos of her dogs. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.