Dozens facing jail time in Philando Castile protests as state Republicans seek to further criminalize protests

Some protesters such as these, who protested in September of 2016 the killing of Philando Castile, face criminal charges and are appealing to the governor and St. Paul mayor and attorney to have the charges dismissed.

Harry Colbert, Jr.

While Jeronimo Yanez is legally in the clear for killing Philando Castile, many of those who protested the killing are in legal jeopardy. 

Protests began almost immediately following the July 6, 2016 killing of Castile, a motorist pulled over by Yanez, a then St. Anthony police officer who pulled over Castile for a supposed broken taillight. The case made headlines worldwide due to a Facebook video streamed live immediately following the shooting. Though charged with manslaughter, Yanez was found not guilty despite evidence presented at trial, including video footage of the killing from his squad car. 

Nearly two years after the killing, many protesters who were arrested in the days and weeks after Castile’s death are seeking to have charges dismissed in their criminal cases that stem from protests outside of the governor’s mansion and People’s Park in St. Paul and the blockade of Interstate 94.

On March 26 a group facing prosecution sent joint letters to Gov. Mark Dayton, Lyndsey Olson, St. Paul city attorney, and recently elected mayor of St. Paul, Melvin Carter.

“Almost two years after the murder of Mr. Castile, the City of St. Paul is still spending taxpayer dollars prosecuting people who protested Mr. Castile’s killing,” read the letter. “Protesters who were standing on public sidewalks are still facing fines, criminal records, and jail sentences. Many who were arrested had showed up to voice their concern regarding police brutality, and in return they were brutalized by SPPD (St. Paul Police Department). All who were arrested at the Governor’s Mansion, Grand and Dale, and People’s Park were charged with the same misdemeanor offenses, public nuisance and unlawful assembly. Those who could not undergo two years of court commitments were compelled to take pleas in which they paid fines and were ordered to not ‘reoffend’ for one year. These payments were unfolding at the same time that the neighboring city of St. Anthony was paying Officer Yanez $40,000 in severance.”

In response to the recent spat of protests over the police shootings of Castile and the November 2015 killing of Jamar Clark by Minneapolis police, the Republican-controlled state legislature is seeking to pass a bill that would make highway protesting a gross misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in prison and a $3,000 fine.

“This legislation is yet another way for Republicans to please their base and stifle the voices of oppressed Minnesotans,” said Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL-59B) in a statement opposing the bill. “Law enforcement is not asking for this. Minneapolis is not asking for this. What kind of precedent are we setting for future generations wishing to exercise their First Amendment right? The Republican majority should actually address the systemic challenges our neighbors encounter every day, so there isn’t such a dire need to protest.”

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