This article originally appeared in the St. Louis American.
Philando Castile’s family in St. Louis was watching on June 16 as a Minnesota jury acquitted the police officer who fatally shot Castile, a 32-year-old black man, during a traffic stop last year in suburb of St. Paul, Minn.
“Everyone’s heart fell to the ground,” said Stacy Castile, Philando Castile's uncle who lives in St. Louis. “We just lost him all over again.”
Castile was a beloved cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul, and had worked for Saint Paul Public Schools since he was 19. He was also a St. Louis County native, and his two uncles, aunt and several cousins live in St. Louis. He was buried last year in Calvary Cemetery among his grandmother and uncle.
On Friday, Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who killed Castile, was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter. He also was acquitted of two counts of intentional discharge of firearm that endangers safety.
“He was a very sweet, young man – a person who complied with the law,” Stacy said of his nephew. “He loved his job. He loved those kids. They all called him ‘Mr. Phil.’ He knew every last one of their allergies. If they didn’t come to school with lunch money, he would buy them lunch. It’s hard to see this man [Yanez] get off scot-free.”
Castile’s death on July 6, 2016 garnered widespread attention and sparked nationwide protests after his fiancee, Diamond Reynolds, broadcast the shooting’s aftermath on Facebook Live. The video went viral.
After the jury announced the verdict on June 16, Castile's mother, Valerie Castile, said outside the court that she was disappointed in the state of Minnesota, “because nowhere in the world do you die from being honest and telling the truth,” according to a CNN report.
“The system continues to fail black people,” she said. “My son loved this city and this city killed my son and the murderer gets away!”
The jury deliberated about 29 hours about the July 6 traffic stop and heard two weeks of testimony in which prosecutors portrayed Yanez as a nervous officer who lost control of his traffic stop, CNN reported.
He was too quick to pull the trigger after learning Castile had a gun, based on an unreasonable suspicion that he was a robbery suspect, prosecutors said.
Yanez, a St. Anthony officer, testified he feared for his life because Castile reached for his firearm, despite being instructed not to do.
An audio recording captured Castile telling Yanez he had a gun in the car, and the officer telling Castile not to reach for it. Seconds later, Yanez opened fire.
Castile, who was bleeding heavily in the Facebook video, said he wasn't reaching for his gun, which he had a permit to carry. Reynolds said Castile was reaching for his ID in his back pocket when he was shot.
Stacy said that he has never watched the video because his loved ones told him that he didn’t want to see Castile take his last breath like that.
Reynolds’ daughter, who was four years old at the time, was in the backseat. And for Stacy, that’s what makes the verdict even more difficult.
“What if one of those bullets would have hit the child?” Stacy said. “The baby had to go through therapy. To be in a car and hear gun fire that close to you and watch your stepfather die in front of you, that’s the worst thing ever. We had to just relive all of that over.”
Stacy asks his St. Louis community to keep his family in their prayers. They can also contribute to the Philando Castile Relief Foundation, which was established to help other victims of gun violence and “add some relief as you grieve,” according to the Foundation's Facebook page.
For many in the St. Louis community and nationwide, the verdict reaffirmed that black people cannot expect justice in cases of police shootings.
“As a Black mother, it is clear law enforcement can get away with murder,” stated Amy Hunter, the former director of racial justice at the YWCA of St. Louis, in a Facebook post. “It isn't unlike the murder I see in schools where we kill spirits slowly. It isn't unlike any institutional racism in any other system. It confirms my tears when my children were born into this world. It heightens my need to pray for them throughout the day and evening. It confirms that Black lives don't matter to many.”
Rev. Traci Blackmon, a local leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, said simply, “He should not be dead and his murderer should not be free.”