Minnesotans of all colors, ages and backgrounds took to the streets in peaceful protest Thursday, their voices rising in anger in response to Wednesday’s police shooting of a black man during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights.
Their protests were echoed by others nationwide, in cities ranging from New York to Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Seattle. In Dallas, violence exploded late Thursday, with several police officers shot in a chaotic scene at what started as a peaceful rally.
“Enough is enough!” was one of several heartfelt refrains as thousands of men, women and children stood in front of the governor’s residence on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. Marchers came both early in the day and again later for an evening vigil for Philando Castile, whose death was captured in a harrowing video that went viral minutes after he was shot. Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend, recorded the aftermath of the shooting by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez.
Calling the Falcon Heights shooting egregious and outrageous, some Minnesotans, including ones who had never rallied before, joined activists who had repeatedly hit the streets last fall to protest the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark in November by Minneapolis police.
“They’re killing black men like animals,” said Jeff Viel, who is black. Viel got off work at United Hospital in St. Paul to attend the evening vigil — his first ever. Philando was a friend, he said.
“I’m afraid for my son. He’s 11 years old. It could be any of us,” he said.
One by one, activists from across the Twin Cities, along with Castile’s girlfriend and family, spoke to the morning crowds, calling for solidarity in a search for justice and change.
“I’m here because you keep killing my people,” said Pastor Danny Givens as he turned to Gov. Mark Dayton, who spoke to those gathered outside his residence. “You keep telling us you’re going to do something. … I want you to put some action on it. I want it to be real. This isn’t black anger. It’s black grief. It’s black pain. … These are black people who are mad because we’re tired of our children being murdered in the streets.”
As Castile’s girlfriend and family members wept, Givens called for people to join him on the streets. “I’m done praying,” he said. “I will not get on my knees one more time about this.”
Protesters began their stand outside the governor’s residence Wednesday night and continued into Thursday. Hours later, a vigil for Castile drew more than 4,000 outside the J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, where he’d served meals to more than 500 kids twice a day.
Lynne Morioka, who grew up in St. Anthony, drove to the rally from her home in Richfield and carried a sign that said: “Ashamed of my hometown police department.”
“[St. Anthony officers] were such a positive force in my community,” she said. “Every kid knew their names; they knew everybody. It’s my understanding things have changed, and it’s not a good change.”
Morioka and her husband are preparing to adopt a child. They’re both of Japanese heritage and will take a child who chooses them, they said. “If we are chosen to be parents of a brown-skinned child, I don’t know if I’d feel safe for my child,” she said.
For many, grim echoes
Longtime activists who remembered the 1960s civil rights marches stood shoulder to shoulder with the younger generation and those in the Somali community who said they are weary of coming together in the wake of tragedies.
Nathaniel Khaliq, a retired firefighter and former president of the St. Paul NAACP, was among those who have long been in the front line in the fight for justice. “This particular case is probably the hardest, most egregious of all police brutality, pointing out that it was a traffic stop, not a felony,” he said at the morning rally. “This brother represented what we strive for [our young men] to be — responsible and accountable. He was all of that and more. He was executed in front of his family. This doesn’t happen to anyone else. We haven’t resolved a thing,” Khaliq said. “These young people aren’t taking it anymore.”
Rashad Turner, who heads Black Lives Matter St. Paul, turned to Dayton and said, “I’m tired of sitting back listening to you as a white supremacist, telling us our lives don’t matter. Do something about this!”
“We need everyone to work together,” said Pastor Brian Herron of Zion Baptist Church in Minneapolis. “This is about humanity. … He didn’t deserve to die for a traffic stop. He didn’t deserve to die. We’re not animals.”
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told those gathered, “If you are a police officer and you are afraid of my skin, then please find another job. We’re tired, folks.”
And when a police car pulls up alongside a black man, “many of us are afraid,” Hussein added. “Maybe our wallets will look like a gun. Maybe our fists will look like a gun and we will be fired upon.”
‘Black in the wrong place’?
Castile’s family declined to speak with the media, but family members spoke to the crowd at the evening vigil. Philando was a “father figure” to his siblings and loved the schoolchildren he worked with, they said.
Valerie Castile told CNN Thursday that she had instructed her son to always “comply” if he was ever stopped by law enforcement.
“That was something that we always discussed. Comply,” she said. “That’s the key thing … in order to try to survive being stopped by the police, is to comply.”
She said her son didn’t deserve “to be shot down like this.” He was just “black in the wrong place” and was a victim of “a silent war against African-American people,” she said.
Pain that won’t fade
As the evening vigil ended, Diamond Reynolds shook her head and silently said of Castile, “he was my best friend.” Family and friends said the couple had been together for nearly 10 years. Philando Castile’s sister, Alex, embraced Reynolds.
As night and rain fell, more than a thousand people kept vigil outside the governor’s residence. Some left to march down University Avenue toward the scene of the shooting, briefly blocking Green Line light-rail tracks and causing St. Paul police to lock down their headquarters as a safety precaution.
“Right now the protesters are peaceful,” said police spokesman Steve Linders. “We have a history of facilitating free speech, so that’s what we’re doing. We’re just making sure everybody’s safe.”
Around 2 a.m., there were some moments of tension as about 200 protesters faced off with about 30 police officers clad in riot gear. The officers ordered the protesters to disperse, and there was one arrest reported before both sides backed off and the standoff ended.
Staff writers Libor Jany, Pat Pheifer, Randy Furst, Mara Klecker and Karen Zamora contributed to this report.