University of Michigan students held vigils for victims of police brutality after Minnesota police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was acquitted on Friday of all charges in the 2016 shooting of Philando Castile.

Yanez had been charged with second-degree manslaughter and endangering safety due to discharging a firearm in the shooting. While Yanez testified that he believed Castile was reaching for a gun when he fatally shot him, Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds — in the passenger’s seat at the time of the shooting — said he was merely reaching for his identification.

Postdoctoral fellow Austin McCoy, who attended a vigil for Castile in downtown Ann Arbor on Saturday, wrote in a Facebook post that he believes his passion for political activism is driven by the helplessness he feels due to the current state of systematic oppression within the country. 

“I’m probably not alone when I say this, but I was reminded tonight at the vigil for Philando Castile that my politics and activism grows out of my struggle with intense feelings of helplessness that developed at an early age, or my fight against those feelings,” he wrote. “This struggle has driven my activism and it has shaped my rather radical politics.”

McCoy related his emotions toward the Philando Castile case to what he felt when George Zimmerman, the man who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, was acquitted in 2014. 

“There was something about learning about the not guilty verdict in the Philando Castile murder on Friday that brought some of the helplessness that I felt in 2014 back,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s just our current political moment, watching the merry-go-round of injustice spin around, or my continuing education about the intransigence of our criminal justice system, but, as we were observing Philando Castile and Aura Rosser last night, I felt like we were back at square one.”

According to the Facebook event, the vigil hoped to “(g)ather together with others tonight on Liberty Plaza commons to share your thoughts, sorrow, anger, and other emotions about Philando, and how to move toward a world in which police are obsolete, in which we love and protect each other, in which black lives matter. Bring candles, flowers, and signs, but mostly, simply gather and commune with others.” Many victims, including Castile and Martin, have been Black or African American. 

Many University students felt similarly upset. Public Policy junior Denis McGrath said his opinion on the acquittal is divided because he can understand where both parties were coming from leading up to the fatal shooting.

“On the one hand, Castile was a model citizen, beloved by his family and the children he worked with, yet he was shot dead while following police orders,” he said. “To be quite frank, he in no way deserved to die. On the other hand, I have to sympathize in some part with Officer Yanez. Yanez had no way of knowing Castile was an incredible human being; he thought Castile resembled a wanted robbery suspect, he smelled marijuana and he knew that Castile had a weapon. Unfortunately, due to this cocktail of misperceptions, stereotypes and guns, a model citizen was left dead, and a city rioted.”

McGrath further explained that he believes the United States has a problem with racism, as well as a problem with underfunded police forces, and nothing will change until citizens take action to fix these problems. 

“I believe that the United States most certainly has a race problem and a police problem and the two, when combined, are a recipe for disaster,” he said. “I think what bothers me most about these shootings/killings of Trayvon Martin, Sam DuBose, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Eric Harris, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile — the list goes on and on for far too long — is that we as a society fail to take any action to remedy these issues.”

University alum Joe Shea, former Cental Student Government Communications Director, wrote in a tweet that he hopes Castile is never forgotten.

Shea explained that last October, University graduate students held a vigil for victims of police violence and brought in pictures to commemorate men like Castile and Garner. The display remained inside the Ford School for the whole year.

“Some grad students organized a vigil way back in October for Dia de los Muertos and people brought pictures of Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and I think one other person,” he said. “It ended up being this very nice display on the second floor, right outside the academic office on a table and had some candlelight and decorations and they left it up for, I think, the entire academic year.”

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