Philando Castile funeral draws thousands in St. Paul

Thousands gathered Thursday at the Cathedral of St. Paul for Castile’s funeral, the man shot and killed by police during a traffic stop last week.

Pallbearers and mourners raise their fists in solidarity as Philando Castiles casket is carried out of the Cathedral of St. Paul following his funeral on Thursday, July 14.

Maddy Fox

Pallbearers and mourners raise their fists in solidarity as Philando Castile’s casket is carried out of the Cathedral of St. Paul following his funeral on Thursday, July 14.

David Clarey

The crowd’s chant — “United for Philando” — reverberated as pallbearers lifted Philando Castile’s casket onto a horse-drawn carriage Thursday.

The cathedral, which typically seats 3,000, filled quickly — the overcast, rainy day did little to deter the nearly 2,000 attendees from pouring in. By the time the service started, pews were full, with many forced to stand.

St. Paul Cathedral rector, Rev. John Ubel and Rev. Steve Daniels, Sr., from Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church led the service, which began with a call to hug those nearby, and led into a poem read by Castile’s aunt, remarks from his uncle and music from the award-winning musical group Sounds of Blackness.

The service was meant to be largely positive and focused on celebrating Castile’s life.

Members of Sounds of Blackness said Castile “looked like royalty,” after addressing reports that Castile resembled a robbery suspect.

Castile, 32, was killed on July 6 in Falcon Heights — a suburb of St. Paul — by a police officer one day after another black man, Alton Sterling, was shot by police in Louisiana.

Castile and Sterling’s deaths have ignited a wave of protests nationwide over law enforcement’s use of force and their relation with minorities. 

While rallies and protests appeared throughout the Twin Cities during the week following Castile’s death, his mother requested that peace and reconciliation be the focus Thursday to honor her son. 

The service drew a mixed crowd of loved ones, concerned citizens and prominent Minnesota politicians, like Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

“I’m just amazed by how many people care about Philando,” said Castile’s uncle, Clarence Castile. “The rest of the day is gonna be about love.”

Daniels spoke at length about Castile and what he meant to the Black community. He described Castile as “the face of the [Black Lives Matter movement].”

He also addressed what he considered misconceptions about the movement, saying it was about respect and inciting change.

“We can’t continue to survive if things don’t change,” Daniels said.

Many of the mourners wore shirts that had the prominent hashtag #PhilandoCastile on them, others with “Rest in Peace Philando” emblazoned on the front.

Patricia Mergens, who was in attendance, said she worked for St. Paul Public schools as the nutrition coordinator before she retired.

She recalled hiring Castile and said it is ‘almost indescribable’ to talk about him.

“I know [Castile] to be a person with love and compassion for kids,” she said. “It’s a huge loss for St. Paul schools.”

Former television judge Glenda Hatchett, the Castile family’s attorney, said the service was “fitting for a king.”

The St. Paul Police Department had a heavy presence at the event, providing security during the service and chaperoning the horse-drawn carriage that carried Castile’s body to and from the funeral home.

St. Paul Police Spokesman Sgt. Mike Enster said Castile’s uncle was working with the funeral director to arrange the service and they contacted police a few days prior.