Making good out of tragedy
Through the Philando Castile Relief Foundation, Valerie Castile is keeping her son Philando Castile’s legacy of giving and community spirit alive. “Because of his generosity and the type of person he was, I wanted to do all the things he held dear to his heart,” said Valerie while sitting in a booth at Lowry Café in Minneapolis.
This includes helping families who’ve lost someone to gun violence, holding memorials for Philando, and helping pay down negative lunch balances for students.
Philando Castile was shot to death at a routine traffic stop in Falcon Heights by St. Anthony Police in 2016. His girlfriend live-streamed the horrific scene as her daughter sat in the backseat. The world saw the video, including the prosecuting attorneys and jurors, who found Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who shot Philando, not guilty on all charges.
For Valerie, the political hypocrisy and disregard for Black life are acute when comparing her son’s case to that of Justine Damond, the woman killed by former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor in 2017.
Noor, a Black Muslim man, was hit with more charges than Yanez, and was found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter earlier this year. This, despite there being no video in the Noor case.
Valerie said she questioned why there wasn’t a murder charge, or at least a child endangerment charge given that Yanez shot into the car with a child in the backseat. But, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi always sidestepped her concerns with something, she said.
“I wasn’t surprised,” said Valerie of Noor’s ultimate conviction. “We know Noor committed the ultimate ‘sin’ of a Black man killing a White woman.”
Damond’s family and Castile’s family even had the same New York City attorney, Robert Bennett, but ended up with dramatically different civil lawsuits.
Damond’s family received a $20 million settlement; Castile’s received $3 million.
Bennett sued multiple parties on behalf of Damond’s family, including the City of Minneapolis and its police department, the police chief, and the mayor. For Castile, Bennett only sued the City of St. Anthony and City of Roseville.
“I cried when they said $3 million. No amount of money can bring my son back but is that all he’s worth?” asked Valerie. “They didn’t treat my son the way they should have. They don’t care about Black children, about Black people.”
The graphic video of Philando’s death and the high-profile case that followed catapulted the Castile family into the spotlight, particularly Valerie.
She admitted she wasn’t planning on doing much after her son was slain.
“But I went to sleep and had a conversation with my son and God,” said Valerie. Her son wanted more to be done for his legacy. So, she’s put the tragedy and newfound notoriety to worthwhile use; besides the charitable foundation in his name, she attends events geared toward Black issues, like police reform.
So, would she consider running for office like Sybrina Fulton, a mother who also turned to activism after the slaying of her son, Trayvon Martin?
“That never ran through my mind, honey,” said Valerie. She added that any election platform she’d have would concern Black issues bluntly and thus, instantly, disqualify her from being a popular candidate. Many people of color who have been elected, she noted, are still hampered when attempting to wield their influence for hurting communities.
“I’m not gonna waste my time doing something I know cannot be instrumental in helping the people,” said Valerie.
Instead, she wants to re-establish the legacy her son was building before his death — that of a life caring for family, community, and the children he served as a cafeteria supervisor working at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, where he routinely paid for the lunches of students in need.
Just about every day, she noted, Philando’s name is brought up. Be it a news story, research study, a lyric in a song or poem, or political entities from police reform groups to the NRA — Philando’s killing is a persistent point of contention. “My greatest fear is my son would become a distant memory,” she said.
But she’s making sure that will not happen by pressing on in his name. Just last month, the foundation gifted $8,000 to Robbinsdale Cooper High School in New Hope to clear lunch debts for more than 300 seniors preparing to graduate this summer. She said students shouldn’t have to worry about lingering debt in school: “Kids have one job — go to school and get educated to run this country.”
The foundation’s next event is the Philando Castile Memorial July 6 and 7, which will take place at Falcon Heights City Hall. The first day is themed “Restoration Day,’ the second, “Unity Day.” On the evening of July 6, the foundation will hold a candlelight vigil starting at 8:45 pm.
The Castile Foundation is funded via donations, but Valerie mainly encourages people to concentrate on having tough conversations outside of the foundation. She suggested interspersing important issues like lack of resources for Black students or over-policing of Black neighborhoods into everyday conversation.
Bring things up at church or the book club she said. “People are still dying at the hands of the police.”
For more info, visit philandocastilefoundation.org.
Correction: Updated to correctly state the cities that Valerie Castile sued.
Solomon Gustavo was a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.