Community reacts to not guilty verdict in Yanez trial

The emotions expressed among community members that Jeronimo Yanez, now a former St. Anthony police officer, was acquitted Friday of all charges in the killing of Philando Castile, were nearly unanimous: Everyone is angry.

(MGN Online)

Minneapolis NAACP President Jason Sole on MPR called the verdict a result of a “fake trial” because it’s rare that a police officer has been convicted for killing a citizen while on duty.

African American Leadership Forum Executive Director Jeffrey Hassan told the MSR that the “mindset toward Black folk” is typically negative in jury trials, especially if Blacks are portrayed as bad. The jury was made up of 10 mostly middle-aged Whites and two young Blacks.

While walking down West Broadway en route to the scheduled peace summit at New Salem Baptist Church, the MSR also talked to several folk along the way — some gave their names, while others requested their identity not published, but all spoke on record.

“It’s obscene,” said a Black man in the Shiloh Temple International’s parking lot — he was volunteering for a food giveaway when he heard the news. “The dude should be doing time. He should’ve gotten something. He should have gotten penalized or something. He walked away scot-free.”

A Black woman added, “It’s really sad. We got to pray about that.”

Korey Dean (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Inside Shiloh Temple, sitting in his church office, Bishop Richard Howell, with Bishop Charles Foye of St. Paul and Northside mentor Korey Dean, discussed the verdict as they were to attend a church conference being held there Friday evening.

“We are certainly distressed and angry by it,” noted Foye. “It shows that justice is not for everybody in this country.” He said that Yanez’ testimony in court that he feared for his life “seems to trump everything about the victim,” added the bishop. “The victim is victimized. This is just a continuation of systemic racism in our country.”

“We have to express our anger, our distrust of the justice system and not accept it as normal. It’s not normal. We have to insist on justice,” said the bishop.

“The American justice system has failed African American males,” stated Dean, the president of Man-Up Club, a Northside mentor and leadership group that works with male high school students. “This particular murder is of great significance. My heart goes out to the young girl that was sitting in the back, who had to witness seven gun shots from a police officer. We are angry. Something needs to be done about it.”

Police-related shootings of Black males “is equivalent” to lynching, contended Dean.  “Today it is a new narrative. There is no regard for life, Black men and Black girls,” he added, “that’s a message that needs to be crystal clear.”

“Our history once again tells us there is injustice in our community and we’ve seen it proven out today when the verdict came out,” said Bishop Howell. “This is a tragedy.  It’s another broken record played over again.”

“I’m not surprised,” said Shavonne L. Johnson at Avenue Eatery, a Northside corner cafe. She said a group of young people earlier held an impromptu discussion there after hearing the Yanez verdict. “If no one did anything wrong, then why is Philando not here?” she stressed. “Once again it leaves a bad taste in your mouth because it just reiterates our lives are clearly not anything. I think the greatest thing we can do as a community, specifically of African descent, is to love on each other like never before and to support one another,” she said.

“This is nothing new to me. I’m 63 years old,” said a Black man at the McDonalds across the street.

A young man walking with friends a few blocks away from New Salem learned about the Yanez verdict after someone text him with the news. He simply blames the police culture and its historical look at Blacks. “I’m not shocked, to be honest.”

At the peace summit at New Salem, the opening session was to be about police-community relations. New Salem Pastor Rev. Jerry McAfee told the gathering that police officers being cleared in jury trials for shooting Blacks aren’t new. “The way the laws are structured, the [officer] only have to feel threatened, and the Supreme Court upheld it twice,” he noted.

Spike Moss said, “I am deeply hurt. I never saw us so close” to seeing a police officer finally found guilty in a police-related shooting of a Black person. Yanez was indicted for manslaughter last year, and a posted Facebook video by Castile’s girlfriend sparked national outrage. Yanez was the first police officer charged in a fatal shooting in the state of Minnesota.

Minneapolis Urban League President Steven Belton added, “I am deeply hurt” by the verdict. He told the audience that two narratives emerged during the trial. The first one indicated that Castile didn’t follow the rules in letting Yanez know that he had a gun and a permit, and that the late man from St. Paul smoked marijuana — “a double rule breaker” in the eyes of the jury, said Belton. “He [Castile] is responsible for his own death,” in the eyes of the jury. But Yanez didn’t follow the rules as well.

Sharif Willis called the verdict “a super shame, while Gary Hines of the Sounds of Blackness called it “a tragedy” but said he wasn’t surprised.

“I think the clergy this time…this is not about peace today,” stated Howell. “It is about crying out for justice. I think the community wants us to calm the community — that’s not our agenda right now. Our number one agenda now is let everyone know that the system once again failed. This man was shot seven times but what purpose was he shot seven times? Then they are going to let this cop go free.”

“As a member of the clergy,” added Foye, “I am sick and tired of the kind of trauma that our communities face in these kinds of circumstances that really shouldn’t have happened. We have to express our anger on this.”

Finally, “We got to do something for our kids. We have to do something for our community. We have to do a greater job explaining the facts of life and that there is inequity in our system. If we don’t do something about it, then we all have failed,” said Howell.

“We need to call all clergy to come together and speak our hearts as one voice for the entire community. We will continue to preach the Gospel but we will preach the Gospel in the name of justice,” he concluded.

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In St. Paul, community members gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol for a rally and march. After the march, protesters shutdown I-94 for roughly three hours. Eighteen arrests were eventually made by Minnesota State Patrol. See scenes from St. Paul below: