Two years after Philando Castile’s death, community-police relations in his old neighborhood are shifting in the right direction.
Areas throughout the Twin Cities have implemented Lights On, a program aimed to improve the community and its relationship with police. Rather than issue tickets and fines for miniscule vehicle problems, police now hand out $50 coupons redeemable at local car shops to have the problem remedied — instead of dying for it.
Castile was pulled over for a broken taillight — a problem that should not have cost him his life — in Falcon Heights, Minn., a suburb of St.Paul. Other deaths of Black men and women by police have similarly stemmed from such small incidents (Sandra Bland did not use her turn signal; Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes).
Sandy Patterson, a Black woman who was pulled over earlier this year, told The Washington Post she felt positive about the experience.
“I was relieved that I was getting a voucher to purchase a service that could’ve been quite expensive,” she shared. “I had an overwhelming feeling of decreased anxiety because of the whole way the communication went, with somebody helping out versus giving a ticket.”
Lights On came to be thanks to a non-profit organization, MicroGrants. MicroGrants provides $1,000 grants to low-income people for transportation, small businesses, and education. Lights On started with $3,000 and has since garnered twenty times that amount. It is gaining traction in other Midwest areas, according to The Post.
“MicroGrants began the program in 2017 with $3,000 and has since collected $60,000 in donations. Lights On has been replicated in Iowa City in neighboring Iowa and is slated for other locales in the Midwest,” according to The Post.
Changes have also made their way into the school system. Central High School, where Castile went to school, created a scholarship in his name. The $5,000 award goes to a Black student each year. And all lunch fines across St.Paul’s public school system were eradicated by a fund honoring Castile.
The faces of politics are changing, too, which may affect longer-lasting change. St.Paul elected Melvin Carter, the city’s first Black mayor, in November. A large part of his platform included a “Community-First Police Reform” initiative — which Philando Castile’s family supported.
“We’ve fallen for, I think over the last generation, a logic model around public safety that just doesn’t work, that says when you have public safety concerns, all you need is more police officers, tougher prosecutors, and bigger jails,” Carter said not long after his election.
Carter’s father was a police officer for nearly three decades.
“I have worked firsthand with Melvin Carter to build greater trust and understanding between police officers and the communities they serve so that no other family will have to experience what our family went through last year,” said Clarence Castile, Philando Castile’s uncle and a St.Paul reserve police officer. “I know Melvin understands the challenges we face and has the best plan to ensure greater safety and trust for everyone in our city.”
Castile lost his life to a police officer on July 6, 2016, because he was a Black man legally carrying a firearm. The officer was acquitted of all charges.
Kevin Dyer, a white man living in Minnesota, recalled watching the news coverage following Castile’s death.
“For white society as a whole, it was a ‘Holy crap, they’re right’ moment,” he told The Post. “These guys really are getting shot for no good reason. Any Black man in America has a right to fear for his life when dealing with police.”