ST. PAUL -- Valerie Castile couldn’t bear to watch the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Castile, whose 32-year-old son, Philando, was shot five times by former officer Jeronimo Yanez after a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, said she didn’t want to be re-traumatized by testimony given during the trial of the man who killed George Floyd.
“I know about all those attacks and how they put a spin on words, and I just didn’t even want to look at it,” she said. “I’ve been through that before, and I know how they can make it seem as if the victim did something wrong.”
But Castile tuned in on Tuesday afternoon, April 20, to watch the news that a Hennepin County jury had found Chauvin guilty on all three charges: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
“I was elated, just ecstatic,” she said. “My daughter and I shared a few tears, and we were so thankful. We want to thank the prosecutors, the activists and everyone who was involved in making accountability actually happen. Any conviction is a victory for us, but to have all three, oh my God, I was, like, ‘Yes!’ ”
Now, she said, it will be up to Judge Peter Cahill to ensure that Chauvin serves the maximum sentence.
“The real justice comes with the sentencing,” she said. “I would like to see him get the full penalty (for each count) and for it to run consecutively. If it’s four years on this one and five on that one and nine on that other one, they need to add it up, and make him do every year of it.”
A strong message
In 2016, Philando Castile was pulled over while driving in Falcon Heights, Minn. He was reaching for his license and registration when St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez fatally shot him five times. Yanez was found not guilty after being put on trial.
Chauvin, however, had to be found guilty because “what he did was horrendous,” Valerie Castile said. “There was nothing to refute. It was undisputable what happened because we saw — unfortunately and fortunately — we saw that from the beginning to the very end.”
In her son’s case, the Ramsey County jury stated that they “couldn’t see what he was doing in the car,” she said.
She hopes Chauvin’s convictions send a strong message to other officers.
“Once you start holding people accountable, they’ll be a little more cautious about making the ultimate sacrifice,” she said. “You’re taking someone’s life in your hand. They say they have a split-second to make a decision — well, this guy had 9 minutes to change his mind, but instead he put his hands in his pockets.”
Castile credits protesters for bringing worldwide attention to the case — and helping ensure guilty verdicts.
“It was just not the time when Philando was killed,” she said. “Unfortunately, God gave us George Floyd. God made the world stand still. God was like, ‘Oh my God, they didn’t get it right this time, now I have to go back and give them somebody else.’ We had an opportunity to watch that play out from the beginning to the end, where there could be nothing said. You can’t challenge what you saw. There is nothing to challenge. This man is guilty as all get out. We saw it play out. We heard people protest, letting (Chauvin) know that he was hurting this guy, but he did not care.”
The recent killing of Daunte Wright “really threw me for a loop,” Castile said, “because it reminded me so much of Philando because the young man was in his car and the car was white as well. That bothered me.”
Wright was killed by ex-Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter on April 11 after Potter allegedly mistook her department-issued handgun for a Taser and shot Wright during a traffic stop. She has been charged with second-degree manslaughter
“What would a reasonable officer do?” Castile said. “It’s like there is no reasoning with police here in Minnesota. That was obvious. You have a dash cam — you know where this young man lives.”
Protesters must stay out and “stay vigilant,” she said. “Because, unfortunately, I have seen the pattern of policing here. Once you stop and you go and try and catch your breath or whatever, they start it right back up. ‘Oh, there is no one out there watching? What can we do? What can we do while they’re not here, while they can’t see?’ They have to stay out there because these guys, they are so predictable. As long as they continue to say they were in fear for their lives, they are going to keep on doing what they are doing.”
Castile said her goal is to encourage young Black people to change the system from within.
“I tell them, ‘In order to change the system, you have to be within the system,’ ” she said. ” ‘You have to be that police officer, be that mayor, be that congressman, be that representative. You can’t keep throwing stones. You have to beat this from the inside out.’ ”