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Thousands Protest Acquittal of Officer in Fatal Shooting of Philando Castile

Protesters outside the state Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., on Friday. (Steve Kanowski / AP)
Emma Niles
Assistant Editor
Emma Niles, an assistant editor at Truthdig, graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, with a degree in political science. She has worked for the National Women’s Law Center and Ms. Magazine.…
Emma Niles

Protesters outside the state Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., on Friday. (Steve Kanowski / AP)

News of a Minnesota jury’s acquittal Friday of Officer Jeronimo Yanez in the fatal shooting of African-American Philando Castile during a 2016 traffic stop sparked immediate protest throughout the state capital, St. Paul, and across social media.

“I am so disappointed in the state of Minnesota. My son loved this state. He had one tattoo on his body, and it was of the Twin Cities,” Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, said outside the courthouse after the verdict was announced. “My son loved this city, and this city killed my son. And the murderer gets away.”

“People have died for us to have these rights and now we’re devolving. We’re going back down to 1969,” she continued. “Damn. What is it going to take? I’m mad as hell right now, yes, I am.”

By Friday evening, thousands of peaceful protesters had gathered in St. Paul and were marching through the streets.

“Speakers led chants, sang hymns and urged the protesters not to lose hope,” CNN reported. “Some held signs that read ‘this hurts’ and ‘Justice not served for Philando.’ “

A separate group of about 500 later marched onto Interstate 94, shutting it down; 18 were arrested.

A roadside memorial in Falcon Heights, Minn., where Castile was fatally shot, received extra attention. Flowers and handmade signs have decorated the stretch of road since the killing of Castile, which in part was streamed onto Facebook live (warning: graphic content) by his girlfriend.

“This verdict shows how the system is rigged against justice for victims of police terror,” organizers of the protest wrote on Facebook. “[T]his system gave us a jury that was 83% white and 58% male, and included people who said they could never convict a cop. If we can’t count this system to just give us justice, we need to come together and make our own justice.”

Valerie Castile expressed a similar message outside the courthouse Friday.

“The system continues to fail black people,” she said.

Reactions to the verdict sparked grief and outrage across social media as well.

The officer who shot Castile, Jeronimo Yanez, is Latino — not white — as some online were quick to note, arguing that this fact diminishes the role racism played in the shooting. But as some Latino leaders have pointed out, specific anti-black racism is indeed an issue in the Latino community.

“The fear that Officer Yanez had of Philando Castile in his passenger seat is one that is taught to us and one that is prevalent in our communities. We cannot denounce him without also actively confronting Latinx anti-Blackness. It must be undone,” Marisa Franco, director of the political group Mijente, said in a written statement.

As protesters took to the streets and advocates of racial justice reacted online, many also looked back on Castile’s life and character. He was described as a role model for the hundreds of children he met while working as a cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul.

“He remembered their names. He remembered who couldn’t have milk. He knew what they could have to eat and what they couldn’t,” Joan Edman, a recently retired paraprofessional at the school, told Time. The article continues:

Parents, several of whom rallied for justice outside the tight-knit school Thursday, said they felt safe knowing Castile was in charge of their children’s food and said Castile transformed the cafeteria into a positive and cheerful space.

“He was a fixture. I was always happy to see him around school. The cafeteria was a pretty happy place. He was part of the community and an important one,” Andrew Karre, whose 8-year-old son attends J.J. Hill, told TIME.

“He was just a nice, caring person who worked at the school, who should not be dead,” said Karre, 37. …

In the school district’s statement, an unnamed coworker says Castile was smart and “overqualified” for his position, yet still took his job seriously. “Kids loved him. He was quiet, respectful and kind. I knew him as warm and funny,” the colleague said. “He wore a shirt and tie to his supervisor interview and said his goal was to one day ‘sit on the other side of this table.’”

Edman said Castile may have worked inside a kitchen, but he often taught children important lessons in the consequences of stealing and being respectful. “He was much a teacher than any teacher in that building,” Edman said. “We had a calmer cafeteria this year, and I think it was because he was there.”

“#PhilandoCastile was a part of our community. As school cafeteria worker, he knew all the children’s names,” the ACLU of Minnesota stated Friday. “We remember.”

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