“Honestly, I thought that I felt all I could feel about this story,” Trevor Noah said during Wednesday’s episode of The Daily Show, as he sat solemnly next to a picture of Philando Castile for the third time this week, “until I got home, and I watched a newly released video.”
The host was referring to the police dash-cam footage that was made public for the first time on June 20, a few days after Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who shot and killed Castile last July, was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter.
As Noah warned his audience before playing it, the video — which was shown to jurors during Yanez’s trial — is graphic, and disturbing.
After Officer Yanez politely informs Castile that he’s been pulled over for a broken taillight and asks for Castile’s license and insurance, Castile calmly discloses that he has a firearm (Castile had a permit to carry the gun). Then the situation rapidly devolves. Yanez places his hand on his holster and tells Castile not to reach for the gun; within a few seconds, Yanez is yelling “Don’t pull it out!” as Castile and his girlfriend try to assure Yanez that no one is grabbing for it. Then Yanez fires seven times into the car.
Though Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, had previously streamed the immediate aftermath of the shooting on Facebook live, the moment of the shooting itself was not made available to the public until this week.
“I won’t lie to you, when I watched this video, it broke me,” Noah said. “It just — it broke me.” Noah continued to say that seeing a little girl (Reynolds’s then 4-year-old daughter, who was in the backseat) climb out of the car after Castile was shot broke his heart “into little pieces.”
Part of the irony of this verdict, Noah explained, is that it comes after years of people saying that the solution to unwarranted police shootings is to require police to wear body cameras, to eliminate any doubt about what had happened. “Black people have already taken that initiative, all right?” Noah said. “Thanks to cellphones, every black person has a body cam now” — and for Castile, neither a dashcam nor a cellphone mattered.
Even worse, Noah went on with palpable horror, is that the jury of Castile’s fellow citizens did see this footage, and concluded that Officer Yanez had reason to claim self-defense. “Forget race,” Noah said. “Are we all watching the same video? The video where a law-abiding man followed an officer’s instructions to the letter of the law and was killed regardless? People watched that video, and then voted to acquit?”
And as Noah pointed out, the jury also saw Reynolds’s Facebook Live video, in which she sits next to Castile’s body and still manages to call the officer “sir” as she agrees to remain still.
“It’s fucking mindblowing ... that she has the presence of mind to be deferential to the policeman,” Noah said. “In that moment, the cop has panicked, but clearly, black people never forget their training.”
The jury [in Yanez’s trial] had to make a decision and that decision is, ‘Do you think this policeman was justified in thinking that his life was in danger?’ And their opinion, having watched that video, having listened to that exchange, they still said ‘Yes, yes, I can see why that cop was afraid.’
But why? ... Was it because Philando Castile was being polite? Was it because he was following the officer’s instructions? Was it because he was in the car with his family? Or was it because Philando Castile was black?
The segment, which you can watch in its entirety above, was part of Noah’s usually raucous opening monologue. His audience, which had been primed to laugh at Trump jokes not two minutes earlier, fell completely silent as Noah worked through his feelings, becoming more visibly frustrated and despairing with every word and offering no punchlines to alleviate the tension of this moment that so horrified him.
In other words, the clip is not your typical Daily Show fare — but it’s one of show’s most powerful moments in ages.