St. Paul, Minnesota (TFC)— Following a not guilty verdict for the officer who shot 32-year-old Philando Castile, large-scale protests have swallowed St. Paul. As militarized police clear streets, independent outlets join them and marchers documenting the drama.
Philiando Castile was killed last July by St. Anthony officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop. The slaying was livestreamed by Castile’s girlfriend, and subsequently went viral. During the stop, Castile–in the driver’s seat–told Yanez he was legally armed. He was then shot while, his girlfriend claims, reaching for his I.D as ordered.
In the video, the officer and Castile’s girlfriend argue over what had just happened. Both were shocked, particularly the shooting officer who continued pointing his gun.Yanez stated he told him to not move his hands while Castle’s girlfriend refuted saying he was following orders. All the while, a mortally wounded Philando goes limp as he bleeds out in the vehicle.
Yanez was ultimately charged with second-degree manslaughter for the shooting. According to New York Times, this marked a first for law enforcement in Minnesota. However, after five days of court proceedings, a jury cleared Yanez of the charges. According to the verdict, Castile’s death was justified simply because Yanez was afraid. Of what exactly is the question, especially if he had, in fact, asked Castile for I.D.
Now, images and livestreams relay scenes, not unlike the year of protest in 2016. Masses of sign-wielding people blocking roads and highways chanting familiar slogans. “No justice no peace”, “Black Lives Matter”, joined by other distraught citizens. Authorities have responded with riot police, militarized SWAT officers, armored vehicles, and surveillance.
Videographers from the outlet Unicorn Riot was on the ground in St. Paul filming protests intensify through the night. The collective, as of yet, has posted material on its Twitter @UR_Ninja, documented Friday night.
Namely, the handle displays images and footage captured of a march on St.Paul’s I-94 highway. Dozens of residents and activists gathered to shut down the highway over the acquittal of officer Yanez. In response, Minnesota authorities deployed a force of riot police, armored vehicles, and SWAT personnel.
Several aspects of Unicorn Riot’s coverage are noteworthy, as it relates to the officers themselves. One published picture showed an armored vehicle which–Unicorn Riot claims–is fitted with a LRAD.
Standing for Long Range Acoustic Device, it essentially allows police to weaponize sound. Although intended as a loudspeaker on steroids for broadcasting messages and warnings, LRAD can also be used for crowd control.
When used to disperse people, with piercing noise, LRAD poses a physical danger. It’s use was reported during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, though whether it was confirmed remains to be determined. Former Baltimore PD officer, activist, and founder of Veteran’s Stand Michael Wood Jr.–in a TFC exclusive–also mentioned LRAD use at DAPL.
Numerous other pictures showed riot police, and militarized officers pointing weapons at the camera.This reputedly became more common as authorities ordered protesters to disperse. Interestingly, one picture also showed an officer filming protesters with a hand-held camera.
This action has seen increasing use since DAPL, and was recommended in at least one after-action report. According to the document, authorities noted the necessity of controlling the media narrative with officer generated material. The report described DAPL coverage as “propaganda”, making police look like “agitators”. Post-DAPL, given Wisconsin’s after-action document, it would be expected for officers to exploit more media capabilities if another massive protest would arise. Perhaps that’s what we’re currently seeing in St. Paul.
This then begs the question of what else might happen in response to the Castile protests. One Unicorn Riot tweet claimed police-controlled surveillance planes were circling the city. The tweet included two pictures, one of the planes reputed path on google images, and another of its registration info. If the picture is accurate, then the plane Unicorn Riot is attributing to the circling is registered for Minnesota’s State Patrol.
Similar phenomenon have been reported since the Baltimore protests, and subsequent riots. In that case, it was discovered that FBI planes utilizing who knows what tech circled the city for days. Milwaukee’s riot saw similar aerial surveillance, though this was less reported. In fact, the author filmed this activity, posted it, but hasn’t seen other material.
What these planes are doing, and why media is so shy to report their use, is up to interpretation. It’s been speculated they may be outfitted with infrared imaging, or even cell site simulators. The latter, also known as IMSI catchers, or Stingray, create fake cell towers for devices to communicate with. Although an effective geo-locating method, IMSI can also be used to analyze calls or text messages. TFC is currently attempted to substantiate Unicorn Riots claim that surveillance planes were, in fact, active over St. Paul.
Regardless of anything, it’s apparent lessons are hard learned from the series of riots last year. Discontent and socio-political catharsis defined 2016, and only continued a similar era from 2015. How these will manifest as the future unfolds, especially under Trump’s Administration, will demonstrate what lessons were learned, and ignored.
More on this story as it develops.