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Minnesota Residents Highlight 'Willful Ignorance' Of Racism After Shooting


This week's police shooting of Philando Castile happened in a white, middle-class suburb of St. Paul, Minn., called Falcon Heights. Today, there are flowers and a few mourners remembering the 32-year-old black man who was killed. Adrian Florido of NPR's Code Switch team has been speaking with people there. He started on Larpenteur Avenue, where the killing took place.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: One of the people paying their respects to Castile was Anna Gambucci, who is white and lives up the street in neighboring St. Anthony.

And what does your sign say?

ANNA GAMBUCCI: It says Philando Castile, murdered for blackness by my community police.

FLORIDO: Gambucci says hers is a liberal, white neighborhood. And she says, in the past, she's tried to get her neighbors to talk about how they could support the Black Lives Matter movement, but few people have been interested. That's why she came to this corner.

GAMBUCCI: Everybody is so delighted with their happy lives and feeling like there's so much do-gooding that's happening already. And there is a willful ignorance to the level of racial threat that people in our city, in our community face. And our community has essentially killed this man.

FLORIDO: She says she hopes Castile's killing is a wake-up call to her neighbors. Across town in east St. Paul, where Philando Castile lived, Dorothy Harper and her cousin, Shalonda Harper, said they didn't need a wake-up call to know police and black people don't have a great relationship around here. They say they live it every day. Dorothy says she's been stopped on the street because the police thought she was a prostitute. She has four sons. The oldest is seven. And Castile's killing has shaken them.

DOROTHY HARPER: My son, he was just in the car with us. We were talking about it. And he, like, said he's going in the house to play with his dogs and play his video games. He doesn't want to come outside. He's, like, too scared to come outside. It's just too much for him.

FLORIDO: Scared of the police?

D. HARPER: He's scared of the police. They drive past. They don't even wave to them no more, like, 'cause they said the police are bad.

SHALONDA HARPER: And they kill people.

D. HARPER: Yeah.

S. HARPER: They think that they kill people now.

FLORIDO: Dorothy Harper says she fears it could be her son someday. Outside the Minnesota governor's mansion, which has been the center of protest, Adeniyi Alabi says it could have been him. A few years ago, he says he was walking down the street not far from where Castile was killed when officers rushed up and told him to freeze, apparently mistaking him for someone they'd been looking for.

ADENIYI ALABI: All I can make out is a silhouette of a person with a gun. And, OK - and my demeanor's, like, OK, you have to play it cool, you know, almost like it's 1920 - yes, sir - yes, sir, no, sir. You have to be easy. Every African-American male knows that.

FLORIDO: Alabi says, after that, it took him a while to process what had happened.

ALABI: You don't think about it at the time, but you do think about it when you look back. When you look back, you say, I was that close.

FLORIDO: Alabi says keeping calm worked for him, but it very well could have ended differently. Adrian Florido, NPR News, St. Paul, Minn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.