FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. (PAI and Workday Minnesota) – Philando Castile, a Teamsters Local 320 member and nutrition services supervisor at the J.J. Hill Montessori school in St. Paul, Minn., was one of two African-American men shot dead by police while unresisting on the nights of July 6-7.
His death in the suburb of Falcon Heights, and that of Alton Sterling, of Baton Rouge, La., led to peaceful protests and renewed demands for probes of police shootings.
Residents of St. Paul and the surrounding area massed outside the Minnesota governor’s mansion, led by a large homemade bedsheet banner reading “Justice for Philando.” Unions hosted a mass rally in his memory at the Montessori school on the evening of July 7.
The deaths of Sterling and Castile – whose union local, ironically, represents public safety officers, among other government workers-led to renewed questions about police conduct and attitudes towards minorities, particularly African-American men. “We’re being hunted every day,” Castile’s mother told the BET network in an early-morning interview.
That was mixed with an outpouring of sympathy for the family, and demands for justice.
“The 11,000 members of Teamsters Local 320 are saddened and grieving the loss of Teamster brother Philando Castile,” the union said in a statement. In a tweet, a St. Paul school co-worker called Castile in a tweet “quiet, respectful and kind. He called me his wingman.” And Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, tweeted: “As heartbreaking as this death is for us, it will be worse for the kids who just lost their lunchroom friend.”
Teamsters Local 320 President Sami Gabriel, who met Castile when Castile joined in 2002, called him “an amazing person who did his job at St. Paul Public Schools because he loved the children he served. He will be deeply missed by his colleagues and his community.”
His local called Castile’s death “a tragedy on every level and all Teamsters are encouraged to keep the Castile family in our thoughts and prayers.”
Other Minnesota unions said the shooting of Castile again emphasizes how far the nation must go in solving and preventing such tragedies. State AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy said labor “grieves for the loss of yet another young African-American man.
“While our thoughts and prayers are with Philando’s family and friends, we know that thoughts and prayers aren’t enough. We need to begin by giving state and federal authorities time to do their jobs, conduct impartial investigations, and let due process take its course.
“However, we must acknowledge a double standard exists for African-American men when interacting with law enforcement. Whether the bias is intentional or not, too many African-American men find themselves on the receiving end of deadly force,” he said. Earlier in 2016, the Twin Cities hosted a hearing by a special AFL-CIO commission on racial justice.
“There are no quick and easy solutions to this all-too-familiar incident. These are complex problems that will require tough conversations and decisions. Minnesota’s labor movement remains committed to helping address the racial inequalities, in both the economic and criminal justice systems, that continue to persist in our state and nation,” McCarthy said.
The state’s Service Employees affiliate, SEIU Minnesota, agreed. Comparing Castile to thousands of SEIU members, it said he provided “a safe and enriching environment for students” in the school cafeteria. “But he did not return home to his family last night and will not be there when school starts this fall.
“We must take action to address our state’s horrible racial inequalities and killings by police that are all too familiar to people of color. We are angry that stories like Mr. Castile’s continue to happen, yet we know anger and sadness aren’t enough. We need action. We remain committed to dismantling structural racism in Minnesota and across the country.”
Photo: Philando Castile | Kyle Potter/AP