The acquittal of officer Jeronimo Yanez prompted swift reaction across the Twin Cities Friday, sparking disbelief, grief and a sense of apprehension about what the verdict will mean in days to come.
Jurors found Yanez not guilty on all counts in the death of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man shot to death by Yanez during a traffic stop last summer. As news of the verdict spread across social media, many black community members and beyond expressed shock and then anger.
“Tonight it’s not about [Philando] Castile not having justice — it’s about all people of color not getting justice,” said Dianne Binns, president of the NAACP’s St. Paul chapter.
Binns joined state and local leaders, pastors and residents at a St. Paul community gathering Friday night, where crisis counselors and an open microphone were on hand for those left reeling from the day’s events.
“Today’s verdict reopens old wounds, on top of the scars from past injustices that make so many Black Americans feel that their lives don’t matter,” U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said in a statement.
Gov. Mark Dayton issued a statement calling Castile’s death a “terrible tragedy,” while also nodding to ongoing efforts to improve police-community relations.
“There are thousands of law enforcement officers, who courageously risk their lives to protect our communities, and many other dedicated Minnesotans, who are working to correct the injustices in our state,” Dayton said in a statement.
Some members of the law enforcement community applauded the acquittal in a case that has come to embody tensions around use of force in American policing. The union representing Yanez stressed that he relied on his training and experience when deciding to fire his weapon.
“We hope the outcome of this case will lead to peaceful conversations, new understanding and some measure of healing,” Sean Gormley, executive director of Law Enforcement Labor Services, said in a statement.
Former Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said he also supported the verdict. Analyzing the case, he added, may help officers avoid similar situations in the future.
“You have to believe in our justice system, and if a person doesn’t believe in our justice system, then you have to make changes in our state law,” Fletcher said.
St. Paul residents and elected officials remembered Castile as one of their own.
In a statement, Mayor Chris Coleman described Castile as a “son of St. Paul,” noting that he was a graduate of Central High School and an employee at J.J. Hill Montessori.
“Regardless of how you feel about the outcome, this is a difficult time in our community,” he said.
Coleman said the city will be making spaces available for community conversations about the verdict.
“I’ve got so many mixed emotions,” said William Davis, a house painter who stopped by the courthouse Friday afternoon. He’s known Castile’s family since he was young, saying he knew them as a hardworking family.
In the months since the shooting, many came to know Castile under the national spotlight. His death last summer spurred weeks of protests and rallies across the Twin Cities amid a national debate over policing and the country’s turbulent race relations.
As residents reflected and marched Friday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar called attention to the importance of free speech.
“In the days ahead, I hope that everyone exercises that right peacefully and that we can work together to foster trust between our law enforcement officers and the communities they serve,” she said in a written statement.
Thoughts of Castile seeped into the minds of commuters on their way home Friday.
As Edwina Morrow waited for her bus in downtown St. Paul, she reflected on the acquittal, which she said surprised her. “I think that’s a slap in the face,” said Morrow, 50. “It’s a signal that it’s OK.”
The verdict also drew comments from the education community, including the district where Castile worked as a nutrition services supervisor. St. Paul Public Schools announced Friday that counselors will be available for students and staff once the summer term begins later this month.
In the school’s garden Friday, parent volunteer Emilie Hamilton pulled weeds and reflected on how she told her children about what happened.
“He was just such a great person,” Hamilton said. “He knew everyone’s lunch code. He knew everyone.”
After the verdict Friday, Madelyn Markson brought 10 purple irises to the school where Castile worked, in case his family stopped by.
“I didn’t want them to come here and not see anything,” said Markson, whose daughter went to the school and was in first grade when Castile died.
She left the flowers atop a bench etched with the name of the man students and staff knew as “Mr. Phil.”
Staff writers Alicia Eler, Libor Jany, Nicole Norfleet and Kelly Smith contributed to this report.