MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Four years ago Monday, a Twin Cities man was shot and killed in front of his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter during a traffic stop.
In July of 2016, former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot and killed Philando Castile in Falcon Heights. Philando told the now-former officer he was legally carrying a gun just seconds before he was shot several times. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, livestreamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook. Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter by a Ramsey County jury in 2017, sparking protests.READ MORE: Good Question: How Do Trees Know When To Bloom?
Another year passing doesn’t make any of this easier for his mother, Valerie Castile.
“Every day I wake up, I pray, and I have a conversation with my God and my son, and I follow their leadership,” Valerie said.
Valerie spent the anniversary Monday speaking as she also mourned. She didn’t ask for this role, yet she sees being out here as her obligation.
“We need to be the voice for the voiceless. We need to be the eyes for the blind,” Valerie said.
She spoke passionately earlier Monday at a remembrance rally for Philando.
“He shot in that car and killed my baby. The bullets just ricocheted off every bone, every organ, just tore his body up inside,” Valerie said.
She says it’s as if the police are at war with citizens.
“You got everything you need and had all these working groups and panels and all this stuff. It’s nothing else to talk about. It’s time to implement some of that information that you have,” Valerie said.
People at Monday’s rally called out Philando’s name and George Floyd’s name. Protesters won’t let them be forgotten. Monique Walker organized the remembrance rally.
“We keep going. We never stop. We’re always at these things year round, even when it’s not a trend,” Walker said.
At the end of a day of activism, and being in the public eye, Philando’s vigil was Valerie’s time to pay homage to her son.READ MORE: Minnesota Companies Mining Gold From Nostalgia For Decades Gone By
“It’s a time for calm, it’s a time for peace, and it’s a time to reflect on yourself and what have you done in the last four years,” Valerie said.
She doesn’t want to think yet about what might happen if the officers charged in Floyd’s death are also acquitted. She says she will continue to pray.
“The whole state of Minnesota is traumatized,” she said.
Monday also marks a victory for Valerie at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. It is changing the Minnesota Driver’s Manual to better reflect guidance and protocols for when officers pull over drivers who are legally carrying a gun. Valerie has been pushing for this change for years.
“It’s not a ‘you’ thing, it’s not a ‘me’ thing, it’s an ‘us’ thing. We have to do everything possible to prevent the killing of citizens in our country,” Valerie said.
The addition to the manual makes sure officers and drivers are on the same page, including how to communicate when you have a weapon.
For Philando’s best friend, John Thompson, his death has led to a life of activism.
“I’m being a vessel to my community. I owe it to Philando. I owe it to my friend,” John said.
He has been a leader in the activist community since Philando’s death.
“I want to be the change, I want to be the change that I talk about” John said.
He now wants to take his activism to the Minnesota State Capital. John is pushing to become a State Representative; a lawmaker responsible for change in the state. That was something he promised his mother, who died days after Philando, that he would do.
“I promised my mother and Philando that I am going to keep their name alive and I’m going to make them proud of me and the work that I’m doing,” he said. “Look at me. I’m DFL endorsed, man! Like, I’m on my way to do something that, you know, is more powerful than any protest that I’ve ever been to.”MORE NEWS: After Her Kids Were Hacked, Cybersecurity Engineer Writes Children's Book
John believes Philando is looking down and helping guide his actions. He continues to work on criminal justice and immigration rights, as well as a just and more equitable education.