Black Lives Matter: Local perspectives on the death of Philando Castile

 

On July 6, at 9:04 p.m., Officer Jeronimo Yanez of the St. Anthony Police Department radioed in that he was pulling over a white Oldsmobile in Falcon Heights, north of  St. Paul. “The two occupants just look like people that were involved in a robbery. The driver looks more like one of our suspects, just because of the wide-set nose.”


The car stopped on Larpenteur Avenue and Fry Street in front of the state fairgrounds. Its occupants were on their way home from the grocery store: 32-year-old Philando Castile, his partner Diamond Reynolds, and Reynold’s four-year-old daughter in the backseat.


One minute and 43 seconds after the traffic stop was called in, Reynolds switched on the video function of her cell phone and began streaming live on Facebook.


Castile is slumped next to her, moaning softly, blood staining his white t-shirt. Yanez is pointing his gun in the car window and repeatedly screaming, “Fuck!”


Reynolds speaks into the camera.“We got pulled over for a busted taillight in the back, and the police...they killed my boyfriend. He’s licensed to carry. He was trying to get out his ID and his wallet outta his pocket, and he let the officer know that he had a firearm and that he was reaching for his wallet and the officer just shot him.”


“Keep your hands where they are,” Yanez tells her.


“I will, sir, no worries, I will.”


Yanez begins screaming, “Fuck!” over and over again, then says (apparently to the other officer present), “I told him not to reach for it! I told him to get his head up!”


Reynolds replies,“You told him to get his ID, sir, his driver’s license...You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration.”


Reynolds is ordered out of the car, to approach the officer backwards and then get down on her knees. She is handcuffed and drops her phone, but it continues recording. Reynolds and her daughter are put in a patrol car and the phone is returned to them. Reynolds begins telling the story again and starts to cry. “It’s ok, Mommy,” her daughter says. “It’s ok, I’m right here with you.”


The shooting is currently under investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

 

 

Every. Twenty-Eight. Hours.

Henry Banks has been a community leader, community organizer, and social justice activist in the Twin Ports for more than 25 years. He is the producer and host of People of Color with Henry Banks, a talk show on Wisconsin Public Radio.
Born and raised in St. Joseph, Missouri, he is an alumnus of St. Joseph Central High School and the University of Minnesota-Political Science/Psychology. He was co-founder and first co-chair of the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial Project. He served the City of Duluth for eight years as a Planning Commissioner. He is a nationally certified anti-racism educator, trainer, and organizer with Crossroads Chicago and People’s Institute New Orleans. He was selected by the Knight Foundation as a Community Catalyst representing the Duluth area.
He was one of the major forces behind development of the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Multicultural Center and Programs. Over the past year, he served as a cultural consultant with the Heritage Publishing Group and the Council on Minnesotans of African Heritage in St. Paul. He is a member of the NAACP, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Planning Committee, Superior Juneteenth Committee, Duluth YMCA Community Services Board, and is a volunteer at the Damiano Center. He is a recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major for Peace Award, the Clayton Jackson McGhie Service Award, and a special commendation from Twin Cities Public Television for community activism.


Henry Leon Banks

We as Americans must come together as one, united in our hearts and minds to treat everyone with respect, integrity, and dignity. We are obligated to acknowledge and affirm the humanity of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the five Dallas police officers, and countless others who have lost their lives.

 

America is in a deep state of mourning; we are in deep sorrow. We cannot forget the many families needing our prayers and support as they deal with the loss of loved ones. We must try to understand the fullness of their pain—yes, we are all in pain—yes, we are all struggling.


The wounds of racism and hatred in America are deep and require a special type of surgery with a complete reconstruction in order to start healing. In order to deal with the ugliness that is consuming our country, we must be willing to sit down together as a loving community—not just on National Night Out, but as often as possible.


Every 28 hours, a person of African heritage is killed extrajudicially by someone sanctioned by the state. Every 28 hours. Just take the time to step back and listen to our pain as African heritage people. Listen and acknowledge the pain of our Latino, Native American, and other brothers and sisters. We are all in pain. All of us. We cannot be complicit in the continual injustices. We cannot continue living like this. It does not feel like America anymore.


As an African heritage man in Duluth, I have been stopped by police three times for walking while black. Once by the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Department and the other two times by the Duluth Police. I was stopped because of my heritage. There was no other reason. I have never been in jail and my record is as clean as they come. Yet I remain a target of law enforcement because I am a man with a dark skin tone. It doesn’t matter what your title is. It doesn’t matter what neighborhood you live in. It doesn’t matter how much money you earn. If you are a man of African heritage, you are an immediate target.


I fear the police because I know their intentions are not to do right by me and that many of them hold a white supremacist ideology, which says if you are white, you are somehow endowed with special privileges that no other group has the right to enjoy. That has to change before we will have the opportunity to heal. We must look upon each other as a part of the human race.


Why are we so separated by race when there is no such thing as race? Race is a human construct, designed to elevate one group at the expense of all others. Since there is no such thing as race, why do we have so much racism in our country and in our communities?  


Civil rights activist Ella Baker once said, “Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, is as important as the killing of white mothers’ sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.”


When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous, but terror to evildoers.

Psalm 21:15


It’s all about being a part of the human family. We become part of the human family by working together to build a just and righteous community for all.


Oh, my God, not another one!

Kassie Standing Bear is a mother of five and grandmother of 12, who resides in Duluth. She is an Oglala Lakota woman whose family comes from the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota. She currently serves on the Duluth Indigenous Commission.

Kassie Standing Bear

On the evening of July 6, I was checking Facebook. One of my friends was posting pictures and video from Falcon Heights where she was “holding space with others” because they didn’t know what else to do. They were at the place where Philando Castile had been killed by a police officer only hours before.


All I could think was, “Oh, my God, not another one! Not another person of color killed by the police!” I cried watching the video posted by Diamond Reynolds, feeling horror, disgust, confusion, and anger that this man’s life was taken from him while his family watched.


He did everything right. He had his permit to carry a gun. He informed the officer like he was supposed to. But he still died—why? I was in a vehicle driven by a Caucasian friend a couple years ago when he got pulled over for a broken taillight. He had a permit and he was carrying. He did the same thing Philando Castile tried to do—informed the officer and then showed him his permit as well as his license and registration. My friend didn’t get shot. His family didn’t have to watch him die.


While the two of them talked, I sat in the passenger seat, terrified of what the officer might do. My friend even showed the officer his gun. My friend saw I was holding my breath. He laughed and told me to relax. He didn’t understand that I couldn’t relax. History—both recent and distant—has taught us that we will be treated differently, that we are more likely to go to jail or be beaten or shot.


We’re supposed to teach children to trust the police, to find an officer if they are lost or in trouble, to dial 911 in an emergency. But not our children. Minority children learn that if we get pulled over to keep our hands in plain sight. Don’t speak. Don’t move. Don’t reach for anything. Don’t make eye contact, and pray that they don’t hurt or kill you. Why is it different for our children?


By no means am I saying that all police officers are bad or racist. I actually believe most officers are there to serve and protect and they do the right thing. But some are racist, just like there are racist individuals in all parts of society. It hurts to realize that someone might shoot or beat you simply because your skin is a different color.


African Americans are only 13 percent of the population, but they are victims in 26 percent of police shootings. Natives are 0.8 percent of the population, but 1.9 percent of the victims in police shootings. According to a report from the Lakota People’s Law Project, “Native American men are admitted to prison at four times the rate of white men and Native women at six-fold the rate of white women. Additionally, Native Americans are the racial group most likely to be killed by law enforcement.”


Why do the media not report this? What makes the killing of Natives less important than other ethnicities? I don’t have that answer. I also don’t know why human life, regardless of color, has so little value that ending a life has become so common.

 

What I do know is that more killing is not the answer. Killing police officers will not bring back Philando Castile and it dishonors his memory. The violence has to stop. Stereotyping people because of their skin color or their profession has to stop.


In 2011, my 22-year-old cousin was shot by police. He died in the street. When I learned of his death, I was angry and afraid. Another one of my people killed—who’s next? In that case, the police were justified, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. I still picture his smiling face as a little boy, covered in dirt from playing. In my sleep, however, that smiling face changes into the cold, lifeless stare of a young man covered in blood, dead way too soon.


Thousands of us watched as Philando Castile took his last breaths and we cried with his family as they watched him die. I believe that video made it more real. He wasn’t just a statistic. He was a man with a fiancé and a stepdaughter, who celebrated birthdays and went to work, who was doing everything that he was told to do and he was still shot down for no reason.


Watching him die has opened people’s eyes to the reality facing us. We need to never forget that Philando Castile is one of many minorities who die at the hands of those who are sworn to serve and protect, not to execute.


It’s ok, we’re right here with you

Mark Langenfeld was born and raised in Minnesota and currently works as a psychology instructor at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Superior. He holds a doctorate in clinical psychology from Alliant International University in Fresno, California. He volunteers in various capacities, including at the Damiano Center. He prefers to be referred to as “human.”  

Mark C. Langenfeld

I believe I was meant to be in St. Paul visiting friends the day Philando Castile was shot to death during a routine traffic stop. The next day, my friends and I heard on the news. We were all horrified and angered by the video of him, moaning in agony as he bled to death. Our anger turned to heartache when we realized the little girl in the backseat had witnessed the entire horrific thing.


My friends and I knew we had to do something to show support and compassion to all those who were hurting from this needless killing. We couldn’t just sit there passively on the couch and watch the news. As soon as we heard there was going to be a peaceful march from the St. Paul elementary school where Philando worked to the Governor’s Mansion, we were out the door.  


At the vigil, I was surprised to see so many families with their children—many of whom were students at the school and knew Philando. The children described him as their friend. They held their little hands up in the air and said, “Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot.” My jaw dropped when I saw the hurt look on their faces. Will they ever be the same? How much psychological damage did they suffer?


Back at my friend’s house, we kept watching the news. Whenever reporters talked about Diamond Reynold’s little girl, they kept saying she was “not hurt.” We shouted at the TV, “Yes, she was!” Can you imagine how it would have affected you to witness that kind of violence when you were only four years old?


When children are that deeply traumatized, they usually experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. They might have nightmares, bedwetting, flashbacks of the traumatic event, anxiety surrounding anything that reminds them of the event, fear of death, loss of appetite, disruption in their usual sleep pattern, etc.


What affects one person affects us all. We are all human beings. In that way, we are all one big human family. I think of everyone as a member of my global family—including Philando Castile. When he died, a member of my global family died. That’s what caused me to take positive political action for peace, and I ask you to do the same.


What do you suppose would have been the outcome if those police officers had embraced the belief that we are all one family? Would they have been so quick to mistakenly perceive him as a threat and pull the trigger—four times?! If the officers had viewed Philando as a brother, would they have waited so long before administering first aid as he bled to death still wearing his seat belt? Did those police officers think of Philando as one of their own or as an outsider? Did his life really matter to them?


If we are to think of each other as members of one global family, then we need to also think of police officers as our brothers and sisters. That may be hard to do when you are angry and hurting. However, if we are going to practice peace, we need to let go of our negative energy and embrace all people. The police need to be held accountable, but still we need to recognize that they are human beings, too. They hurt, suffer, and need understanding as much as you do.


Police across the nation need to be trained in empathy. They need to treat everyone with compassion, not aggression. They need to go out into the community and shake hands and get to know people, so they become a friendly face rather than just a uniform.


The public also has a role to play in this. We can help facilitate a peaceful community by being respectful to the police and to each other. We need to stop thinking of everyone in terms of black and white skin. We are all just a different shade of brown—some lighter, some darker.


Of course, I am not turning a blind eye to the fact that there are different ethnicities and cultures, but when you get right down to it, there is only one race—the human race. Society created these racial barriers, and we can tear them down if we work together.


The other day I was walking through my backyard when I looked up and saw a hawk. I thought of Philando Castile and how his spirit is now free. As soon as I had that thought, the hawk let out a glorious screech. That’s all the confirmation I needed that Philando is at peace.

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