Valerie Castile & Deneal Trueblood

After her 32-year-old son Philando was murdered by a policeman during a traffic stop in 2016, Valerie Castile became an advocate against police violence. After Deneal Trueblood was released from prison in 2014, she led conversations with incarcerated women about life transformation. The two women engaged in conversation, moderated by Minnesota Women’s Press guest editor Cirien Saadeh, to discuss what transforming justice means to them.

Q: What standards need to change?

Castile: Why can’t we have universal policing standards? When you go from one jurisdiction to another, it is I do it the way I want to do it.” Then you go to a big city, which does it differently. I was watching a TV program, when one officer was investigating another. One officer said, “You cannot do that, it is against policy.” The other said, “It is a policy, but it is not a rule. I can do it.” Why can’t we change policies to be rules? In Monopoly, you have to follow the rules or you are cheating. You have to follow the rules or you cannot play.

Our communities should have input when fatalities happen. We should be able to say, “You know that was wrong. You saw that man shoot that man five times. He was seat-belted in his car. You know that man deserves a murder charge.”

It is about knowing what the community needs, having town hall meetings to see what should be addressed, and making those the priorities.

We need to be treated like the police want to be treated. They want the utmost respect. We deserve the utmost respect, and we are going to get that respect. If you can get officers to do that, it would be a big step forward.

Valerie Castile in her favorite room, which houses images of and about her son, Philando. Photo by Sarah Whiting

The police should police in the community where they live. Police come into communities from the outside with aggression and put that on to our children and husbands. We feel like we are treated as the outsiders. We are not supposed to protest. We pay their salary. Then they beat up on us.

I would like to see a community advisory board. They have been throwing that idea around. They do have some boards, but I can promise you, those boards are made up of a lot of wealthy white folks. Nobody is on those boards from the ‘hood, which should be 70 percent of the board. There are other communities outside Minnesota that have that. I feel like we can bridge those gaps. Maybe we can put that olive branch out there and have a better relationship. That is the ultimate goal, to have a better relationship and reduce the number of fatalities in police encounters.

We need to use 21st century policing. We have come up with some wonderful blueprints. We did this thing at John Jay Criminal College and came up with this great wealth of information, a toolkit, created by a diverse group of people: prosecutors, ex-police chiefs, activists, and people that have been directly involved in police brutality. Everybody doesn’t agree on everything, but we came up with some great remedies.

I am tired of the lip service. Let’s do this. The toolkit was released in February 2019 [to district attorneys around the country]. What is the need to continue to talk when you have [blueprints] gathering dust?

There is a webinar out there with me and [Ramsey County district attorney] John Choi explaining what the toolkit is and why it was created, and about all of the great information that can be utilized by the prosecuting attorney’s office, the Bureau for Criminal Apprehension, the investigative office, the police, and the community.

Trueblood: Justice for All is an organization that shares information with other community programs to create restorative justice projects and share facts, experiences, and opinions that can better aid communities with up-to- date resources, housing grant information, financial resources, education opportunities, and job training. My criminal attorney at the time referred Justice for All to me, and I have become involved with its advisory panel.

We look at pre-trial, trial, and the steps to take before sentencing. A lot of that conversation is coming from formerly incarcerated people. On this panel there are prosecutors, attorneys, people who have been negatively impacted by the justice system. We uncover solutions that have the potential to transform the justice system.

There is no doubt that the criminal process standards need to be modified or revamped. The racial bias that is prevalent in the criminal justice system affects how people are viewed and treated.

As a system-impacted person, I share what that process looked like for me with the panel. The inequitable processes produce different impacts and outcomes for all. Navigation through the system can be confusing.

Q: How does policing affect your everyday life?

Castile: A young lady in Virginia made the ‘Not Reaching’ pouch after Philando was murdered — because there is no reason for any of our children to be shot by the police. No reason. But there are a lot of excuses. So, what we are doing is trying to eliminate as many excuses as we can.

It is a little magnetic plastic pouch that sticks on your car in plain sight. The police can see your driver’s license. You do not have to move your hand or reach for it. Since police are so scared, how about we eliminate moving altogether, so that is one less excuse?

We don’t want or need another Philando Castile killing.

This is our world, and this is our reality. We have to give our kids the talk: “When you are in the car driving, if you get stopped by the police, put your hand on 10 and 3. Keep your eyes forward. Do not look at him too hard. If you do, look at him quickly and turn your eye. Otherwise … ‘Oh, he was looking at me with menacing eyes, and I thought he was going to do something to me, so I shot him.’”

Trueblood: Everything that we do, we have to be extra careful. I gave my children the talk, and it was me who landed in prison. When my son started a job in his senior year of high school, he brought to my attention that it was not just prison he was concerned about.

Deneal Trueblood outside her alma mater, Metropolitan State University. Photo by Sarah Whiting

Before he was driving, he would catch the bus to work in the suburbs. When winter came, I watched him walk out the door without wearing a coat. At the time, my son was a big 17-year-old. I bought him a coat and gave it to him. He got this look on his face. He said, “Mom, thanks, but I can’t wear it. I can only be seen walking from the house to the bus stop in my work uniform. If I put on a black or blue coat, I might look like someone that someone else has a beef with. If I wear a hoodie over my work uniform, the police might think I look like someone who committed a crime. But if I walk to the bus stop in my Dollar Tree apron and my green Dollar Tree shirt, I know I can make it to work and back home safely.”

Contact to learn more about Justice for All. Ahmed was featured in our October 2020 Collective Action conversation.

SIDEBAR: Toolkit for Change

According to John Jay College of Criminal Justice, about 1,000 people — disproportionately people of color — are killed in officer-involved critical incidents every year. An analysis by The Washington Post reports that between 2005 and 2015, only 54 police officers faced criminal charges for fatally shooting someone in the line of duty, and nearly half of such cases resulted in acquittal or dismissal.

The national John Jay toolkit that Valerie Castile has been part of shaping is a step-by-step process for prosecutors to use before and after an officer-involved critical incident occurs. The toolkit includes a data checklist, an investigative checklist, and an action plan to ensure thorough, transparent, and timely investigations. It recommends that a dedicated staff meet with organizers, develop relationships with family members, and respond to the scene immediately.