Today marks one year since the shooting of Philando Castile. He should still be alive today.
One year ago today Philando Castile was killed by Officer Jeronimo Yanez. I remember that night vividly. I remember being horrified as I watched the Facebook video—then his name was released and they said he worked at J.J. Hill Elementary. My son goes to J.J. Hill Elementary.
I didn’t recognize the name Philando Castile immediately, but as soon as I saw his picture I knew who he was. Everyone called him Mr. Phil and he worked in the cafeteria. I wrote this piece last year remembering how kind and thoughtful Mr. Phil was with all of the children, including my own young son.
He quickly became one of the most prominent victims of police killings in 2016. Thousands came out for protests and remembrances, scholarships were set up in his name, and my son’s school built a bench and planted a tree as a memorial in their school yard.
At his school they had grief counselors on hand when the kids returned and they talked about Mr. Phil. My son came home questioning why a police officer shot Mr. Phil, wondering why anyone would be scared of Mr. Phil enough to shoot him. We’ve read books about the racist history of our country and talked about the ways racism still exists today. As a mixed race family, my son knows that not everyone is scared of Black people. Still, when he hears what happens to Mr. Phil and reads books about how people treated kids like Ruby Bridges, it’s hard for him to understand why so many people fear, mistreat, and harm Black people.
When Ramsey County announced they were pressing charges, I was so relieved. I knew that charges are rarely brought against officers who kill people.
I didn’t talk much about the trial with my son. Trials are complicated and don’t always make sense to the logic of a Kindergartener. It’s not as simple as someone did something bad and therefore gets punished. Even though I knew it was even rarer for officers to be convicted, I still held on to a sliver of hope that maybe something would change. We all need that hope, even though statistics may tell us it is unlikely to happen. I held out hope for my son, and the millions of young Black and Brown children like him.
So while I wasn’t surprised when I found out Officer Yanez was acquitted, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t painful. I only had a small connection to Mr. Phil, so I can’t claim to understand or know the pain his family and loved ones must be going through every day.
However, even those who didn’t know Mr. Phil should be upset and outraged. We have a serious problem with policing in our country and everybody should be concerned. Mr. Phil was one of over 1,000 people killed by the police last year and, according to recent reports, we are on track to match the same number this year. Despite the efforts of amazing groups, including Black Lives Matter and the NAACP, we haven’t made enough progress in changing how our communities are policed.
I still have hope for change. Hope that if everyone in the community were to come together and demand a different system, it could happen. Hope that people will stop blaming Black men who are shot, and instead demand accountability for the police officers who shoot them. Hope that we will start to recognize that EVERY person is valuable and their life should be treated with care, dignity and respect—no matter who that person is.
We all can be a part of solution, so people like Mr. Phil or Alton Sterling, or Michael Brown or Charleena Lyles, don’t just become a statistic. They all deserve to be remembered. Their lives had value and they mattered. Join a local group that works on anti-racism. Contribute to organizations that work to reform policing and the criminal justice system. Attend city council meetings to challenge your city’s police practices. If we all show up, there will be change. Change so that I won’t have to fear my son will be shot one day by the police. Change so that none of us have to fear being killed by those who are supposed to protect us.