Clarence Castile loves his hometown of St. Paul. Dreaming of how best to serve his city, he’d picture himself wearing the baby blue of the St. Paul Police Department as a volunteer reserve officer so the neighborhood kids could see an honorable man they needn’t fear.
But when his sister’s son Philando was shot and killed during a famously contentious traffic stop by a St. Anthony police officer in 2016, Castile was hot. It seemed to many that Philando had done everything he could to cooperate—speaking respectfully, voluntarily disclosing his possession of a handgun he was permitted to carry. Clarence thought the officer reacted out of irrational fear, perhaps a casualty of insufficient training.
Within two weeks, he became a regular fixture at the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, the state’s police licensing body, learning about use of force, and trying to diagnose flaws in a system he hoped could be rehabilitated.
“If people understand how that use-of-force continuum works, how to de-escalate situations, they learn about treating cops with dignity and respect, we won’t need guns and tasers and pepper spray,” Castile says. “So my job is to learn these phrases and catch terms, implicit, explicit bias, and explain this to community people so they can use it to keep themselves safe. Cops will be safe, citizens be safe. Everybody’s safe.”
The governor would later recognize Castile’s thirst to be a part of the solution by appointing him to that board. Contrary to the expectation that he might take an adversarial role, his desire to contribute to law enforcement only grew.
After months of field training and study, Castile has become a St. Paul reserve officer. He drops in on businesses that are frequently burglarized, looks for fresh tracks around the homes of people who are out of town, and aids crowd control at parades, protests, and special events like Rondo Days. While on night patrol, he’ll drive down the alleys of friends and family, shining his light, deterring crime.
Never has he received any backlash for the line he walks, Castile says—not from police who disagree with his conviction that officers who make mistakes should fall on their swords and accept responsibility, nor from activists who oppose his continued trust in law enforcement. Not that it would matter, he says.
“I’m not afraid of people. We walk, we talk, we believe, we die. I feel sorry for somebody who keeps that anger and hurt inside, those negative feelings. I’ve talked to my sister plenty of times. I say we’re gonna take this negative energy and we’re gonna turn it into something positive.”