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Philando Castile shooting shows reality of racial bias in law enforcement says Obama, Gov. Dayton

Philando Castile was fatally shot by a St. Anthony law enforcement officer Wednesday night.
Diamond Reynolds speaks to a vast crowd outside of J. J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul on Thursday, July 7. Less than 24 hours prior on Wednesday night, Reynolds broadcasted live video via Facebook the shooting of her boyfriend Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, when they were stopped by police in their car. Castile was an employee of the school, where he worked as a cafeteria supervisor.
Image by Liam James Doyle
Diamond Reynolds speaks to a vast crowd outside of J. J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul on Thursday, July 7. Less than 24 hours prior on Wednesday night, Reynolds broadcasted live video via Facebook the shooting of her boyfriend Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, when they were stopped by police in their car. Castile was an employee of the school, where he worked as a cafeteria supervisor.

Following national outcry, Gov. Mark Dayton called for a federal investigation into the death of Philando Castile — a black, St. Paul man — who was killed in an officer-involved shooting Wednesday night.

Castile was shot by a St. Anthony law enforcement officer in Falcon Heights during what appeared to be a routine traffic stop for a broken taillight. The police officer involved has been put on administrative leave, Saint Anthony Village City Manager Mark Casey said in a statement.

A Facebook Live video — recorded by Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds — depicts the gruesome aftermath of Wednesday’s shooting. In it, Castile, 32, collapses in his seat, visibly bloody, as Reynolds relays what has happened; in the background, an officer stands outside the driver’s side window, still aiming his gun at Castile. At one point, Reynolds responds to an officer, saying: “you told him to get his ID, sir, his driver’s license. Oh my god, please don’t tell me he’s dead.” The video has been viewed 4.3 million times on Facebook as of Thursday evening.

Castile’s death comes nearly eight months after the fatal shooting of North Minneapolis resident, Jamar Clark, roiled Minneapolis. Last November, Clark, 24, was killed after a tussle between him and officers, according to a Hennepin County Attorney report. Earlier this week, another highly publicized recording surfaced of the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rogue, Louisiana, reigniting the debate over law enforcement’s use of force.

Thursday afternoon, President Barack Obama decried the deaths of Alton Sterling and Castile in a post on Facebook — sharing concern over the reality of racial bias in American law enforcement.
“What’s clear is that these fatal shootings are not isolated incidents,” he wrote. “They are symptomatic of the broader challenges within our criminal justice system […], and the resulting lack of trust that exists between law enforcement and too many of the communities they serve.”

At Saint Paul Public Schools, where Castile was an employee and former student, colleagues remembered him for his cheery disposition and amicable spirit.

“Kids loved him. He was smart, over-qualified. He was quiet, respectful, and kind,” said one coworker in a press release issued by Saint Paul Public Schools Thursday. “I knew him as warm and funny […]. 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.’”

Castile graduated from Central High School in 2001. Since 2002, he served as a cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessorai Magnet School in St. Paul.

‘They shot him’

Castile and his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her four-year-old daughter were pulled over on Larpenteur Avenue and Frey Street around 9 p.m. when an officer fired multiple shots.

Castile told the officer he was licensed to carry a firearm, but let the officer know he was reaching for his wallet, she said in the video. When Castile attempted to reach for his ID in his pocket, the police officer shot him several times in the arm.

“They shot him — he shot him three times because we had a busted tail light,” Reynolds can be heard saying in her Facebook Live recording.

Castile was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center and pronounced dead at 9:37 p.m.

“He don’t deserve this,” Reynolds said in the video. “He’s a good man, he works for St. Paul Public Schools. He doesn’t have no record of anything.”

At a press conference shortly after the shooting that evening, St. Anthony Police Sgt. Jon Mangseth said Reynolds and her daughter were taken into custody for questioning and were safe. He confirmed that the two officers involved were St. Anthony police officers, but did not release their names.

“We called the BCA in here to investigate so we can learn what happened and we can be transparent with our investigation,” Mangseth said.

A community brought together

Early Thursday morning, hundreds of demonstrators congregated outside the governor’s mansion, demanding police accountability.

Following his appeal for a federal investigation, Dayton addressed protestors, confirming that the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension had launched an investigation immediately after the shooting Wednesday night.

The Bureau interviewed Reynolds, her daughter and other witnesses to collect evidence, he said.

At the conference, Castile’s death provoked indignation by many prominent activists in the Minneapolis community, such as Rev. Dr. Charles Gill, who spoke out against the claim that, in fatal shootings, police just follow protocol.

Michelle Phelps, a University of Minnesota criminology, law and deviance professor said the shooting was “deeply disheartening.”

“Because police officers are sort of on guard, and because we have this … deep history of racial tensions …  there [is] sort of this pervasive ‘us versus them’ between the police and many black communities,” she said.

Thursday afternoon, Nekima Levy-Pounds, the president of Minneapolis’ NAACP chapter, lead protestors in a chant, yelling, “No justice, no peace. Prosecute the police.”

“There is a system, and a culture, that says ‘it’s okay to be anti-black on the job,’” she said.

Later Thursday afternoon, a “healing, centering” discussion was held at the University’s Coffman Memorial Union, led by Minnesota Student Association President Abeer Syedah. Students and faculty expressed anger and fatigue over the latest two fatal police shootings. 

Though students said Dayton’s frank statements, and the national reactions on social media after the deaths of Sterling and Castile were more measured and meaningful than other responses to fatal police shootings — like Jamar Clark  their skepticism of a system riddled with distrust remains.

“Silence is not helpful. People are realizing they have to speak out,” said Amelious Whyte, director of public engagement at the College of Liberal Arts. “Maybe that’s what moved the Governor to come out and speak his mind.”

About 2,000 marched from the J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School to the Governor’s Mansion on Summit Avenue in St. Paul Thursday evening, chanting “black lives matter” and “I am Philando.”

The procession began with a vigil at the school, where group prayers were held with Castile’s family and co-workers.

Castile’s family members filed out toward the street and led the group five blocks south to Dayton’s residence.  

There, protesters were joined by speakers, some of whom stood atop the iron gates of the mansion. A few minutes after the crowd began to swell, Dayton joined the speakers to address the crowd for the second time on Thursday.

Circumstances aside, protesters were upbeat at the school, but their mood took on a more confrontational tone at the Governor’s mansion, where cries of “do something” drowned out Dayton’s speech.

Shantel Jenkins, an event attendee, said she joined the march to support Castile’s family and causes led by Black Lives Matter Minneapolis.

Jenkins said she wants to see Dayton prioritize transparency when performing internal police investigations.

“I came out because I might be next,” said Jiksa Tafara, an attendee. “I don’t think [police are] here to protect people.” 

Leaders point to distrust, bias

Hours after the shooting, Dayton released a statement, saying, “This morning, I spoke by phone with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to request that the U.S. Department of Justice begin an immediate independent federal investigation into this matter.”

Later Thursday, Dayton said he believes Castile’s death to be part of a pervasive issue on accountability among police officers throughout the country.

“Would this have happened if the driver and passengers were white? I don’t think it would’ve,” he said. “I’ve heard in the last few hours from very distinguished African American men and women who recounted to me how they’ve been pulled over, singled out and treated very differently because of their race.” 

Dayton and Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman said the state will continue to evaluate and improve training procedures for law enforcement officers. 

Dohman also said she has instucted the BCA to make this investigation its top priority. 

In a statement, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., expressed similar sentiments as Dayton, writing, “Although the investigation is just beginning, I ask the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to release any and all videos related to Philando Castile’s shooting as soon as possible. The public deserves transparency in the pursuit of truth and justice.”

At Dayton’s Thursday morning press conference, he apologized for Castile’s death. Amid clenched fists and a growing clamor from the crowd, Reynolds — Castile’s girlfriend — exclaimed, “I don’t want you guys to be sorry, I want y’all to be more careful.”

“You want justice, you deserve justice, you’ll get justice,” Dayton said.

Dylan Scott, Hannah Weikel, Ryan Faircloth, Nick Wicker and Eliana Schreiber contributed to this report.

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