We won’t rest until Philando gets justice

July 11, 2016

Chance Lunning reports on the determined presence of Black Lives Matter activists in the Twin Cities to demand justice for another African American victim of police.

HUNDREDS OF protesters in Saint Paul, Minnesota, have blocked roads and maintained a round-the-clock presence outside the governor's mansion in the days since motorist Philando Castile was murdered by police during a June 6 traffic stop.

Castile's last moments--filmed and narrated by his fiancé Diamond Reynolds, whose four-year-old daughter was in the back seat of the car they were all driving in--shocked the conscience of people across the country and led to an immediate outpouring of anger among Twin Cities activists, one that didn't recede despite the backlash following the killing of police officers in Dallas.

Waves of both grief and rage variously washed over the community members and protesters gathered outside the governor's mansion in Saint Paul, just five miles from Falcon Heights, the suburb where Castile drew his last breath.

Over the weekend, protesters blocked a section of Interstate 94 west of downtown Saint Paul for several hours. Police used smoke bombs, tear gas and pepper spray to clear the highway, arresting dozens. But several hundred people continued to stand their ground, eventually marching back to the governor's mansion to keep up the round-the-clock presence.

Opponents of police violence blockaded the governor's mansion after Philando's murder
Opponents of police violence blockaded the governor's mansion after Philando's murder (Chance Lunning | SW)

One major source of frustration for people in the Twin Cities and around the country is the fact that Philando had done everything that someone is supposed to do in order to stay safe when pulled over by the police. According to reports, he was calm and respectful and notified officers that he was carrying a weapon, which he was licensed to do.

Despite all this, police still opened fire as Philando reached for his driver's license, shooting him four times in front of his fiancé and her daughter.

Philando's actions the night he was murdered are in keeping with what we know about the man he was. At J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, where Philando worked as a cafeteria supervisor for 14 years, staff and parents shared stories of his deep love and commitment for the students at the school.

The day after his murder, parents at the school organized a vigil. Castile was a "kind, gentle soul," according to parent Sally Rafowicz, "kind of like Mr. Rogers with dreadlocks."

BEYOND THE grief at the loss of a beloved member of the community is anger at the failure of Minnesota's political establishment to do anything about the many instances of police brutality and murder in the state.

Last fall, Black Lives Matter activists occupied the street in front of the 4th Precinct building in Minneapolis to demand justice for Jamar Clark, who was gunned down by police on November 15, 2015. While the protracted occupation was successful in pressuring Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to commit to no longer using grand juries in the prosecution of police shooting cases, Freeman still refused to press charges against the officers involved in Clark's death.

On the first full day of the occupation for Philando, Gov. Mark Dayton emerged from the governor's mansion to address the crowd and promised, "Justice will be served in Minnesota."

However, many community members voiced their doubts. "I can't say that I appreciate anything that Gov. Dayton just said, because this is the third time I've been to your house about our people being murdered," said Pastor Danny Givens, who addressed the crowd shortly after Dayton spoke. "But I've never been invited in."

The Black Lives Matter movement in the Twin Cities has vowed not to leave the mansion, until the officer involved in Philando Castile's death faces the consequences of his actions. Minneapolis and Saint Paul, along with the rest of the nation, are gearing up for a hot summer.

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