Amid the national fury over the death of Philando Castile at a traffic stop in July – a shooting made more horrific by his girlfriend’s Facebook Live broadcast of his final moments – some condemned the National Rifle Association’s near silence on the matter.
The organization had been quick to defend other gun owners who made national news. Castile had a valid permit for his firearm, reportedly told the officer about it to avoid a confrontation, and was fatally shot anyway after being told to hand over his license.
So some NRA members were furious when the organization released a tepid statement, more than a day after the shooting, that merely called it “troublesome” and promised that “the NRA will have more to say once all the facts are known.”
A year later, the investigation is over and many more facts are known. Police recordings and court records confirmed initial reports that Castile had tried to defuse the situation, assuring the officer that he wasn’t reaching for his weapon.
So, some gun rights advocates are once again furious.
And the NRA still has nothing to say.
The Washington Post couldn’t find any statement from the organization about the verdict in Castile’s case, and the organization did not respond to requests for comment Sunday.
Phillip Smith, who leads the National African American Gun Association, said he hasn’t seen any NRA statements since July.
“And I’ve been reading pretty diligently,” he said. “It troubles me tremendously when I see a young man following the rules, doing what he’s supposed to be doing, and there’s still no accountability from a legal perspective.”
The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus told the Associated Press that the jury had effectively told African Americans that “the Second Amendment does not apply to them.”
A writer for Slate also received no response from the NRA when he wrote about the officer’s acquittal, prompting him to write: “If Castile had been white instead of black, the NRA would have been rallying behind him and his family since the moment of his death, and fundraising off his memory for the rest of time.”
A year ago,the NRA’s own members were calling out the organization, as The Washington Post wrote. “What do I pay fees for if you do not represent gun owners and our rights?” one wrote on the group’s Facebook page.
As described in a criminal complaint from Yanez’s trial, the first moments of Castile’s traffic stop ring true to Smith’s experience as a black gun owner.
“Black men are feared in this country,” he said. “They put their hands on their gun and say, ‘Don’t make any sudden movements.’ “
Smith said he knows the unspoken rules of any police encounter – rules that go beyond laws and constitutional rights.
“Definitely don’t move at all,” he said, keep your hands on the steering wheel, “take baby steps with the officer until they’re comfortable.”
In Castile’s case, according to the complaint, he told Yanez, “I’m not pulling it out” – a few seconds before the officer drew his own gun and killed Castile.
“We should all carry a gun now,” Smith said. “We all have that right. We’re not going to let a rogue officer or a rogue legal decision sway us.”
Anger about the officer’s acquittal has managed to unite critics from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.
The National Review’s David French, for instance, once wrote that “it’s hard to recall a political movement built on more verifiable lies and misinformation than Black Lives Matter.”
But after the Yanez verdict, French’s opinion matched that of Black Lives Matter protesters. He wrote of the officer: “Whether he panicked because of race, simply because of the gun, or because of both, he still panicked, and he should have been held accountable.”
He added: “The jury’s verdict was a miscarriage of justice.”
And still, nothing from the normally vocal NRA, which once released a statement two days after a mass shooting in Orlando: “Destroy radical Islam, not the right of law-abiding Americans to protect themselves.”
But nothing is clear cut when it comes to guns and race in the United States, said Nicholas Johnson, who lectures on both at Fordham Law School, and wrote a book called “Negroes and the Gun,” and is a black gun owner.
The NRA has championed black gun rights heroes before, Johnson notes – such as Otis McDonald, who fought Chicago’s handgun ban.
In return, he said, the group was accused of exploiting civil rights issues.
On the other hand, he said, gun owners were still “perceived to be kind of an odd minority” within the black community – not exactly a constituency worth angering police over.
“Your political calculation, I think, at the NRA is: OK, so we can come to the rhetorical aid of moderately despised contingent of a minority that already doesn’t like us,” Johnson said. “What’s the upside?”