The Murder of Philando Castile & What is Justice
We need to keep talking about the killing of Philando Castile.
At least I need to keep talking about Philando because I have kids and my son stood in front of a peace sign at his school that says “May Peace Prevail On Earth” and I want that. I actually want peace to win on this Earth. I want people to be nice and be grateful and offer mercy and take care and love and be good. I have these convictions.
And then we must keep acting on our convictions—not just hashtagging, not just spouting off opinions at a BBQ, not just passively shrugging our shoulders. We can’t forget Philando’s name, who he was, what he did in this world and what became of his killer.
I was touched, moved and inspired by how my little Mennonite church smack in the middle of urban Minneapolis responded to the acquittal verdict this past Sunday.
Yes, you read that right: I go to church.
Is it gasp-worthy? I don’t know. I think it’s awesome, actually. I think going to a place of worship any day of the week is radical. It is pretty countercultural at this point. It is different and I like being different. I know the big popular thing now is people who say they’re spiritual and not religious OR that they tick the “none” box when asked their religious alignment on who knows what forms. And if that’s your thing right now, work it, baby.
My thing is being disruptive by being radical and for me that means going to church.
Church is hard. It hurts to go to church sometimes and I don’t always like it and yet I love it lots. It is not easy to be a follower of The Way (yeah, did you know the people who first followed the peaceful life and way of Jesus were not called Christians? They were called followers of The Way). It would be way too easy to skip the beautiful struggle it is to really live and think and question and cry and wonder with a group of misfits. Easy to stay home, easier to ignore, easier to be complacent, easier to read books or watch shows or hang with people just like me instead of going to church to hang with misfits.
This little Anabaptist church in Midtown is overflowing with the best kind of misfits: every different color skin, every kind of relationship status, age, level of education and income. Here we are. I say, let’s get together and figure stuff out. Fortunately, I chose a progressive church focused on social justice and peace. You gotta love a good Mennonite theology.
(Wait…who are Mennonites, you ask? Are we Amish? No. Amish are Amish. Mennonites are another Protestant denomination like Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and we’re distinct among Protestants for working for social justice and peace [like the good old JC himself, yo]. So basically Mennonites don’t believe in killing people.)
Church is, for me, a safe place to practice how I can move and be in the world that offers hurt and pain alongside laughter and beauty. I screw up in church a lot. I mess up. I decide my feelings are hurt. I decide I’m worth giving a whit about. I laugh. I sing next to my friend. I roll my eyes. I listen in new ways. I disagree. I get schooled. Most importantly I get out of my zone of comfort and get real with people who love the world’s most famous Jew and are needing my questions and hugs and rolled eyes and blessings just as much as I need theirs.
So, this past Sunday when my little church came together my pastor offered a time in the service for anyone interested to come up to the microphone and share their thoughts and worries and hurt and experiences of the acquittal of Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile. The below is imperfect and lacks the original raw emotion but this is how I remember the sharing:
A young woman from my church who is studying restorative justice (and as a side note, here is a definition of restorative justice that captures the meaning: “Restorative justice repairs the harm caused by crime. When victims, offenders and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results can be transformational. It emphasizes accountability, making amends, and — if they are interested — facilitated meetings between victims, offenders, and other persons.”) and she shared what going to the protests meant for her saying she was distinctly aware of her white privilege…that while it appeared as though the majority of the protesters were white, the people who will continue protesting day after day—the one and two and three people—will be the African American people whose community and lives are threatened day after day. She reminded us that our criminal justice system often lacks actual justice and though it might sound unpopular, she’s not sure that taking 10 years from Yanez would make a difference for the systemic injustice African Americans face each day. She welcomed anyone to talk with her about restorative justice and what it could look like for our community.
HIGH SCHOOLER //
The next person to go to the microphone was a high schooler from my congregation and my daughter’s friend. She shared what it was like to be part of the demonstration that closed down Interstate 94. She said that injustice doesn’t stop once the killing is over and the verdict is made. She watched as protesters were arrested even after they were complying with law enforcement being asked to leave the protest line. She let the congregation know that minors were arrested and their names and ages were released publicly which is illegal. And the poignant reminder she left us with was that closing down a section of I94 during the protest was not for inconveniencing the city automobile travelers…it is a clear protest against the I94 construction that tore through the vibrant African American community in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul 50 years ago displacing families, breaking up community ties, closing businesses and razing homes.
FORMER MISSIONARY //
Then a former missionary with a deep love and compassion for the suffering and war in South Sudan shared his experience with Philando’s family. He shared that he and his wife meet with Philando’s mom regularly to pray for them and with them and learn about Philando. He and his wife are personally affected by Philando’s death since their granddaughter attends the Montessori school where Philando worked. She had a connection with him and they are continually working on understanding and helping their granddaughter understand what happened and why and what to do next.
I shared that in all of this mess and murder the one single person I think about and pray for the most is that little four-year-old girl, the daughter of Philando’s girlfriend, who witnessed a murder. She saw an adult man murder another man right in front of her. Shot him. Killed him. Watched him die. So how are the children? Who is their advocate? I pray for all the children in our city who are witnesses of violence and recipients of violence by the adults in their lives. Who will speak for the children? Who is protecting them? How will they negotiate life with a bedrock of violence? I presume she is now 5 and having a 5 year-old myself I am stunned into how I would work and love differently had my child experienced the shooting death of another human.
The next man to share lives just blocks from where Philando was killed. His neighborhood group has been working to create a space for dialog, protest, community action and listening to reimagine what it means that a murder took place on their streets. He shared that they are carefully planning how to respond peacefully but powerfully to the acquittal of Yanez acknowledging the hurt and anger still prevalent in their community.
SOCIAL WORKER //
My friend shared that her work with refugees, immigrants and others seeking asylum in the United States has given her a more distinct look at gun violence. She asked that we don’t forget Philando’s death is another in the gun violence arena. When she studied and volunteered at the US-Mexico border working to understand the issues and complexities of border crossing issues, illegal immigration and the systemic problems that cause the border issues, much of the conversation pointed toward guns. The US has people and drugs crossing the border into our country while Mexico gets the flow of guns from the US into their country. The gun violence in Mexico is staggering…is it any wonder families want to leave to preserve their life and the lives of their children? The problems are deep and convoluted and cannot be solved with a wall. She reminded us to remember that gun violence is a main actor in this theatre. (Here is a video tour of what it is like on the border.)
The last person to come forward was my friend from Cameroon. He asked for prayer for all the people who experienced apathy when hearing the acquittal verdict. He said himself that he was surprised he felt nothing when he learned of the acquittal. And he wondered how that was possible since he and his wife—Africans—are raising three black children in the US. He considered taking his family back to Cameroon as a way to escape the risks of living in the US as Black people, but said that would only avoid the problems and that Cameroon has racial injustices of their own. He challenged us to pray for the apathetic.
Wow. I love my church. I love these people. They are saying and doing hard things.
So here are some options if you’re interested in taking an active role in undoing racial injustices in our communities, ending gun violence, caring for the children witnessing violence or training on peace and restorative justice. There are so many excellent organizations around the state, country and world. Here are just a few I’m aware of…please add links of others in the comments section and let’s start being what we want to be seeing in our communities.
Cornerstone out of Bloomington, MN: “Cornerstone’s ultimate goal is to reduce the prevalence of domestic violence, sexual violence and human trafficking. Healthy futures are possible when we coordinate an effective crisis response, implement trauma-informed support services, mitigate the impact of violence on children and youth, and confront the roots of violence.”
Coalition to Stop Gun Violence: “We seek to secure freedom from gun violence through research, strategic engagement and effective policy advocacy. We believe that all Americans have a right to live in communities free from gun violence.”
Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute: “Its mission is to instigate, train, and support racially, culturally, ethnically, religiously, and economically diverse individuals and organizations to become trauma-informed, resilience-oriented, and restorative-focused empowering communities in Minnesota, the USA, and around the world
Black Lives Matter Minneapolis Chapter: “#BlackLivesMatter is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. We affirm our contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression. We have put our sweat equity and love for Black people into creating a political project–taking the hashtag off of social media and into the streets. The call for Black lives to matter is a rallying cry for ALL Black lives striving for liberation.”
Be kind. Love fiercely. Act powerful in peace. See you in church.
Thanks Claire for sharing these heartfelt thoughts from you and your church. When I heard the verdict I thought of you and wondered about all the people in Minneapolis and how they were responding. Am thankful for the voice of you and your congregation.
Thank you for reading, Rhoda. I do have a pretty amazing congregation.