More than 1,000 attend funeral for Philando Castile

Paul Walsh and Hannah Covington
Minneapolis Star Tribune

St. Paul, Minn. — Philando Castile, resting in a white casket upon a horse-drawn carriage, led a procession to St. Paul Cathedral, where mourners paid their respects to the man killed by police last week in Falcon Heights.

The public service for the St. Paul man lasted about 90 minutes at the Cathedral, which sits high upon a hill on the edge of the capital city's downtown.

Some of the departing mourners lined up on either side of the cathedral's long stairs holding "Unite for Philando" signs as Castile's casket passed by, while a drizzle began to fall and bells peeled. The casket was returned to the carriage for its trip to a private burial.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who suggested race played a role in the 32-year-old black man's death, attended the service. Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and St. Paul city leaders were among the more than 1,500 people on hand.

Many were dressed completely in white or black, and several wore T-shirts with pictures of Castile and messages, including "Rest in heaven" and "RIP Philando."

Castile's death came the same week as that of Alton Sterling, a black man in Louisiana, also from police gunfire. Their deaths sparked protests nationwide and intensified the long-running debate about how law enforcement interacts with blacks all around the country. At one protest in Dallas last week, five police officers were killed by a sniper who said he wanted to kill white officers.

As the ceremony started, everyone in the cathedral was encouraged to hug the person next to them. After a resounding round of applause for Philando Castile, the Grammy-winning ensemble Sounds of Blackness broke into song.

The memorial was filled with songs, and stories and poems read by family members.

"(Castile) was a young, loving, handsome, giving, caring individual," his uncle, Clarence Castile, said.

"I'm just amazed at how many people care about Philando and care about what happened to him," Clarence Castile said as he looked out at the crowded cathedral. He urged family and friends to "stay strong for Phil."

The Rev. Steve Daniels, Jr. of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in his eulogy questioned why racial profiling still occurs in the United States. He said he grew up in Mississippi in the 1950s and 1960s and understands the frustrations of today's protesters.

They want to feel respected, valued and are tired of being "wrongfully murdered," Daniels said.

He also said he is thankful for police and their service, but said people need to find a way to come together.

Overall, faith leaders and musicians focused on messages of hope during the service, telling attendees that things will get better.

"This day will have been a good day," the Rev. John Ubel said, if it brings people of different backgrounds together and gives them a "tiny measure of peace."

Before Castile's procession began, several people shouldered the casket, draped with red and white roses, onto the carriage outside Brooks Funeral Home.

Once in place, a 10-year-old Belgian horse named Frank took the first steps with family members walking behind and many cars behind them. Dozens of people from the sidewalk, some on bikes and some carrying umbrellas, fell in and joined the procession to the cathedral under escort of a police squad car.

As the first late-morning raindrops fell, the carriage climbed up the hill to the cathedral roughly 40 minutes later.

Attendees in black suits and white gloves lowered Castile's casket off the back of the carriage while family members went inside the cathedral through one door and the public around to another ahead of a two-hour visitation before the service.

The line of people who wanted to stop by Castile's casket to pay their respects stretched outside of the church and down the front steps. Friends hugged and wept as they looked at Castile, who was dressed all in white, his dreadlocks pulled back from his face.

A line of women, also in white, handed tissues to onlookers. An occasional cry echoed off the marble walls.

The funeral program contained notes from family members, including sister Allysza Castile.

"My brother my hero, your heart was so pure and solid as gold ... I love you forever and your legacy will continue to live on. You made history, you opened their eyes," she wrote.

Diamond Reynolds, who live-streamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook, the video of which has been viewed millions of times, arrived dressed in black. Her 4-year-old daughter, who was in the back seat of the car during the shooting, played outside the cathedral before they entered. Reynolds left about 30 minutes before the service ended.

Friends and strangers alike came to the service. Among them was Demetrius Bennett, 35, who displayed a portrait of Castile, dressed in a shirt and tie, tattooed on his forearm. Bennett got the tattoo Wednesday. He went to high school with Castile and last saw him at a July 4 barbecue. Castile was killed two days later.

"I'm glad my brother's name is in lights, but he should be recognized for his work for those kids," Bennett said of Castile's longtime job as a cook at J.J. Hill Montessori School. "That's why his name should be in lights."

Cindy Bevier, who lives in St. Anthony Park, arrived to the cathedral with a bouquet of flowers. Bevier, who is white, was recently pulled over for speeding in the same Falcon Heights neighborhood as Castile. She didn't get a ticket, and the guilt pains her.

"I was just praying like crazy that the officer that pulled me over wasn't the one that shot Philando," she said. "I couldn't have been treated better by this officer."

Castile's mother, Valerie, appealed to everyone memorializing her son Thursday to refrain from giving interviews to reporters.

"Please, don't turn this special occasion into a media circus!" she wrote on Twitter late Wednesday. "Philando deserves that much respect!"

At the school Thursday morning, a memorial of flowers and a "Black Lives Matter" sign was on the ground out front. On the sidewalk leading to the front door a message in chalk read, "RIP Philando."

Six-year-old Lilli Boulware brought flowers and a card that read "love" for Mr. Phil, whom she remembers as smiling and polite.

Castile's burial afterward will be private. A reception is planned at the school. That gathering is open to the public and will include food, prayer, a speech and music, a spokeswoman for the school district said.

Security guards at the school said they were expecting thousands for the reception. The family is expected to speak there.