Minnehaha students and faculty respond to the death of Philando Castile and current racial tensions, and discuss steps individuals can take to move forward
Over the course of 13 years, an African American man was pulled over by police for minor infractions at least 49 times in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region according to The New York Times. Many argue this man was unlucky or unfit for driving, but many also view this statistic as a sign of racial profiling.
On July 6 of 2016, this man was pulled over for a supposedly broken tail light in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. While reaching for his license, the man told the officer he had a permit to carry a firearm. Within seconds of this statement, he was shot to death. You may already know his name; in fact, you may have even watched a video of him bleeding to death. This man’s name was Philando Castile.
Nationally, a myriad of reactions followed Castile’s death, ranging from angry Facebook posts to protests that shut down major interstates. Locally, Minnehaha students and faculty were stunned by the event and began conversations regarding their varying opinions. Regardless of whether an incident of solely racial prejudice or solely gun violence, Minnehaha’s community was left with the question, “What do we do next?”
Senior Jose Williamson believes that Castile’s death was caused by racism or unconscious racial prejudice. Consequently, Williamson immediately found himself more fearful when driving at night.
“You know that mini heart attack you get when you’re playing a game, and you’re about to die?” he explained. “I get that now when I pass by a police car.”
Senior Maddie Smith heard the chants, “No justice. No Peace. Hands up, don’t shoot!” from her house and quickly ran outside to join the protesters heading toward Interstate 94. Smith explained that the protest was initially peaceful, but as it got later, people’s blood started to boil. Once firecrackers were being set off, she decided she had to leave the dangerous scene.
Former police officer and Minnehaha alumnus, Jim Allen (‘89), supports protesters and claimed that they are using their basic constitutional rights. Yet, he believes the effectiveness of a protest immensely relies upon the peacefulness or violence of the protest.
“It is unfortunate because they might have a very good, valid reason to protest, and it’s just being lost because of the way they go about it,” said Allen. “Of course there were people who were peaceful and who were appropriate, but there were people who saw [the protests] as an opportunity to break the law.”
Director of Diversity Paulita Todhunter has been active in protests various times and fully believes in their effectiveness. However, she explained that protesting should be used for its possible momentum to intentionally propel desired change.
“After you feel like you’ve had a successful protest,” said Todhunter, “you want to be having conversations with law enforcement, with the mayor, with people in elected offices,” said Todhunter. She explained that if people arrive yelling and shouting to these elected offices, the officials will be deafened by their own fear. Instead, protesters should be prepared with a list of requests and grievances, and then work on solving the problem together.
A change Smith suggested is requiring body cameras and monthly mental health checks for police officers to be allowed to carry firearms. On the civilian level, people should be better instructed as to how to respond when being pulled over, so there is a smaller possibility of being put in a dangerous situation.
Williamson suggested requiring police to serve only in the county or neighborhood they live in. “It’s a lot less likely you’ll end up shooting someone you know in your neighborhood,” said Williamson. “It would give life a deeper meaning when you see them every day.”
Allen stated that one of the best ways to improve relations between police officers and civilians should happen with positive social interaction.
“I think a lot of police officers do a very good job of working and interacting with their communities instead of only seeing you when they’re arresting you,” Allen said. “Most cops talk to people all the time. They build relationships, and that to me is one of the best ways to form relationships.”
Having conversations is one of the actions Todhunter is taking to initiate partnership and understanding. In hopes of gaining understanding from multiple standpoints, she is purposely having conversations with those who do not have the same opinion as her on the topic.
Smith, who is African American and has a majority of Caucasian friends, finds herself acting as a mediator with the responsibility of enabling both races to understand each other’s opinions.
She has encountered many people with opposing views about police officers as she, even though supporting these opposing opinions would have validated her anger for the recent claims of injustice.
Smith is hesitant to label the death of Castile as an act of racism because she does not know the officer on a personal level.
“I don’t want to say that all police are bad because I know they’re not,” she said. “I get really uncomfortable because some people are like, ‘we hate all cops.’ The cops that are racist and shooting people because of their skin color, those are the cops we need to look at and we need to dig deeper into.”
Allen argued that while he was a police officer, he had never encountered one who intentionally targeted a certain race or went on duty with the intention of harming anyone.
“I understand if you live in a community, maybe you have negative experiences with police officers,” said Allen, “but there tends to be a rush to judgement.”
Castile’s death riled the emotions of people of all races and ages.
After the storm of angry Facebook videos and massive protests, people are looking for ways to keep
the momentum going.
“A lot of people get on social media very quickly, and they do not know the facts. It stirs things up really quickly,” said Allen. “People have to look at the facts, and everyone needs to be held accountable.”
Todhunter said, “Racism…is a part of the water we live in. If we just coast with the current, we go with the system of racism, but if we want to change that system, we have to consciously go against it. If not, you easily fall back asleep and all of a sudden you’re okay with people being shot, it doesn’t perk your interest to find out why there’s these injustices. You decide ‘Well this is the way it’s always been.’”