Minneapolis paid a steep price for the murder of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
Twenty million dollars —$18 million to her family, $2 million to the Minneapolis Foundation for gun violence prevention grants.
That’s more than any victim of police misconduct has ever collected in this state. About as much money as the past decade’s worth of Minneapolis police misconduct settlements, combined.
The city’s attempt to put a price on Damond’s life — like everything else about her death — stirred painful questions about whose lives we value and which deaths we can explain away.
Duy Ngo was shot by a fellow Minneapolis police officer who mistook him for a bad guy. The city gave him $4.5 million.
David Smith suffocated on the floor of a Minneapolis YMCA while a police officer knelt on his back. His family got $3 million.
It’s not fair to compare these cases. But if life were fair, Damond wouldn’t have gotten shot just for approaching the police officer who responded to her 911 call.
The Damond family’s lawyer describes $20 million as a “transformational” amount of money.
It doesn’t feel transformational. It feels like the city insurance fund just got drained and we’d better hope this isn’t going to be a big summer for tornadoes.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told reporters Friday that he’s working to create a culture in Minneapolis Police Department that values the sanctity of life and the de-escalation of conflict, a force whose officers use their body cameras correctly and strive to protect us just as much as they protect each other.
In the meantime, there are grieving families who are doing a lot more with a lot less to make Minnesota into the best version of itself.
The city of St. Anthony once weighed Philando Castile’s life and senseless death, then offered his family $3 million.
His mother, Valerie Castile, took the settlement and used it to wipe out school lunchroom debts for tens of thousands of children.
Philando Castile was a good, kindhearted man who used to dig into his own pocket when he saw a child whose family couldn’t afford to buy a meal in the school lunchroom where he worked. He was shot and killed at a traffic stop as he tried to comply with a jittery police officer’s orders.
Damond’s killer was convicted of murder. Castile’s was acquitted of manslaughter.
It wasn’t fair. But if life were fair, we wouldn’t have Minnesota high schoolers who can’t graduate until they pay off their lunchroom debts.
So last month, Valerie Castile and the Philando Castile Relief Foundation cut an $8,000 check to Cooper High School in New Hope to pay down the debts of hundreds of graduating seniors.
“I’m just doing whatever I can to bring a little relief into people’s lives,” Valerie Castile told the Star Tribune last week. “Everything I do revolves around my son and who he was.”
Last year, the Philando Feeds the Children fundraiser raised $150,000 and wiped out school lunch debts across the entire St. Paul public school system. Every year, the Philando Castile Relief Foundation awards a $5,000 scholarship to a St. Paul Central High School senior.
Helping others, Valerie Castile said, “is the way to keep Philando alive.”
No amount of money could ever be enough to make up for the loss of a child or partner or friend.
May the Ruszczyk and Damond families put that $18 million to any use that helps them get through the day.
May the rest of us find some way of our own to transform this community for the better.
If Valerie Castile can find it in her heart to give back to a world that took so much from her, so can we.
For more information about the Philando Castile Relief Foundation, visit philandocastilefoundation.org.