On July 6, 2016 Philando Castile, an African American, was shot to death by a police officer after being pulled over in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Castile was known as “Mr. Phil” to the students at J. J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, where he was employed as nutritional supervisor, and was a beloved member of the Twin Cities-area educational community. [The 395 Kids Philando Castile Left Behind.] His girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter were present at the time of the shooting.
The officer had pulled Castile over under the pretext that his brake lights had gone out and had falsely suspected that Castile was the perpetrator in an armed robbery that had happened the previous week. Upon being pulled over, Castile alerted the officer that he had a registered firearm in his pocket. Legally, Castile was not required by law to alert the officer that he was carrying a firearm. Despite repeated attempts to dissuade the officer that he was not reaching for his firearm, the officer disregarded Castile’s warnings. When he reached for his wallet, Castile was shot multiple times at point-blank range. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, streamed the aftermath of the shooting on her Facebook. Reynold’s four-year-old daughter had seen all of the events transpire from the back seat of the car.
The shooting immediately demanded the attention of the nation, and Castile became a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement. Though public opinion and the evidence seemed to weigh against Officer Jeronimo Yanez, the jury composed of ten white individuals and two people of color acquitted the officer on all charges. The video of Castile’s final moments filmed by Reynolds, a key piece of evidence, was not shown in court by the prosecution.
Despite his death, Castile will not be forgotten. When Yanez was acquitted, civil rights lawyer and former president of the Minneapolis NAACP Nekima Levy Armstrong (formerly Levy-Pounds) said in an interview with Democracy Now! (below) that “we waited patiently for almost a year for the verdict to come down. And to see that Jeronimo Yanez was not even found guilty on the lesser charges is extremely disappointing and frustrating. And so, it means that we have to continue protesting and demonstrating and challenging the laws and policies that allow these police officers to kill people with impunity.”
In the aftermath of Castile’s death, teachers joined those demanding justice. During an American Federation of Teachers conference in Minneapolis on July 20, 2016, teachers marched alongside other protesters, leading to the arrest of twenty-one members of various educational unions.
This post was prepared by Zinn Education Project volunteer Rhys Davis.