UNITE HERE marches for Philando Castile

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

On the day of his burial, Philando Castile was remembered at a vigil held at Benjamin Franklin High School. Castile is the Black man who was shot and killed last week by a police officer in a St. Paul, Minnesota, suburb during a traffic stop. He was a respected food service worker at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul and a member of Teamsters Local 320, a Minnesota union that represents public and law enforcement employees.

The gathering of about 50 people was organized by UNITE HERE Local 634, a union representing Philadelphia School District cafeteria and other workers, as a show of solidarity with Teamsters Local 320 and Black Lives Matter.

“We as a nation need to stand strong together to say black lives matter,” said Nicole Hunt, Local 634 member and organizer of the event. “And stop killing our brothers and sisters because you’re afraid of them, because they don’t look like you and act like you.”

Speakers included members from UNITE HERE Local 634, the Caucus of Working Educators, Philadelphia Student Union, and POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild), as well as residents of the nearby community.

“Philando did everything right,” said Kristin Combs, a teacher at Penn Treaty and a member of the Caucus of Working Educators. “He was respectful, he followed the laws, and it didn’t matter. His death was more than one racist cop with a trigger-happy finger. He was yet another victim of an oppressive system.”

In addition to honoring Castile, speakers condemned systemic racism and police brutality against the black community.

Jahyad Thomas-Thorton, a student at Benjamin Franklin High School and Philadelphia Student Union member, recounted an incident where a fellow student and student union member was in a physical conflict with a school police officer over a minor dispute.

“All over the country, young black students are being attacked by school police officers,” he said. “And nobody is being held accountable. It’s a shame [that] whether in school or in our community, police violence can touch us.”

Before the event came to a close, members of UNITE HERE read a list of the names of the victims killed by police, then held a moment of silence for those in the gathering who had lost a loved one.

The ceremony ended with a prayer from the Rev. Gregory Holston, the co-chair of POWER’s Economic Dignity Team, calling for an end to systemic racism and a unifying of people of all races.

“The police need to be freed from that system,” he said. “This nation needs to be freed from that system. All of the people around here need to be freed from that system, so that we can really look at each other and really be brother and sisters, no matter what color of skin we are.”