ST. PAUL (WCCO) — In a room overflowing with people and at times emotion, dozens of people let their voices be heard during a community conversation Monday night in the basement of the Wellstone Center.
The event was the third of eight scheduled conversations since the not guilty verdict was read, clearing former St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez of all charges related to the shooting death of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights last year.
“The relationship with police officers and black men, why is it the way that it is,” said an African American man with tears in his eyes. His confusion was met also with anger from other members of the crowd, as they demanded solutions to problems they see in police, government, and the judicial system.
Many felt improper police training is part of the blame for Yanez shooting Castile.
“We train the military to not shoot pedestrians in other countries but yet we can get killed and shot for being a black person, for being Mexican, for having long hair,” said a young African American man. Another woman followed up saying youth are easily influenced to have preconceived notions of the police by saying, “If you’re of color, we are taught to be fearful of (police) by experience. White people are taught to praise them by experience.”
Others pointed toward what they feel is a crooked justice system that rigged the trial.
“Every juror that had any issues with police was dropped like a hot rock. Every juror that even later it turned out they were writing all over Facebook pro-police, they were kept on the jury,” said one woman.
Another woman started speaking about supporting Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend who was in the car when he was shot, and her daughter. In that moment, the crowd was surprised to learn Reynolds had been sitting among them.
She took her turn on the mic, telling everyone that she and her daughter have been in therapy because of the incident.
“It’s very unfortunate that an innocent man’s life was taken away not only in front of myself but in front of my child,” Reynolds said. “And it’s just unfortunate that I put myself and my daughter’s life in jeopardy just to record something so traumatic only for a verdict to be told it was not guilty.” Reynolds then told people to not be fearful about recording the police before speaking highly of Castile’s character.
Some in the crowd took turns telling stories of times they witnessed police brutality or racial profiling by police. Others suggested police show more support for the community by participating in marches and protests, or at least joining in on the community conversations.
The crowd also called for the city of St. Paul to have all the charges dropped against the 18 people arrested during the Friday night protest on I-94.
Four more community conversations are scheduled. The next is Tuesday 5:00 p.m. at the Wilder Foundation in St. Paul.