The officer kept his gun trained on Castile as he lay dying. YouTube

If Philando Castile had been killed in Washington state—shot to death by a cop who pulled his family over for a broken taillight—the officer could not be prosecuted under our state's deadly force law, which creates an extraordinarily high bar for any accountability.

Castile did everything the police say you are supposed to do. According to his girlfriend, who was in the car with him, he informed the officer that he was licensed to carry a firearm before reaching into his pocket for his wallet to retrieve his identification. He did this, according to his girlfriend, at the officer's request. He obeyed.

The officer—whose name we still don't know—shot him anyway. Video of the aftermath appears to show the officer nervous and on-edge, shouting, "Fuck!" as Castile lay dying.

Minnesota's police deadly force statute is straightforward: A cop can use deadly force "to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm." The justness of the killing does not hinge on how the officer thought or felt or how the officer perceived an alleged threat. There is nothing about whether the officer felt malicious or was acting in good or bad faith. It says an officer can use deadly force if he or she holds a "reasonable belief" the person will cause someone's death or inflict great bodily harm.

In Washington, however, under RCW 9A.16.040:

A public officer or peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable pursuant to this section.

There have been 213 killings by police officers in this state over the past decade, according to a Seattle Times analysis. But only one officer has ever faced charges. He was not convicted.

That Washington officer was Everett's Troy Meade, the Times reported. In 2009, Meade killed a 51-year-old drunken driver, shooting him in the back. The prosecution's case hinged on testimony from a fellow officer who said Meade was not in danger, and who quoted Meade as saying, "Enough is enough. Time to end this," before opening fire. Prosecutors believed they had a strong case. But Meade claimed he was afraid the car would back up and hit him. A jury found him not guilty. Everett police fired him, but there were no further consequences.

This is not to say that while Meade got off, the cop who killed Castile will surely go to jail. Federal law also presents a high bar to prosecuting officers. Minnesota's statute is in line with federal jurisprudence:

The key question at the center of these excessive force cases is “reasonableness”—not what is reasonable to you and me, but to a police officer. Writing on behalf of the court in Graham v. Connor, a landmark case regarding police violence, Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote, “the ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” The court went even further by couching the officer’s reasonableness in the likely context of “split-second judgments” and “in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.” The preemptive apologism of this language provides police with a wide breadth for mistakes or misconduct—and the public with little guarantee of even application. It fortifies the absurd idea that the hastiest of police actions is not only justifiable, it is eminently reasonable.

Still: Washington's deadly force law raises the bar even higher—an extreme outlier in a country that is already an outlier when it comes to the number of people killed by police. Amnesty International, the ACLU, and the Black Law Enforcement Association of Washington want the "malice" language removed and the state law to be reformed.

Black, Latino, and Native-American families affected by police violence in this state also want the law to change. Their signature-gatherers for statewide Initiative 873, which would remove "malice" and "good faith belief" from the law, will be at a vigil for Castile and Alton Sterling at Westlake Park tonight at 6 p.m.

The initiative is being called called the "John T. Williams Bill," to honor the woodcarver gunned down by Seattle police officer Ian Birk in 2010. In that case, King County prosecutors didn't even bother bringing charges. They knew they could not win.

Watch the video of Castile's death, if you can bear it. That officer may face charges in Minnesota, where the deadly force law rests on "reasonableness." But if the exact same thing happened in Washington—if the officer claimed to have feared for his life and didn't say anything hateful out loud—there's no way he would be prosecuted. At all.

You can channel your grief and energy into helping change the law right here in Washington. (At the local level of the Seattle Police Department, the reform process is a messy mixed bag, tied up by bickering entities and federal court). If the initiative passes and the law is changed, and something like Castile's killing does happen here—or happens here again—the officer could be held accountable. Some measure of justice could be done.