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MN youth leaders respond to the Philando Castile verdict

Participants at a recent AFSC Freedom School in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Photo: Andrew Parker / AFSC

"Knowing better doesn't mean we abandon hope. We will continue to do the necessary work to ensure a world with liberation." 

By Miraf Kebede and Sara Osman

Editor’s note: AFSC's Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) is a multi-city youth-led network mobilizing people of all ages to work against racist systems that oppress us all. As part of these programs, hundreds of youth across the country annually take part in in AFSC's anti-racist workshops called Freedom Schools. 

Last month, YUIR participants in St. Paul, Minnesota struggled with news of the verdict in the police killing of Philando Castile, a Black man who was shot to death by a police officer during a traffic stop in a suburb of the city. Two youth leaders, Miraf Kebede and Sara Osman, shared their thoughts in this blog post.  

Shock. Anger. Frustration. Disbelief. Heartbreak.

We experienced these emotions in a matter of seconds, and they were on repeat the entire day. On Friday, June 16, the verdict in the Jeronimo Yanez trial was announced—not guilty on all charges. Many, if not all, Black youth and organizers across the country had not expected more, but the decision has been difficult to cope with nonetheless.

Here in the Twin Cities, we are in a period of renewed mourning. The anger and determination that was sparked last summer following Philando's death has been replaced with a melancholy hollowness. Justice has not been served. And has not been served for a long time. We have a long list of victims that is constantly being added to and a long list of killers who walk free. 

In the minds of many, Philando Castile did nothing to deserve being executed in front of his family. He was a registered gun owner with his license on his person, he worked at a primary school, and he was loved by his community. But Philando was Black. And that alone was reason enough for Officer Yanez to shoot and kill him. In a country where white supremacy and anti-Black racism prevail, as young people we’ve become accustomed to hearing about the murders of Black people by law enforcement. The same law enforcement that supposedly exists to “serve and protect” is dishing out different protocols when dealing with Black communities.

Philando Castile was stopped by police at least 49 times before he was shot and killed in a traffic stop. There is a larger systemic issue that must be addressed, and while we are devastated by this verdict, it is a symptom of much more that needs to be addressed. 

Many of the youth in our YUIR were active participants of the occupation at the governor's mansion last summer. They were there at every protest and every action. And today they are numb and disheartened. To those who say we should not be surprised, do not force us to subscribe to your jaded worldview. Allow us this space and time to scream and cry. Knowing better doesn't mean we abandon hope. We will continue to do the necessary work to ensure a world with liberation, but today we will take a minute or two to recognize that a killer is allowed to return home and a man so fondly known by his community and his students is lost to us all.

We also want to say that in 2017, the desensitization of Black deaths is a real concern as we are mass consuming Black people being murdered every day. We are conscious of this and ask that folks refrain from sharing any videos of Philando's death and the subsequent dashcam video that was released. Out of respect for his family and loved ones, please be refrain from sharing the live execution of Philando. 

In addition to Philando, we also want to highlight the murders of Nabra Hassanen and Charleena Lyles that happened in the past few weeks. Nabra Hassanen was a young Black Muslim who was beat to death in an act of hate-fueled violence following prayer in Fairfax, Virginia. And Charleena Lyles was a young pregnant Black mother of three young children who was shot and killed by police in Seattle, Washington. As we are saddened and outraged by the verdict, we are heartbroken to hear the deaths of these two Black women. It has been a difficult past few weeks, and we are all at a loss for words about the horrors that continue to happen in this country.

We have much work to do. But we must take care of each other along the way. At our summer Freedom School this year, we hope to provide young people with spaces to voice their thoughts and feelings around the verdict as well as other national or local news. We want to provide outlets for young people directly affected to find affirmation and support in their existence. Healing does not occur at one time but in little increments spread out. We hope that we all find our bits and pieces of healing this summer and beyond.