Updated: July 06, 2020 10:53 PM
Created: July 06, 2020 10:27 PM
Hundreds gathered outside of St. Anthony Village City Hall on Monday to honor the life of Philando Castile four years after his death.
The 32-year-old was shot and killed by former St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez on July 6, 2016, during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights.
Prosecutors charged Yanez with second-degree manslaughter but a jury found him not guilty.
“My son he was a great man, he was a great individual with a wonderful personality,” said Valerie Castile, his mother. “He just doing what the man asked but instead he shot in that car and killed my baby. Those bullets just ricochet off every bone, every organ, just tore his body up inside and 12 civilized people said that was okay.”
Before he was shot, Philando Castile told Yanez he was legally carrying a weapon. According to the criminal complaint, Castile said he was not reaching for the gun but Yanez screamed “Don’t pull it out!” before firing seven shots at Castile.
His mother spoke to the crowd on Monday, describing how she prepared him for encounters with police.
“I did everything humanly possible to prepare my kids for this cruel world,” said Castile. “I said 'Baby, when you’re in a car with people and you have your weapon, tell the police officer you have the weapon so there won’t be no misunderstanding.' That was my rational thinking but obviously it didn’t matter.”
“His honesty, telling the truth, his integrity meant nothing it meant nothing,” she said.
Castile remembers her son as compassionate, finding joy in his job as a cafeteria worker and nutrition director.
“He found out early he wanted to serve the children,” she said. “Even though he didn’t have any biological children of his own, he had thousands and he loved those kids."
The crowd called for justice, chanting Philando Castile’s name. They surrounded Valerie Castile, pausing for five minutes of silence – one minute for each year since his death and about another minute for the length of his encounter with police that night.
“Our kids should not live in fear, they should not be afraid of police,” Castile said. “They need to change these laws.”
Earlier in the day, she joined the Department of Public Safety to announce changes to the Minnesota drivers manual, which now includes guidelines for both drivers and police during traffic stops.
“I think that’s a huge step forward,” said Rayna Alston, a 16-year-old from Minneapolis who attended the memorial event. “I think his legacy is just almost an example of what can’t happen and what we need for work on.”
She was joined by her grandmother, Makeda Norris of St. Paul who reflected on the anniversary.
“For me it’s an example of just how much of a treasure we lost because of his death,” said Norris. “He was a leader in his community and his school he did so much for the children and now we’ve lost that.”
Norris has spent her life fighting for racial equality and against injustice.
“I’ve been doing this since 1968,” she said. “We are tired, sick and tired of being sick and tired of having police be brutal to us.”
Norris said she hopes there is change for her granddaughter’s generation.
“I believe that young people are going to take this and make a big difference,” she said.
Alston told us, “Any chance I get I want to come out and speak up. Remember who we lost and where we came from and just gain justice for those who can’t do it for themselves.”
The hundreds who gathered marched from City Hall down 33rd Avenue Northeast demanding officers involved in deadly encounters be held accountable.
As the sun set, many arrived at the site of the traffic stop, which is now a peace garden in Castile’s honor. They held candles and shared memories, calling for systemic change to improve how black communities are treated by police.
The Hennepin County Commission dedicated July 6th as Restoration Day and July 7 as Unity Day in Castile’s honor.
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