Minnesota Gold Rush: There’s Gold in Them ‘Thar Hills!

With large bricks of gold on display at the First National Bank of Duluth and the St. Louis Hotel, there was no denying it. This was a genuine Minnesota Gold Rush! The noted geologist Dr. Matthew Stephenson would have been proud to confirm: “There’s gold in them thar hills” and “there’s millions in it.”

The prospector George W. Davis unleashed gold fever with his discovery of gold on the wooded, desolate Little American Island on Rainy Lake in July 1893. In his crew were prospectors who had found the enormous Homestake Mine twenty years before in the Black Hills. That mine was producing 25 percent of the world’s gold supply now and would generate a stunning 40 million troy ounces of gold until it closed in 2002.

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Police Officer Tasered By Colleague and Bit by Police Dog Chasing a Suspect

Most of us have had days at work that went from bad to worse. That is exactly what happened to one police officer last week while attempting to arrest a suspect in Northwest Minnesota.

At about 1:45 a.m. Wednesday morning, Officer Brad Browning pulled over 27-year-old Stephen J. Hietala in Dilworth, Minnesota because he had a headlight out on his vehicle. While checking up on Hietala’s record, he discovered that Hietala had an active warrant for his arrest from Otter Tail County for allegedly assaulting a peace officer.

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Philando Castile Dash Cam Video: Miscommunication, Confusion & Tragedy

Last Tuesday, June 20th, police dash cam video footage was released showing the shooting death of Philando Castile.

Castile was killed by Jeronimo Yanez, a St. Anthony police officer, during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights on July 6th of last year. Yanez was charged with manslaughter and of two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.

After a high profile trial, Yanez was found not guilty and acquitted on July 16th, 2017. This week, the city of St. Anthony agreed to pay a $2.995 million settlement to the Castile family trustee.

Here is the video: Warning: Graphic Content

In the wake of the video’s release, I watched/listened to/read commentary from plenty of experts, pundits, politicians and laypeople. While there are a wide array of opinions, two distinct clusters have emerged representing the most common and outspoken viewpoints.

These two opinion clusters—we’ll call them “tribes”—while viewing the exact same footage, seem to be wholly at odds in interpreting what happened in the video and what it means in American society.

There is one tribe that says officer Yanez obviously got away with murder, was clearly negligent, and is likely part of larger epidemic of police racism. They point to the 49 times Philando Castile had been pulled over in the last 13 years; the undeniably terrible history of racism and discrimination in our country, much of which continues even to this day; the recent examples of police using deadly force toward African Americans like Michael Brown and Eric Garner. They say Castile’s death is further proof of a legacy of bigotry and violence perpetuated against minorities by law enforcement.

Then there is another other tribe that says Officer Yanez was clearly just doing his job, and that Castile showed an obvious lack of common sense and failed to adhere to good protocol for how a citizen—of any race—ought to behave during a traffic stop when carrying a concealed weapon. They point to the postmortem toxicology report showing Castile had THC in his system, that Yanez reported to have seen smoke and smelled marijuana while approaching the vehicle, and say Castile’s failure to created a dangerous situation out of what could have been a routine traffic stop.

These are, roughly, the same two tribes with which you are probably familiar if you follow cases like these. As per usual, both seem very certain of their view and equally certain the other tribe is wrong.

I don’t understand either tribe’s certainty in regard to what this particular video shows in this particular case.

Call me naive or stupid (or worse), but as far I can tell, we can’t see the definitive moment in the exchange. We can’t see what Castile was doing—or what Yanez could have reasonably perceived Castile to be doing—at the moment this video turned from relative calm to deadly chaos. We don’t have a video angle into the vehicle from Yanez’s point of view just prior to the shooting.

We don’t know what happened in the most crucial moments; we can’t know. We only can infer, while admitting ignorance of the facts we don’t possess.

When I watch the video, I see profound confusion between two young men—Castile was 32; Yanez just 28—which escalates quickly into urgency and panic. I see people misunderstanding and talking past each other. And then, because the resulting confusion involves guns, tension rapidly balloons and someone gets killed.

Watching more closely, it appears Yanez almost instinctively bends down and reaches into the vehicle just prior to firing his weapon (~1:14 in the video). First he pleas, with increasing urgency (“Don’t reach for it, then.” then “Don’t pull it out.” then “Don’t pull it out!“), for Castile not to pull out the weapon he’s just voluntarily disclosed he has. Then Yanez crouches slightly, and reaches deep—as far as his arm will allow—into the car before opening fire with the gun in his other hand.

This is the sort of action one might expect if Yanez sincerely perceived Castile to be reaching for a gun. Was he making a last ditch effort to remove the threat he perceived sans violence before fatally wounding Castile?

Yanez could have been, and perhaps was, 1,000,000% mistaken, but it doesn’t make sense that anyone would instinctively make an effort to prevent someone from pulling out, say, a wallet. Instead, Yanez seems to honestly believe Castile is pulling out a weapon.

Maybe Yanez was too relaxed initially—too close to the vehicle and in the wrong position—and this contributed to a dangerous situation once Castile informed him of the weapon? Maybe Yanez was careless (or just poorly trained) in this way, and it directly contributed to Castile’s death?

Maybe we can criticize Yanez’s judgment and common sense? Why would Castile volunteer the fact he had a gun to a police office if he had any intent of firing it at that police officer? Why on earth would someone tell you they had a concealed gun only to ambush you with it less than ten seconds later?

Maybe we can go further and scrutinize Yanez’s temperament and composure? He certainly seemed panicked—maybe too panicked for the circumstances? Aren’t there personality tests that ensure only people who are capable of remaining calm in tense situations like these receive a badge and a gun?

I see lots of questions in this dashcam video—serious and important questions—but not many answers.

Certainly not the clear answers the lion’s share of members of the two opposing tribes defined above purport to see in stark, high definition. Rather, I watch the video, horrified and heartbroken for everyone involved, and questioning and imagining alternative routes this unfortunate interaction could have taken that would have led to less tragic outcomes.

I see mistakes that could have been avoided, not malevolence.

I don’t deny there exist deep societal issues in America, and implicit biases against people based on race (and class) are a real and serious problem, law enforcement notwithstanding. I do wonder if Yanez may have been, if only subconsciously, as panicked as he seemed because Castile was black, and if that directly contributed to the fatal outcome. And I do worry about situations like this being a microcosm of a subconscious systemic racism all across the country.

But we can’t even see into the vehicle in this video, let alone into Yanez’s mind.

So we can’t know with certainty what happened here and what it means in the larger narrative. And we ought not pretend otherwise.

Ultimately, from what is visible in the dash cam video of Philando Castile’s death at the hands of Jeronimo Yanez, I see primarily miscommunication and confusion, which combusted and ended in tragedy.

From what I can tell, my opinion is not represented by a very big, or very loud, tribe.


Images via: YouTube — Wikipedia — Fibonacci Blue

A Very Special Birthday: Torching America’s Best Transit System

All in all, June 19th, 1954, was a crazy day. Maybe surreal was a better word.

A regular at the Brass Rail bar on Hennepin sauntered outside and had to do a double take at the passing rail car. Could it be? That sure looked like Hubert Humphrey, our famous senator wearing a Twin Cities Rapid Transit (TCRT) motorman’s cap and driving the eight carriage Oak-Harriet street car toward St. Paul. And as the trailing cars swoosh past, they are filled with well-dressed civic leaders dining on chicken salad over white table cloth tables. The bar patron shook his head and darted back in the bar to get another drink and regain his bearings.

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Who Do You Trust? Comey or Trump?

Last Thursday, a reported 19.5 million people watched former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee on television. For context, this huge viewership number is roughly equivalent with this year’s NBA Finals, which have been among the most watched games in league history. (The 19.5 million viewers of the Senate hearing doesn’t include those who watched via live stream online. At their desks. At work. Like I did.)

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Sully in Cuba — Is This The Next Seminal Moment for Cuba Travel?

Not a bad deal — Key West-Havana for only $100 one way?

The brochure beckoning you to “Travel The Comfortable Way.” And then Vic Chenea, the airline representative, crowing about the wide wicker seats, sweeping glass windows and even free bags — before plying you with rum on the airline’s tab. Who wouldn’t jump on that type of personal service? You’re in and a convenient return time from Havana at 3:55 p.m. to boot. What could go wrong?

Well it started with the rain and low visibility out of Havana. And then wondering by 5:00 p.m. — isn’t the flight supposed to be one hour?

By 5:15 p.m. the pilot and mechanic are using binoculars to look for Florida and then asking if you can help find the Sand Key Lighthouse and its beacon? Minutes later, flying at low altitude, the pilot spots a tanker ship below. The co-pilot is writing out a message on stationary. OMG, message in a bottle? Instead, he affixes it to a large metal lever, wraps it in a cloth sack and then drops it out the window. You’ve got a good view from the seat behind him and watch incredulously as the package falls into the ocean and sinks.

What the hell type of procedure is this?

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$1 Billion US Bank Stadium Still Facing Building Issues

Construction on the $1 billion, “people’s stadium,” has been complete for almost a year now. The Vikings have already spent one season breaking fans’ hearts after starting 5-0 and plummeting to an 8-8 record. But despite the price tag, issues with the palace still persist.

The stadium, coined by many as the crown jewel of NFL stadiums, is still facing some of the same issues from when it opened — issues with exterior panels. The water leaking into the stadium was actually so significant that puddles accumulated in a women’s restroom, the concourse and a storage area.

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Our Relationship With Food and Getting Children “Into the Mix”

The Food Connection

A common factor of the American food system has been the industry that surrounds a food item and its production. While other countries have been influenced through the progression of mass production, America has also been influenced and has experienced a shift in their food relationships.

In the past, Americans farmed locally and had a close relationship to the production and consumption of their food items. Now, during the industrial economy of mass production, Americans and other global producers do not hold this close relationship to the production practices associated to their food.

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Minnesota Man Jumps His Car 210 Feet Over Open Water — Lands on Ice

In what is the scariest and most unbelievable story I’ve heard this month (including Kellyanne Conway’s claim that our microwaves can transform into cameras to spy on us), the Pioneer Press reports a Minnesota man launched his car off an embankment, clearing 210 feet of open water, then landing on the ice of Lake L’Homme Dieu in Alexandria.

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Kiss Off Minneapolis — Following the Mob to Tropical Paradise

Unlike the downtrodden accused on Dateline, Kid Cann (given name Isadore Blumenfeld) had no qualms whatsoever about taking the stand in his own murder trial. That several other witnesses fingered him for gunning down prominent newsman Walter Liggett, didn’t seem to deter him either.

Edith Liggett was clad in widow black from head to toe and devastatingly resolute from the witness stand:

“He was the man who handled the gun,” Edith Liggett said. “I saw him leaning out of the car and grinning as the gun spurted flame. It was Kid Cann.”

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