Last week’s decision by Ramsey County Prosecutor John Choi to charge St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez with second degree manslaughter and two counts of intentional discharge of a firearm was hailed both locally and nationally. The decision stemmed from the shooting death of Philando Castile and endangerment of Castile’s girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter during a traffic stop this past July
“I think there has been an entire spectrum of feelings” by many community residents, said Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) Civic and Political Engagement Director Wintana Melekin in an MSR phone interview November 17, a day after Choi’s announcement. “Not everyone feels the way I’m feeling… Many people feel this isn’t enough and have zero faith in our judicial system.”
“I was shocked and happy,” said Melekin. “We have to make sure that we respect all the feelings, and we [must] make sure that this is not just a political opportunity or a political moment, but [also be aware of] what impact it will have on people. We have to let people celebrate and grieve in the way that’s best for them.”
NOC was among many community organizations and individuals demanding that Choi charge Yanez. But members of NOC weren’t overly confident that it would come about.
After the one-year anniversary of Jamar Clark’s death last November, “I expected the results [of the Castile case] to be very bad,” said Melekin. “I was telling [myself] to prepare for the worst.” Instead, she was surprised that Choi “stood up and did the right thing because our justice system is that broken and doing the right thing is virtually impossible.
“This would not have happened without community organizing, phone calls, marches and rallies,” continued Melekin. “This is a direct result [of what happens] when you push back on the system. But we are not taking it as the end-all to be all. This is just one thing inside a larger conversation and a larger movement.”
It was reported that this is the first time in nearly 30 years that a Minnesota police officer was charged with killing a civilian. The announcement got national headlines.
“To hear something completely different” from other police-related shootings of Blacks both locally and nationally was both shocking and relieving, noted Melekin. “We have an opportunity in Minnesota to show what it’s like to repair our errors. Minnesota has an opportunity to lead in the country, and I hope that everyone in our state joins in this fight.
“I hope Minnesota will fight back at what’s happening nationally, and be a leader locally,” Melekin continued. “This is a step toward repairing and causing some type of healing for the community and [Castile’s] family.”
Despite last week’s charges handed down by Choi, Melekin warns that the fight for justice must not stop: “We have a completely broken judicial system,” she reiterated. “We should be watching the courts and paying attention. We also should organize in other ways outside of that.”
Melekin said Choi’s decision “was a step toward justice,” but in the larger context it won’t nearly be enough for the Castile family. “Justice actually would have been Philando going home to his mother” last July. “We will never see the real justice that is needed and deserved.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.