One year after Philando Castile was shot to death in his car by a St. Anthony police officer and less than a month after the officer’s acquittal, hundreds of people gathered at two events in the east metro Thursday to honor Castile’s legacy and to begin healing.
A peaceful, family-reunion-style atmosphere prevailed at a six-hour celebration of Castile’s life and legacy held at the Como Park Pavilion in St. Paul, which featured a cookout with free food, music and a clothing drive.
Smoke wafted from the outdoor grills as a DJ spun songs and guests posted signs at the gathering, promoted as “Black Love: A Remembrance Celebration.” Many community members said they sorely need healing after the stress and sorrow that accompanied Castile’s death and officer Jeronimo Yanez’s trial and acquittal.
Later Thursday, a second gathering hosted by Castile’s family was held at Gibbs Farm in Falcon Heights. The private gathering drew about 175 people. There was food, music and camaraderie with family members, friends, activists and residents; any planned protests were thwarted before they began.
As the sun set, about 100 people drove or walked about a half mile to the spot where Castile was shot at Larpenteur Avenue and Fry Street. A peace garden with flowers and a memorial have been installed in the spot.
The night was eerily similar — warm and steamy with a light breeze — to the night Castile was killed. Residents held candles and heard from speakers, including Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, and the Rev. Danny Givens.
There were intermittent chants of “Philando! Philando!” and “We can’t stop! We won’t stop!” and “It ain’t over ... until we get justice!”
Givens said, “We stand here in solidarity with Philando’s family. King Philando lives forever. He was a voice and a light ... a light this world will continue to see until we get justice. Philando’s flame will never die.”
In contrast to protests after Castile’s death and again after Yanez’s June 16 acquittal on manslaughter charges, Thursday’s gatherings were peaceful — alternately celebratory and mournful.
At Como Park, Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and the Rev. C.L. Webb asked the group to join hands in prayer. Webb asked God to bless every person who donated clothing, food and other items for the event. “Everybody clap your hands and say, ‘Thank God!’ ” Webb said.
“Thank God!” the crowd cheered.
‘I have to provide answers’
Reynolds, who with remarkable calm livestreamed the aftermath of Castile’s shooting in a Facebook video seen by millions around the world, organized the Black Love event to honor Castile and to help community members heal. Accompanied by her young daughter, she made her way through the crowd, thanking people for coming.
Castile’s death has “woken the world up,” Reynolds said. “It’s just so unfortunate that justice doesn’t always get served,” she said.
She and her daughter, who was in the back seat of the car when Castile was killed, both wore shirts bearing images of Castile and messages calling for justice.
An emotional Reynolds wiped away tears as she talked about the past year, which she called a “nightmare.” She said that she is often depressed and fearful and that she no longer has a relationship with the Castile family. Her daughter has been her saving grace, she said.
“She has questions and I have to provide answers,” Reynolds said. “I’m not going to lie. I’m gonna have to teach my daughter what it means to have this color skin in America.”
She said she wants to show supporters that it’s possible to persevere. “My name is Diamond,” she said. “The more pressure that is on me, the more I’m going to shine.”
‘Only love conquers hate’
Reynolds said she has made a point not to read articles and watch news reports on the case because it’s too painful to see the comments sections. “I didn’t get justice, so there’s not much to follow,” she said. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t help me raise my child.”
She said her daughter’s composure that day was a result of conversations they’d had about police since she was even younger. “When you hear bullets, put your hands over your head and get to the ground,” she said she told her daughter. “The government isn’t going to teach my daughter how to be black in America,” she said. “Law enforcement isn’t going to teach my daughter how to be black in America. So I have to teach my daughter.”
Trahern Crews, who helped coordinate the Como Park event, told those gathered that it’s crucial for nonblack Americans to learn to identify implicit bias, the almost-unconscious fear that black men and women are somehow dangerous.
He said he believes that’s what led to Castile’s death. “Only love conquers hate,” he said.
Staff writer Libor Jany contributed to this report.