Colleagues, labor community mourn Teamster fatally shot during traffic stop

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Philando Castile, the man fatally shot during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights last night, was a cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul and a member of Teamsters Local 320.

Officers of Castile’s union today expressed grief at the sudden loss of their union brother, “an amazing person who did his job at St. Paul Public Schools because he loved the children he served,” Local 320 President Sami Gabriel said.

Grief gave way to frustration today, as hundreds gathered outside the Governor’s Residence in St. Paul to remember Castile and demand justice for his family. Classmates and colleagues from the school district took the microphone to express anger at seeing another interaction with law enforcement turn fatal for a person of color.

St. Paul Federation of Teachers Local 28, which represents teachers and support staff in the St. Paul district, released a statement calling Castile’s shooting “unjustifiable” and urging members to attend a vigil for his family at J.J. Hill, 998 Selby Ave., at 5:30 p.m. tonight.

“Structural racism is real and present in our country and our community,” SPFT’s statement said. “We are horrified by the number of black citizens and youth dying as a result of police shootings. These are incidences our students are watching and living daily. We can, and must, do better.”

‘Enthusiasm and fist bumps’

Castile, who was 32, began working for the St. Paul school district in 2002. A graduate of St. Paul Central High School, he was well known among students and staff at J.J. Hill, Principal Fatima Lawson said in a letter to the school’s families and staff.

“He welcomed students to the lunchroom with enthusiasm and fist bumps,” Lawson wrote. “Teachers and staff loved working with him and he frequently greeted former colleagues with a smile and a hug. This is a tragic loss for our school, our staff and his family. Our hearts go out to all who knew him and we will definitely miss his presence this fall.”

Minnesota teachers asked for a moment of silence to remember Castile during the National Education Association’s assembly in Washington D.C. this morning, joining teachers from Louisiana who mourned the loss of another black man, Alton Sterling, shot by police Tuesday in Baton Rouge. (Video)

Central High School teacher Kimberly Colbert asked delegates to “send prayers and healing thoughts” to St. Paul. “Please remember him, as we remember all the victims of the horrible violence that’s been going on in our country,” she added.

Demonstrators gathered outside the Governor's Residence in St. Paul today to call for justice in the shooting of Phil Castile.

Demonstrators gathered outside the Governor’s Residence in St. Paul today to call for justice in the shooting of Phil Castile.

A double standard

The shootings of Castile and Sterling drew nationwide attention, including condolences from the nation’s highest-ranking labor leader, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“Philando Castile was a union member, and so his family is our family,” Trumka said.

Earlier this year the AFL-CIO brought its Commission on Racial and Economic Justice to the Twin Cities, and both Trumka and Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy reiterated their commitment to dealing with racism as a labor issue.

“Labor cannot and will not sit on the sidelines when it comes to racial justice,” Trumka said. “It is not enough to simply say ‘Black Lives Matter.’ We must and will continue to fight for reforms in policing and to address issues of racial and economic inequality.”

McCarthy, meanwhile, called for a thorough, impartial investigation of Castile’s death, while acknowledging a troubling “double standard” African Americans face in dealings with police.

Castile is the 136th black person fatally injured by law enforcement in the U.S. this year, according to The Guardian, which tracks people killed by U.S. law enforcement agencies on its website. Blacks and Native Americans have been much more likely to be killed by police in 2016 than any other ethnic group, according to the site.

“Whether the bias is intentional or not, too many African American men find themselves on the receiving end of deadly force,” McCarthy said. “There are no quick and easy solutions to this all too familiar incident. These are complex problems that will require tough conversations and decisions.

“Minnesota’s Labor movement remains committed to helping address the racial inequalities, in both the economic and criminal justice systems, that continue to persist in our state and nation.”

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