Philando Castile's Uncle On Bridging The Gap Between The Public And Police

May 30, 2020
Originally published on May 30, 2020 5:03 pm

For Clarence Castile, the death of George Floyd has felt all too familiar.

In 2016, Castile's nephew, Philando Castile, was pulled over while driving in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn. The officer asked to see his license and registration, and he was reaching for them when the officer shot him five times.

"It is very painful to see another black man killed at the hands of the police for basically doing nothing worthy of dying for," Castile said in an interview with NPR's Weekend Edition.

In the four years since the shooting, the Castile family has been working to reduce the use of deadly force by police. Clarence even joined the St. Paul Police Department as a reserve officer to help improve relations between law enforcement and the public.

"I wanted to basically inform myself on some of the practices that cops do, so I can bring that information back to my community and share it with the younger people," he said.

His work has focused on reforming practices that have resulted in the deaths of multiple black men while in police custody, as well as a history of excessive force within the Minnesota police.

"In a lot of instances, the police haven't done anything worthy of being looked at and respected," Castile said. "If you want to be looked at and respected, you have to treat people with respect and look at them with kindness and care. African American neighborhoods, they don't get that type of treatment. And when they do have an encounter, like a simple being pulled over, that doesn't have to be a life or death situation."

Castile was first placed on then-Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's working group for police and community relations, where he helped make recommendations for new laws and policies to close the divisions between police and communities of color, including additional training. But Castile worries that officers forget their training during heated situations. "Most of the time, when the training goes out the door, somebody gets hurt," Castile said. "That's what got Philando Castile killed."

"Our communities and our cops need to have better relationships and understand each other a little bit more — actually a lot more," Castile said. "If we want to stop what's going on, we have to be able to communicate. And the big problem here with the protests which have turned into mini-riots and looting and things of that nature, that's because of miscommunication."

In response to Floyd's death, protests have erupted across the country. Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd's neck, was arrested and charged with third degree murder and manslaughter on Friday, but protesters are calling for charges against the other three officers who were fired over the incident, too. Buildings and cars have been set ablaze and multiple people have died as a result of the protests.

"You know what could be done? Accountability, right now," Castile said, adding: "It's about everybody playing a small part. We all have a small part to play in the big picture, but if we just stand back and do nothing, then there's going to be an empty space out there. And the more of us that do nothing, the emptier the space will be."

NPR's Andrew Craig and Martha Ann Overland produced and edited the audio version of this interview.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The alleged killing of George Floyd, a black Minnesota man, by a white police officer has roiled the country. Another case that shocked the nation was the killing of Philando Castile. Four years ago, Philando Castile was pulled over while driving in a suburb of St. Paul. The officer asked to see his license and registration. He was reaching for them when the officer shot him five times. Since that shooting, Philando Castile's family has been working to reduce the use of deadly force by police. Philando's uncle, Clarence Castile, joined the St. Paul police as a reserve officer to help improve relations between the police and the public. He joins us from Andover, Minn. And a warning to listeners - this interview contains a disturbing description of Floyd's death.

Thank you so much for being with us.

CLARENCE CASTILE: Thank you, sir, for having me here.

SIMON: To hear about George Floyd's death must be especially painful for you this week. How are you and your family?

CASTILE: Well, you are 100% correct. It is very painful to see another black man killed at the hands of the police for basically doing nothing worthy of dying for.

SIMON: There has been a history of the Minneapolis Police Department using excessive force, which has been reported on even more this week, even though, of course, there's also been previous efforts at reform. Give us some idea, if you could, how the police can be viewed by a lot of your neighbors.

CASTILE: Well, they're not viewed in a very good light. In a lot of instances, the police haven't done anything worthy of being looked at and respected. If you want to be looked at and respected, you have to treat people with respect and look at them with kindness and care. African American neighborhoods - they don't get that type of treatment. And when they do have an encounter, like a simple being pulled over, it doesn't have to be a life-or-death situation.

Our communities and our cops need to have better relationships and understand each other a little bit more - actually, a lot more. If we want to stop what's going on, we have to be able to communicate. And the big problem here with the protests, which it turns into mini riots and looting and things of that nature, and that's because there's been no real communication.

SIMON: Mr. Castile, tell us about the important work you've been doing.

CASTILE: Working with the St. Paul Police Department, you know, came about - that idea came to me before my nephew was shot. And the reason I wanted to do that was I wanted to basically inform myself on some of the practices that cops do so I could bring that back - that information back to my community and share with the younger people in the community, you know, so that they wouldn't have these fears of police.

I ended up being placed on Governor Dayton's working group for police and community relations. And we hashed out recommendations to make some new laws and policies that would help the law enforcement community and the communities themselves have better relations. And the police actually got some more money for training, training that they tend to forget when they get into a heated situation. It's like the training go out the door (laughter), you know? And most of the time when the training go out the door, somebody gets hurt. That's what got Philando Castile killed. I thought he was reaching. Well, he was reaching. He was reaching for his driver's license, and you shot him and killed him.

SIMON: Mr. Castile, no one, I dare say, would know better than you. What would make a difference that's - that can be done right now?

CASTILE: You know what could be done? Accountability right now - everybody being responsible for what you do and being responsible for the person standing next to you. You know, because, I mean, in the cop world, when one cop sees another cop using excessive force, the cop that's watching is supposed to intervene. In a perfect world, that cop would say, hey, man. Calm down, dude. Yo, man. Get up off of him. You're killing the guy.

But in the situation with Mr. Floyd, it wasn't like that. You saw this man get choked out by a guy with his hands in his pocket like it was no big deal. I'm just going to lay on this black man's neck, you know, watch him slobber and bleeding from the mouth and nose, crying to his mama. And now he's dead.

Accountability now - you know, leaders accountable for their underlings, underlings accountable to their partners on the side of them, you know, me accountable to my neighbors, my neighbors accountable to me and everybody helping everybody out. It's about everybody playing a small part. So we all have a small part to play in the big picture. But if we just stand back and do nothing, then there is going to be an empty space out there. And the more of us do nothing, the emptier the space be.

SIMON: Clarence Castile, uncle of Philando Castile, thank you so much for making the time to speak with us, sir.

CASTILE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.