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Police Shootings Highlight Risks For African-Americans Who Carry Guns


There is anger and disbelief over the police shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in St. Paul, Minn. When President Obama arrived in Poland where he will be attending a NATO summit, he had this to say.


BARACK OBAMA: This is not just a black issue. It's not a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue that we should all care about. All fair-minded people should be concerned.


We're trying to sort out what drove a police officer in suburban St. Paul, Minn., to kill a black driver during a routine traffic stop last night. Today, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said the race of the victim, Philando Castile, had something to do with it.


MARK DAYTON: Would this have happened if those passengers - the driver or the passengers - were white? I don't think it would have, so I'm forced to confront and I think all of us are sort of forced to confront this kind of a - racism exists.

SIEGEL: Dayton has called for a federal investigation into the police shooting last night that stunned the nation. It is the second time in as many days that a governor has called for this kind of help. The feds have already agreed to investigate the police shooting of a black man in Louisiana.

NPR's Martin Kaste has more. And this warning - we will hear sounds from videos of these incidents in Martin's report.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Yesterday, the bloody images came from Baton Rouge where a black man named Alton Sterling was shot dead during an altercation with police. This morning, it was a surreal Facebook video from Falcon Heights, Minn., which starts moments after an officer has shot a black driver during a traffic stop.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Keep your hands where they are.

DIAMOND REYNOLDS: Yes, I will, sir. I'll keep my hands where they are.

KASTE: That's Diamond Reynolds. She's in the passenger seat holding the phone, while her boyfriend is stretched out next to her covered with blood.


REYNOLDS: Please, officer, don't tell me that you just did this to him. You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir.

KASTE: Outside the car still holding his gun, the officer seems just as stunned by what's happened.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand up.

PETER MOSKOS: It's revealing the reaction of the cop afterward.

KASTE: That's Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore cop who now teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Based on everything we know right now, he says, the officer in Minnesota had no reason to shoot.

MOSKOS: He just said he moved and probably moved in where he was compliant. He was moving in reaction to a request from the officer, perhaps. But, I mean, you simply can't shoot that quickly. If you do, you're going to murder an innocent guy.

KASTE: He thinks the Minnesota case is more obviously a bad shoot than Louisiana where there are still a lot we don't know about what led up to the incident. We do know that police were responding to a report that Sterling had threatened someone with a gun. There was a gun in Minnesota, too, but so far there's been no suggestion that it was illegal or used in a menacing way. In fact, Diamond Reynolds says her boyfriend tried to warn the officer that he was armed. On the route this morning, activist Preston Mitchum wrote about what he sees as the double standard for blacks who carry guns.

PRESTON MITCHUM: Disgust is what really hits me - the fact that someone could be doing exactly what the law says to do, literally telling the police officer I'm going into whatever to get to my license and registration. Just to let you know, I have a permit to carry this weapon, and I have a weapon on me. You know, and it's like the result still happens.

KASTE: But Rick Ector does not see this. He's a black man who's been carrying a concealed pistol where he lives for 10 years.

RICK ECTOR: I honestly believe that the city of Detroit treats everyone the same.

KASTE: Ector says the Minnesota video is disturbing, but he thinks everybody who carries a gun has to be careful when stopped by the police.

ECTOR: Talk him through it, take it slow. He wants me to leave it in the vehicle, and he can come to the vehicle while I'm out of the vehicle and get that firearm so that there's no misunderstandings as to what's happened.

KASTE: Former cop Peter Moskos is also not convinced that this is purely a question of race. For instance, he says, research shows that people tend to get shot by cops more often in states with gun cultures.

MOSKOS: There are huge regional differences in police-involved shootings. California has a rate that's many times higher than New York State or Michigan or New Jersey, and we don't know why that is.

KASTE: But there are also places with a lot of guns where these shootings don't happen as much. And Moskos says ultimately this may come down to police training. Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.