5 Years After Philando Castile's Police Shooting Death: Hoping for Change, Braced for Pain

The grave of Philando Castile
Philando Castile's grave site.Getty

Philando Castile was shot to death by a Minnesota policeman five years ago. His mother and his girlfriend, who livestreamed on Facebook from the shooting, have become advocates for change.

Five years ago, one of the more disturbing shootings of a black man occurred on the side of a road in a Minnesota suburb.

The killing of Philando Castile took place in front of his girlfriend, and his girlfriend's 4-year-old daughter, during a traffic stop for a broken brake light. But it was what Diamond Reynolds did after the officer fired seven shots at her boyfriend that boggled the nation's mind.

She picked up her cellphone and began livestreaming on Facebook, as Castile slumped in his seat, his white T-shirt soaked in blood. She was calm and matter-of-fact. She shed no tears. "Please officer, don’t tell me that you just did this to him. You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir.”

Castile was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot Castile, 32, five times at close range in Falcon Heights. Castile had calmly told officers he had a license to carry a gun, and that it was in the car, bodycam footage showed.

“OK. Don’t reach for it then,” Yanez said. He repeated it twice, then began firing. After the shooting stops, Yanez screamed, “Don’t pull it out!” the bodycam video showed. 

That is when Diamond started filming, never losing her poise or determination in describing what happened — that her boyfriend had said he was licensed to carry, that he was getting his license and registration out, that he was doing everything he had been asked to do.

Her video went viral, stunning viewers around the world, including the governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, who said he was "appalled" by what he saw. 

"Would this have happened if those passengers, the driver were white?" he asked after the shooting. "I don't think it would have.

"I can't say how shocked I am and deeply, deeply offended that this would happen to somebody in Minnesota," Dayton said. "No one should be shot in Minnesota for a taillight being out of function. No one should be killed in Minnesota while seated in their car."

Yanez was acquitted in 2017 on charges of second-degree manslaughter and endangering public safety by discharging a firearm. He testified he thought Castile was reaching for a weapon and feared for his safety.

The death of Castile, a school cafeteria supervisor known for buying lunches for students who had no money, was not the first police shooting death to ignite demonstrations across the country and it certainly was not the last. 

In 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot to death in Ohio by an officer who mistook his plastic gun for a real one. A grand jury declined to indict the officer, Timothy Loehmann, who was fired in 2017 for falsifying information on his job application, the Cleveland Police Department said. In 2020, the U.S. Justice Department closed its investigation of the shooting, saying it lacked evidence a federal crime had occurred.

Castile's death came two years later, and entered the recent historical timeline of the Black Lives Matter movement. Four years after Castile's death came the killing of George Floyd, also in Minnesota, who died after officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes after detaining him on suspicion of passing a fake $20 bill.

But Floyd's killing had a much different outcome. Chauvin was sentenced last month 22 and a half years in prison for killing Floyd. Three other officers charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin are scheduled to be tried in March 2022.

That sentence gave some hope to Castile's mother, Valerie, who had become an advocate for families affected by violence and police shootings.

Valerie Castile leads the Philando Castile Relief Foundation, a nonprofit organization that pushes for policy change in police departments involved in violence against citizens. Her group also has helped pay the lunch debts of students in Minneapolis and St. Paul, something she does to continue her son's legacy.

The foundation also supports families who've lost relatives to law enforcement violence by providing them with financial and counseling support.

Castile's former girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, likewise speaks out against police violence and offers helps to its victims as a motivational speaker. On her website, Reynolds describes losing the "love of my life" and how it has forever changed her.

"It transformed me into an outspoken advocate to end police brutality and passionate supporter of mental health and wellness, particularly for women and children who are recovering from trauma," she wrote.

Castile's mother said she finds comfort in comforting other mothers like herself.

“It’s bittersweet,” she recently told the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. “But just the mere fact of knowing that I’ve done something to help the next person has brought me joy.”