Holding a bullhorn, 17-year-old Semhar Solomon led a protest down Summit Avenue in St. Paul outside of the governor's residence to commemorate the five-year anniversary of the death of Philando Castile.
For the past five years, the St. Anthony teen has advocated for Castile, who was killed by a police officer from her town. Since she was 12, Solomon has watched the Black Lives Matter movement explode in the Twin Cities and the state — from the killing of Castile in 2016 to the murder of George Floyd and the conviction of Derek Chauvin.
"I think once we saw that conviction, all three charges, almost every single Black person was expecting to settle for one charge, since we've seen it not go our way, not benefit Black bodies," Solomon said. She and other protesters and activists gathered in the rain Tuesday to remember Castile, and they later broke ground at the peace garden in his name.
Castile was in the car with his girlfriend and her daughter when he was pulled over by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who shot Castile five times. Yanez was acquitted of all charges in 2017.
His mother, Valerie Castile, spoke to a crowd of about 50 people about her son's life and legacy.
Castile recalled her son's honesty about having a firearm, which he held a permit for, during the traffic stop.
"He said, 'Sir, sir, I must tell you I have a weapon in the car.' And for his truth and honesty, he was fed five bullets," Castile said.
She criticized the "pretextual" stops like the one used to pull Castile over, or the use of minor traffic or equipment violations as a legal way for police to pull over drivers.
State Rep. John Thompson, DFL-St. Paul, said he was pulled over in St. Paul on Saturday for not having a front license plate — a simple interaction for some that he knows could have turned deadly for him.
"I'm in my car with this baseball hat and you can't tell I'm Rep. John Thompson, and neither should I have to change my clothes," he said.
When people ask him what's changed over the past year in terms of police reform, Thompson said very little, except for the youth that made up much of the protest. Thompson embraced Solomon in front of a cheering crowd.
"Look what we got coming up. That's the change. We're building our change," Thompson said.
Zoë Jackson is a reporter covering St. Paul and its neighborhoods for the Star Tribune. 612-673-7112 • @zoemjack