On June 17, the verdict in the case of the fatal shooting of Philando Castile was announced in St. Paul, Minn. Officer Jeronimo Yanez was found not guilty on all counts, including second-degree manslaughter.
In July of 2016, Castile’s death received national attention. Cries of injustice could be heard across the country because of the alleged use of force by a police officer. Castile’s girlfriend, also in the car during the shooting, used Facebook Live to broadcast the aftermath of the shooting, which was shared by several news outlets across the country. This case is one of many similar cases in the United States in the last few years that has sparked national interest.
LivingLutheran.org collected several statements from leaders around the church about these cases and this verdict. We will continue collecting these reflections in an effort to maintain an open dialogue on issues that our communities are struggling with each day. Your thoughts can be shared by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reactions and comments
From Jaddie Edwards, community organizer for Racial Justice, Minneapolis Area Synod
On the afternoon of Friday June 16, the long-awaited verdict (in the Philando Castile case) finally came and it stated that former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez was found not guilty on all charges relating to the fatal shooting of Philando Castile. More than expressing shock or surprise, many community members responded by saying, “I am hurt, I am afraid.” Black men, some of whom are more consciously aware than they have been in the past, are expressing their emotions openly. For many of them, they feel that this verdict sent a strong message that this is now open season to justifiably shoot and kill a black man in Minnesota.
In anticipation of this verdict, many groups were thinking ahead and formulating plans on how to respond to questions about charges in police brutality cases, anger, fear and the memory of recent traumatizing experiences or any violence that might erupt. As a result of this planning, a group of local congregations—Baptist, Catholic and Lutheran—hosted a gathering on June 18, called “Come Together,” a time of worship and intentional conversation. The highlight of the evening’s gathering came when the Rev. Brian Herron of Zion Baptist Church responded to whether fear for his life was a factor in the case of former officer Yanez. “If the color of my skin is the weapon you fear, how can I ever be disarmed?” Herron asked.
According to the Rev. Paul Slack of New Creation Church, the focus of “Come Together” is an effort to model peace by bringing together residents from different racial and religious backgrounds to pray, share stories and sing. “Across race, across faith, we actually want to connect,” said Slack.
The next “Come Together” event is planned for Sunday, July 9, at 4:30 p.m. at Christ on Capitol Hill in St. Paul.*
From Judith Roberts, program director, ELCA Racial Justice Ministries
As a denomination we affirm Black Lives Matter. We have also encouraged members, congregations and synods to support the 10-point policy plan of Campaign Zero. The policy platform calls to limit police interventions, improve community interactions and ensure greater accountability. Only by joining with others can we hear the cries of injustice and work for greater accountability to strive for justice for all.
From Albert Starr, director, ELCA Ethnic Specific and Multicultural Ministries
On Friday, June 16, 2017, I drove from our ELCA churchwide offices in Chicago to the campus of Augustana College to facilitate a workshop for the Northern Illinois Synod Assembly. The workshop focus was “Engaging Each Other Missionally to Become a Multicultural Church.”
The workshop session was all too brief with time to do little more than again lift up the truth that our baptismal covenant calls us as church to this work of engaging each other with grace and integrity across lines of race, class and culture. This is central to our mission as church.
The small group of about 20 or so moved through a few minutes of discussion around the powerful opportunity we carry as church to create spaces of welcome and to do the amazing work of both “inviting” and welcoming one another into relationship, into community.
Over the course of about 45 minutes, the workshop participants shared how uncomfortable it felt for them to encounter and confront issues of fear, conflict, racial/cultural difference, privilege and power and how these factors and feelings so often hinder, not just our efforts to be an honestly multicultural church, but an equitably diverse and just society as well.
Our time concluded with being reminded again that our mission as church is to be that powerful presence and agency of the body of Christ, alive and at work in society, in the world.
The work of being church, demonstrating in the world the love of God and being “One Body, Many Members” will often be both joy and struggle. Yet, as uncomfortable as we might be, our baptismal covenant holds us to the truth that no part of the body of Christ can say to another part, “I have no need of you.”
It is not at all unusual for me to reflect on what impact or how best to assess the impact of such brief engagements. On the radio in the car driving back to Chicago I heard of the verdict announcing officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty on all charges relating to the shooting death of Philando Castile. I thought about going to St. Paul almost a year ago with others from our office.
Officer Yanez shot and killed Philando Castile, stating that he was in fear for his life. In response to the verdict, many, especially in the black community, wrestle with feelings of anger, hurt and being in fear for the lives of black people and black men in particular. Quoting the Rev. Brian Herron, “If the color of my skin is the weapon you fear, how can I ever be disarmed?”
We are guided by a theology of presence to “show up” and be present with communities and contexts where crisis of one kind or another, tears at the fabric of the garment of oneness that clothes us in our humanity. Pictures in my phone from almost a full year ago remind me of our call to be present with one another in the most painful of times and that turning away from the hard and difficult conversations and encounters is not an option for us. We are church and church together for the sake of the world.
We continue committed to the work, our mission and ministry of being the church at work. We grieve the death of Philando Castile, loss to humanity and the tragic many that his death calls us to remember. We continue, knowing that the volatile climate of our times demand of us even more as we live out our missional call to be peacemakers, repairers of the breach, doers of justice, builders of the beloved community, disciples of Jesus, the Christ of God.
*Editor’s note: “Come Together” are gatherings that have been happening monthly since Philando Castille was shot last summer. The gatherings are hosted at Christ on Capitol Hill in St. Paul, Minn. “Come Together” is a time of prayer, worship, fellowship and conversation that brings together many faith traditions, denominations and cultures. The next scheduled event is July 9 4:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m., will include participation by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, the ELCA Minneapolis Area Synod, the ELCA St. Paul Area Synod, Luther Seminary and several area congregations. The gathering will include a prayer walk around the state Capitol and to a recent homicide site next door to the church office.