AFT conventioneers march to honor Castile

Protesters also highlighted the role of banking in the criminal justice system

Protesters carried a banner honoring Philando Castile, a St. Paul schools employee shot and killed by a St. Anthony police officer.
Protesters carried a banner honoring Philando Castile, a St. Paul schools employee shot and killed by a St. Anthony police officer.

Teachers union members from around the country joined local activists Tuesday in a march through downtown Minneapolis protesting the death of Philando Castile, a St. Paul Public Schools employee shot and killed by a police officer during a July 6 traffic stop.

Chanting “Black lives matter” and “Philando matters” as they blocked rush-hour traffic, protesters spoke out against police violence and also highlighted the role of banks in a criminal justice system they said treats people of color unfairly.

“We have banks that profit every time a black or brown man is arrested,” Denise Rodriguez, president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, said. “We have a government that balances its budgets on the back of court fees and court fines. … Do we wonder, maybe, why so many black and brown men are arrested in this country?”

The marchers set off at 4:30 p.m. from the Minneapolis Convention Center, site of the July 18–21 American Federation of Teachers national convention, and looped through downtown. They paused at 8th & Nicollet, where 21 protesters locked arms and sat in the middle of the intersection until they were arrested by Minneapolis Police.

Police spokesman Scott Seroka said they were “willingly arrested” after officers on the scene issued “several” dispersal orders. The were cited under a public nuisance ordinance and released.

Protest organizers said the 21 people led onto police bus idling a half-block from the intersection included teachers, community members and clergy. Among those arrested was new Minneapolis Federation of Teacher President Michelle Wiese.

Before she was arrested, Wiese called on teachers to “end systems of oppression that hurt us all.”

“As educators, we must address systems of institutional racism starting with our own practices and then extend this work outside the classroom,” she said, speaking through a public address system carried by a protester’s pickup,

One goal of the arrests was to draw attention to the role of banks in “unjust and violent systems that are taking the lives of people of color,” according to a press release issued by Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. The nonprofit organized the march in conjunction with the Minneapolis and St. Paul teachers unions.

Specifically targeted were Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank, which both maintain a large presence in downtown Minneapolis. Organizers said both banks underwrite the bonds cities issue to help pay for police misconduct settlements and provide financing for the for-profit prison industry.

They said U.S. Bank profits from operating an online system used in Minnesota to collect payments on traffic tickets and fines. The Associated Press found Castile was frequently pulled over by police in the years leading up to his death, often for minor infractions, prompting some to raise questions about racial profiling by police.

Wiese said banks were “profiting on the unfair treatment and the police brutality that our black communities are suffering at the hands of some police.”

“This process steals money from our schools and our communities,” she said. “It is time to end this.”

U.S. Bank Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications Dana Ripley declined to comment on the organizers claims. A call placed Tuesday evening to a Wells Fargo spokesperson was not immediately returned.

The march drew teachers from around the country in town for the AFT convention. Among them was Pat Washington, who teaches first grade in Miami, Fla. and marched carrying a sign that read: “In my pain, an Activist arises.”

Washington said the emotion experienced by students and coworkers after Castile’s death was the “same pain we were feeling for Trayvon.” Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old high school student, was unarmed when he was shot to death in 2012 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch member in Sanford, Fla., about a four-hour drive north from Miami.

Asked how she discusses incidents like the deaths of Martin and Castile with her students, Washington responded that she tells them sometimes people do things that aren’t right, “but we still have to find the good in people.”

Castile was a cafeteria worker at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul. Following his death, one J.J. Hill parent described Castile to reporters as “Mr. Rodgers with dreadlocks.”

That description struck Liz Dahl, a former Minneapolis teacher who now works in Nicaragua. Back home for a visit, Dahl marched through Minneapolis carrying a sign that read: “The fabric of our society is torn apart by racism.”

Dahl said it was important for educators to stand together and provide an example for their students.

Rodriguez, the St. Paul teachers union president, said Castile was “beloved” at his school.

“He cannot be just another name on a list,” she said.

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