In 1 year, what has been learned from the death of Philando Castile?
ST. PAUL — On July 6, 2016, a St. Anthony police officer pulled over a motorist near the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in Falcon Heights and shot him seven times, killing him in front of his girlfriend and her young daughter. A Ramsey County jury recently cleared officer Jeronimo Yanez of manslaughter and related charges in the death of Philando Castile, a popular St. Paul Public Schools kitchen supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul.
For many, the past year has been a time of soul-searching, marked by grief and frustration. Castile, who was black and had a permit to carry a weapon, had indicated he was armed before he was shot. Yanez, whose emotional reaction to the shooting was captured on Facebook, will not return to his job in St. Anthony, officials say.
In advance of the one-year anniversary of Castile's death, the Pioneer Press reached out to law enforcement and elected officials, protesters and advocates, and day-to-day residents of the St. Paul area to ask two questions: What, if anything, have you learned over the past 12 months? And what do you wish the rest of the world better understood?
Here are their responses, edited for length and clarity:
Sara Drake, mother of J.J. Hill students
Sara Drake and her husband, Aaron Drake, of St. Paul, send their daughters, Natalie, 9, and Audrey, 5, to J.J. Hill Montessori, where Castile worked as the lunchroom manager.
"I learned kids are resilient — yet they still carry their burdens. They just carry them in a different way than adults do ... they're not as readily apparent. But — they still carry them. At the most random moments, there will be questions asked — questions like, 'Why was the officer afraid?' Because, to the kids, Phil wasn't anyone to be afraid of.
"I wish people would understand that Phil was a real person who was a valuable figure in the lives of a lot of kids. I wish they would understand that if this could happen here, to someone like him, it can — and might — happen again, anywhere, to anyone. We need to do everything we can to change the discussion, the policies, the training. We all need to work together to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Natalie Drake, J.J. Hill student
Natalie will be a fourth-grader at J.J. Hill Montessori.
"I wish everyone knew that it's harder now. Mr. Phil knew almost every child by his or her name, even if they weren't at J.J. Hill. My sister (who was in pre-kindergarten last year) went through the line and he gave her a fish cracker and sometimes cereal for breakfast. It's harder now. Because not everyone will grab a vegetable or a fruit. Sometimes, they just grab a bun. He made sure everyone took fruits and vegetables. He was strict in a good way.
"I wish people would understand it's kind of sad, remembering him. I think he was really kind and he was really nice. To have him gone is really ... sad. It's just a lot."
Jon Mangseth, St. Anthony police chief
St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth has spent his entire police career with St. Anthony. He became a patrol officer in 1995. Mangseth was serving as interim chief after the previous chief's retirement, when Yanez fatally shot Castile last July 6. Mangseth became the department's official chief last July 11.
"As a police officer, I have endeavored to understand, as much as I possibly can, the perspectives of all individuals I serve, in order to mediate and reach sustainable, long-lasting solutions to the varying issues or problems that are encountered in life. This past year has amplified the requirement to listen, understand and respect all points of view in order to come up with solutions that can best serve the greater community.
"I wish that citizens would take more time to get involved with their local police departments by enrolling in a police citizen academy, joining in a ride-along with their local law enforcement agency or participating in other engagement activities offered by their police departments. These are great opportunities to gain a better idea of who their police officers are and to gain insight on how they go about performing their duties."
John Thompson, Castile's friend and co-worker
John Thompson, a friend of Castile's who worked with him in the St. Paul school district, has been involved in several of the protests across the Twin Cities since his death. Thompson has also pushed for new accountability in Falcon Heights, where the shooting took place.
"I learned there's a lot of people living in a bubble. A lot of people are still in denial a year after. ... The mayor (of Falcon Heights the other night) called it 'the incident,' and I'm thinking, 'OK, is this still just an incident to them?' There are a lot of people that still need to be educated.
"If I could put you on the inside of the car that Philando was in that night, just by using my voice, that would burst your bubble. ... If I could put you in my car every time I drive down Larpenteur Avenue, that would burst your bubble. I want you to be me, to switch places with me. ... A lot of people say I am a radical. I'm loud, but I can't be soft-spoken anymore. ... That's not how you're going to burst that bubble.
"I want people to understand that the only reason I am doing what I'm doing right now, and everyone else is doing what they're doing, is to make sure Philando didn't die for no reason. We're trying to keep the momentum going so far as people trying to create change. ... People don't take too kindly to change, especially a change that was meant to happen a long time ago. ... But we're not going to stop. ... We need to change the way police do their job dealing with African-American men. We have to change the way racial profiling is ignored. We need a paradigm shift. ... That's a start.
"I also want people to understand that I just miss my friend."
Peter Lindstrom, mayor of Falcon Heights
Peter Lindstrom has been mayor of Falcon Heights since 2007. In the year since Castile was killed, there's been movement toward discontinuing the city's police contract with St. Anthony. Falcon Heights has begun negotiations with the Ramsey County sheriff's office to patrol the city.
"When a major tragedy happens in your community there will be people and organizations coming out of the woodwork to help. Use them. Tap into their ideas, talents and resources to help your community heal and plan for a better future. There isn't a playbook, but there will be people willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
"I wish that elected officials understood that even when you receive few complaints, not all may be well. Those who are disenfranchised feel powerless and may feel that their complaints will fall on deaf ears. All of us, especially elected officials, should put ourselves in a position where we hear from those who may be different than us. Nothing breaks down fear and misgivings like developing relationships."
Raymond Parker, of Minneapolis
Raymond Parker, who has a 4-year-old daughter and stays with different friends and relatives in the Twin Cities, hopes to enroll in St. Paul College and find more stability. He said he respects "25 percent" of police officers, but those he felt comfortable around are mostly retired.
"The 1990s cops, they would come give you baseball cards and throw the football around. What happened to those cops? It's just crazy nowadays. That was my picture of cops growing up.
"As far as trying to be a young black man in America, it's very discouraging. Sometimes police want to say hi to me, and I keep my head down and I keep walking ... especially if I feel the energy isn't positive. I'm not going to say (they're) racist. I'm going to say prejudiced."
Dave Metusalem, of Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association is the largest organization in the state representing rank-and-file officers — more than 8,500 of Minnesota's approximately 10,000 sworn peace officers. The association lobbies for officers' interests at the Capitol and provides a legal defense fund for officers, including for Yanez. Dave Metusalem, the association's executive director, was previously a Ramsey County undersheriff.
"Following that tragic event there was an onslaught of media hype like we have never experienced in this state following any police-involved shooting. Opinions about the incident were immediately formed before any investigation could even begin. The media did not seem interested in any of the facts; they had a story to report and they were going to report it with little regard for what may have happened.
"In the days and weeks following the incident the police community all over Minnesota saw an outpouring of support and respect that many of our officers have not experienced before.
"Being a cop anywhere today is a tough job and an extremely dangerous job. Factor in the drugs and guns and you have taken their risk to an absolute critically dangerous level. ... If more would understand those aspects about the job perhaps there might be a greater understanding as to why cops react in the manner that they do. Everyone wants to go home safely at the end of their work day, and certainly cops are no different."
Michelle Gross, of Communities United Against Police Brutality
Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, has been a frequent presence at street protests and government hearings on police-reform measures.
"As tragic as the killing of Philando Castile is, it has brought together broad sections of the community to demand justice but also to seek solutions. I've been amazed and heartened by the actions of St. Anthony Village and Falcon Heights residents to demand real change.
"Police brutality, misconduct and abuse of authority are systemic issues. The prosecution of Jeronimo Yanez was necessary but our efforts for justice can't just focus on a single officer. We need to turn our attention to professional liability insurance, peer intervention training and other measures that will change the underlying culture of policing itself."
Lucky "Tiger Jack" Rosenbloom, firearms instructor
Lucky Rosenbloom, one of the state's few black firearms instructors, signs people up for permit-to-carry courses at the corner of St. Paul's Dale Street and St. Anthony Avenue, where his parents ran Tiger Jack's Corner for 57 years. He now opens his classes with how to handle "routine police encounters" because people have been asking so many questions since Castile was killed. He says one of his former students is Diamond Reynolds, Castile's girlfriend.
"Not every officer out there is a Yanez when it comes to a black man with a permit to carry a gun. That paranoia needs to stop. That's the message I'm trying to get to the community. Otherwise, everybody continues to spread the message, 'Oh, black man that's law abiding with a gun, cops are afraid of us.' That's not true. There's some officers out there that respect the law and understand the law and understand that if you have a permit to carry, you go through a background check. They know you go through the five-hour classroom training.
"I think the general public should understand that when a black man has a permit to carry a gun, that person should not be associated in the same light as a person who is illegally carrying a gun. Too many times I don't think the general public makes that differentiation, but I do think most police officers understand that. Unfortunately, the general public doesn't, and that's why I can't walk into Cub with my gun showing and not worry, but a white man can."
Nancy Robinett, of St. Anthony Villagers for Community Action
After Castile was killed, about two dozen St. Anthony residents began communicating on Facebook. The grass-roots group grew to include hundreds. One of St. Anthony Villagers for Community Action's leaders is Nancy Robinett, who says their focus has been on police reform and affordable housing, noting the recent closure of a St. Anthony mobile home park.
"I have learned that there are quite a number of residents of St. Anthony who care passionately about racial justice and have been working very hard to promote more racial justice and racial equity in St. Anthony.
"We were able to pressure our mayor and council to engage in a significant reform audit of our police department, and that led directly to them asking the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene with their technical assistance program (the federal agency is conducting a voluntary review of the police department).
"What I wish people understood better is that the racial disparities in Minnesota place heavy burdens on people of color. Minnesota is a state with really nice statistical data for white people and it's a state with some very poor statistical data for people of color.
"I wish that not just white people, but all of the people in Minnesota, would be attentive to that in a proactive way and that as a state, we could work together on solutions that would reduce those racial disparities."
Deborah Honore, college student
Deborah Honore is a senior at the University of St. Thomas majoring in communications and journalism, with a minor in justice and peace studies. Honore, who is black, said she has had many discussions with white friends and classmates about the Castile shooting.
"It just showed me how hard it is to have a conversation with people when they're very comfortable with their beliefs. It's hard to even have a conversation about why it's wrong, because if you're pointing out why it's wrong, you're disrupting their reality. If I were to talk to a white peer about this, they would have to acknowledge they benefit from these structures. It becomes about them feeling guilty, often.
"This is just one shooting that surfaced, but there are plenty more that happened in the past that don't see the light. ... I'm watching the video, and I'm like: 'That could have been my brother. He's tall, he's black.'
"I kind of get where my white peers are coming from, because all your life you've been told 'the police are the good guys.' ... How can you deconstruct that image of police you've grown up with with one or two or three videos? You just don't get it unless you're the person that's a person of color and is being affected. Somebody can tell you how much a burn hurts, but you won't know it unless you yourself are burned."
Cole Welhaven, Castile's supervisor
As nutrition coordinator for the St. Paul school district, Cole Welhaven was Castile's supervisor. He'd known him for about a year before Castile was fatally shot.
"I think, you know, that life is sacred, and we can lose it at any moment. I mean, I was absolutely shocked when I found out he died, and so I think that is just the biggest thing, tell everybody that you love them.
"I think just that Philando was a really good person. ... People get worried about politics and all of the different layers of this case ... guns and police brutality and relations. ... And I think the personal aspect has gotten lost. ... This is about Phil. Phil was lost in this. And I think we should really be thinking about Phil and his family."
Mark Dayton, Minnesota governor
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is a Democrat who has long focused on economic and racial inequities. After Castile was killed, Dayton said that he did not believe Castile would have been shot had he been white. But Dayton has also criticized some of the methods used by protesters. Last year, he created the Governor's Council on Law Enforcement and Community Relations.
In an interview shortly after the Yanez verdict, Dayton said black Minnesotans were angry, police were being stereotyped and emotions were raw. He called for bridging the divide between races, and between people of color and the police.
"This whole issue of race relations has really been brought front and center. ... I don't have the answers yet. (But) I'm really committed to this because Minnesota has so much at stake. ... If it gets worse, it's going to be horrible."
Paul Gazelka, Minnesota Senate majority leader
Paul Gazelka, of Nisswa, is the Republican leader of the Minnesota Senate, which largely turned back the Republican-led House's attempts to crack down on protests in various ways during this year's legislative session.
"It's easier to be a bomb-thrower than a bridge-builder, but ultimately you can get more done as a bridge-builder. ... Listening and showing respect for other people can help you achieve your goals."
Otis Zanders and Kedar Hickman, of Ujaama Place
Ujaama Place is a St. Paul-based mentoring and social services agency targeted to young black males. Chief executive Otis Zanders and chief operating officer Kedar Hickman said following Castile's death that they brought in grief counselors to work with clients, as well as staff. Some clients, but not all, are referred to them through the courts, corrections or foster care systems. They've advocated for a return to neighborhood policing, or "beat cop" districts.
Zanders: "(Castile's death) was a tremendous blow to the teaching that we do at Ujaama Place. ... It was a jolt, because to these young men, it appeared he was prepared for being stopped. He had his driver's license. He was properly permitted to be armed.
"There was anger, there was confusion. (Our young men) couldn't get beyond thinking of the historically bad relationship between the police and the African-American community, that this was our plight. ... (Yanez was) talking about 100 percent of black people when he said (Castile) had 'a wide-set nose.' It forces us to teach classes on what to do if you're stopped by the police."
Hickman: "And you're almost at a loss now, because all of these things are not guarantees. For some of us, it took us back to our own interactions with the police, for me personally, that I wouldn't wish on anyone. It's like ripping a scar off. ... But it galvanized us. When these things happen, black men need to have places and spaces where we can gather and have some semblance of healing."
William Anderson, St. Cloud police chief
William Anderson, the first African-American police chief in St. Cloud, has dealt with racially charged incidents throughout his career, including a stabbing last year at a St. Cloud mall perpetrated by a Somali immigrant. In 1993, someone set fire to his South St. Paul home while he and his children slept, a crime he believed was linked to white supremacists who would sometimes drive by shouting racial epithets. No one was ever arrested.
"What I wish people understood better is that we probably all should try to do more role reversal, across the board. Let's all of us try to put ourselves in another person's shoes. It's better to understand than to try to be understood.
"As a man of color who was born and raised in America, we have come a million miles, but we have a million miles to go in terms of understanding. And I really don't necessarily believe that's bad news: we should always be trying to learn and do better."
Paul Schnell, retired Maplewood police chief
Paul Schnell, who had spent 25 years in law enforcement when he recently retired as Maplewood police chief, continues to work with people who aspire to become officers. He is a part-time adjunct instructor for law enforcement students at Metropolitan State University and social work students at St. Thomas and St. Catherine universities.
"I learned about the need for work on higher levels of trust between the community and law enforcement in general. And, I think, the need for law enforcement to take a look at itself at some level, to be critical of what we're doing and how we're doing it and, at the same time, help people understand the challenges that law enforcement deals with on a regular basis.
"(I wish people understood) how dynamic the situations are that officers can find themselves in. On the other hand, I wish that law enforcement understood the reactions that people have to incidents like this, and that law enforcement understood the implications of incidents like this to the profession, to trust."
Chauntyll Allen, protest organizer
Through Black Lives Matter, Allen organized protests in front of the Governor's Residence that began the night Castile was killed.
"We learned that we don't get a jury of our peers. We also learned that there still is no justice for black people, so black lives still don't matter. We learned that we can't always trust the system. With Philando, because it was so public, those of us who never trusted the system before were willing to trust it this time.
"My focus was to allow people to express their frustration, but to channel it into something else — art, writing, whatever they did. Because we felt this was an opportunity to get justice. I don't know how we'll handle the next situation, because there will be one. It's inevitable."
Frederick Melo, Mara H. Gottfried, Tad Vezner, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger, Sarah Horner and Molly Guthrey of the Pioneer Press, a Forum News Service media partner, contributed to this report.