Valerie Castile Fights for Justice in Her Son Philando’s Name

His death has led to modifying Minnesota driver’s manual section on gun carry/police stops

Photo: Star Tribune/Getty Images

Valerie Castile has spent the past four years making sure her son Philando’s name is never forgotten. She wants to replace the video seared into our brains from July 6, 2016, when the Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop. Hours later, the beloved school nutrition supervisor from St. Paul, Minnesota joined the long list of Black people killed by police in the United States. Yanez was subsequently found not guilty in a 2017 second-degree manslaughter trial. Despite that verdict, the city of St. Anthony paid a $2.995 million settlement to the Castile family.

As Black Lives Matter protests explode all over the country, prompted afresh by the police killing of George Floyd just a city over in Minneapolis, Philando’s name stays in the national conversation. His mother has been working nonstop to do good work in her son’s name. She founded the Philando Castile Relief Foundation, a nonprofit that clears lunch debt for Twin Cities students and provides financial assistance and resources to families who have lost loved ones to gun violence. The agency also provides grief counseling and funerary assistance.

Philando didn’t talk much on this plane of existence, but he’s making a lot of noise now.

MOMENTUM spoke with Valerie Castile about plans to further her activism and philanthropic work. Wayne Carter from the Alliance for Safe Traffic Stops joined her to provide insight and thoughts on how real change can be achieved.

MOMENTUM: How do you feel about the Black Lives Matter uprisings that keep your son’s name — and others — front and center?

Valerie Castile: That was something that was bound to happen. It was no surprise to me. The governor called and asked me what did I think the public was going to do and I said, “They gone fuck some shit up.” Excuse my French. We here in Minnesota and across the country have been suppressing all the emotions because time after time, your visual is seeing some Black person unarmed or in mental distress, being shot down like dogs. So when they protest in that manner, it was just a combination of frustration and anger. It was nothing hateful about it. It’s about the way human beings are being treated. Decades of oppression and abuse after abuse, murder, and there is no accountability. It’s time for people to be held accountable.

How did you respond to Naomi Osaka wearing your son’s name for her U.S. Open mask tribute?

Valerie Castile: It’s the young people who have been stepping up. I’ve had interviews on Japanese TV stations because of Naomi Osaka. I’m honored that she used her platform. The Lynx stepped up and wore their T-shirts and everything. There’s an artist here named Semhar Solomon who is fighting to put up a mural. She was only 12-years-old when Philando was crucified. His hair was the thorn crown, his seatbelt was the cross, and the bullets were the nails, baby. My son wasn’t killed, murdered, or executed, my son was crucified, sweetheart.

You founded the Philando Castile Relief Foundation. Tell me more about what the organization does?

Valerie Castile: The Philando Castile Relief Foundation was designed around the things he held near and dear to his heart. We have families that lose loved ones to gun violence. We help reduce the negative lunch balances throughout our Minnesota School District. We also have disaster relief funds. What we’re trying to do is to relieve some of the stress off of our families. Philando was a loving, giving, spiritual person. Doing these things helps keep his legacy alive and helps me deal with my grief. No amount of money can bring my son back, but doing these things honors his life. He was a great guy.

With the Alliance for Safe Traffic Stops, what kind of reception have you gotten from law enforcement?

Wayne Carter: It’s been good at times. When we first started out, it was kind of rough because officers looked at us as if we were pointing fingers at them, but you’ve got to come in with an open mind. When I look at Philando Castile’s incident, he did everything right and there is still a problem, so there’s going to take a lot of training on both sides.

What changes have you wrought already with activism?

Valerie Castile: On the day of Philando’s commemoration, July 6, 2020, there was a press conference because Minnesota updated their driver’s manual. They put a section about gun ownership and what you should do if you are stopped by the police and you have a weapon in the car. I fought for that for a whole year.

Has your foundation received any donations from celebrities?

Valerie Castile: No. I’m constantly thanking our donors for whatever they can give, but we haven’t gotten any big money from the large corporations or celebrities at all. Life goes on and I’m gonna keep doing what I have to do without them because God is in the leadership of what I’m doing. We were honored to receive the Reg Weaver award from the NEA. We also got the Torchbearer Award from the ACLU and the Strong Buffalo Award from the Dakota Sioux Tribe. So, the work is being recognized and I accept these awards in honor of my son. Everything we do is in honor of Philando.

What’s the best way for people to support your causes right now?

Wayne Carter: People can go to NotReaching.com where we sell our Not Reaching pouches that eliminate the need for a driver to reach for identification police normally ask for during a traffic stop. We are trying to do our part with getting people to vote, so with each Not Reaching pouch we send out, we are including postage stamps since so many people will be mailing in ballots this year. And we definitely want people to go to the Alliance for Safe Traffic Stops website to get more information on training and resources.

Valerie Castile: Be an informed voter. If you’re mailing in a ballot, mail it early and if you’re going to the polls, be prepared. For the Philando Castile Relief Foundation, we have a new text feature where you can donate right from your phone. Text “No Lunch Debt” to 44321. I would like people to keep the awareness going that there is a problem in this country. If you don’t, you know, say that there’s a problem, the problem will persist. We need to get our priorities together as far as these laws are concerned. A lot of them are too vague. People go through loopholes and go home while we mourn our dead. Philando didn’t talk much on this plane of existence, but he’s making a lot of noise now.

Follow Momentum to read more stories that inform today’s understanding of systemic racism and the folks working to dismantle it.

NYC-based Writer and Editor | National Writers Union Member | Girls Write Now Mentor Alum

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Momentum is a blog that captures and reflects the moment we find ourselves in, one where rampant anti-Black racism is leading to violence, trauma, protest, reflection, sorrow, and more. Momentum doesn’t look away when the news cycle shifts.

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