46 Stops: A Code Switch Podcast On 'The Driving Life And Death Of Philando Castile' : Code Switch Gene Demby talks with NPR's Cheryl Corley and Eyder Peralta, who reported on Philando Castile's encounters with local police — 46 of them — before he was killed during a traffic stop.

46 Stops: On 'The Driving Life And Death Of Philando Castile'

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This is CODE SWITCH from NPR. I'm Gene Demby. Today - the driving life and death of Philando Castile.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Basically, Philando Castile was stopped from the very moment he got his license through the moment of his death.

DEMBY: That's NPR reporter Eyder Peralta talking about Philando Castile, the black man shot and killed during a recent police traffic stop near St. Paul, Minn. Philando Castile's story is the center of what we're getting into today. By now, you probably know his name. You've either watched or heard or read about the viral video his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, took just moments after he was shot by the police.


DEMBY: We still don't know what led to the shooting. But what we do know from reporting is that Philando Castile was pulled over by cops at least 46 times - 46 times in 14 years. So today we're trying to understand more about what went on between Philando and the police before the video and before that very last stop.


DEMBY: NPR correspondent Cheryl Corley reported on Philando Castile's life and death from the ground in Minnesota. And NPR reporter Eyder Peralta looked into the background of those traffic stops and some of the issues they raised. Thanks for coming in, you all.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: You're welcome.

PERALTA: Thank you.

DEMBY: So Eyder, you looked back at the reports for the dozens and dozens of times that Philando Castile was stopped while he was driving by the police, going back to 2002. And Cheryl, you spent time with his family and police and others on the ground. First, Eyder, can you just walk us through the timeline? I remember you running over the other day - like, you should look at this. You remember you running over...


DEMBY: ...With the lists of the dates of his stops?

PERALTA: So you may hear me flipping papers 'cause I have a 28-page timeline here. And it's stop after stop. I mean, the first one goes back to the day before his 19th birthday. He stopped. We don't actually know why he stopped.

DEMBY: It doesn't say why?

PERALTA: But we know it's not - it doesn't say why. We know it's not a moving violation - so nothing obvious that you could tell from outside a car - speeding or, you know, running through a stoplight. But then he just seems to go through these cycles - right? - where there's just fine after fine after fine, stop after stop after stop. And in total, it's 46 of them. And only 6 of them are actually for something you would notice from outside the vehicle - is the way I've been describing it.

DEMBY: So the other 40 of them - they don't have an explanation?

PERALTA: They do have an explanation. And it's mostly because he's driving with a suspended license or he's driving without insurance.

DEMBY: But that's stuff you would find after you stopped him.

PERALTA: After you stopped him - so we don't have an explanation as to why he was stopped so many times. But yeah, I mean, just to give you an idea, though - so he stopped on January 8, 2003. They stop him again on February 3, then again on February 12 and again on February 26...

DEMBY: So this is like...

PERALTA: ...And again on March 4.

DEMBY: ...Once every couple weeks.

PERALTA: This is - yeah, this is, like, consistent, right?

DEMBY: Yeah.

PERALTA: And there's periods like this. There's at least one long two-year period where he's paying, you know, sometimes, more than $500 a month...


PERALTA: ...Consistently. And he gets his license back. And he has no stops.

DEMBY: He's just paying off the fines.

PERALTA: Right. So there's like a two-year period where he's just paying fines and not getting stopped. And he has his license. But basically, Philando Castile was stopped from the very moment he got his license through the moment of his death, right? That was his last stop.

DEMBY: So Cheryl, I know that you spent some time in St. Anthony. Can you sort of explain the geography?

CORLEY: Sure, sure. Well, you have St. Paul, the city proper - Twin City along with Minneapolis. And then you have a ring of suburbs around it. Larpenteur Street kind of separates many of the suburbs from St. Paul. And Castile got stopped on Larpenteur and Fry in a suburb called Falcon Heights. Falcon Heights is patrolled by another suburbs police department, St. Anthony.


CORLEY: So the St. Anthony Police patrol about three suburban areas in Falcon Heights and St. Anthony and another area. So as he was driving along this street - is where he actually got stopped. That's kind of the lay of the land of St. Paul - many suburbs surrounding the city - and Larpenteur kind of being the dividing line that kind of separates them all.

DEMBY: And Cheryl, you said that - in the piece that you guys did on MORNING EDITION, you said that if anyone would have known the protocol for dealing with police in a stop like this, it would have been Philando Castile because he'd been stopped so many times.

CORLEY: Absolutely. As Eyder pointed out, you know, from the moment he got his permit, you know, he had been stopped. So you would imagine that he knew what happens when this actually occurs.

DEMBY: And so a lot of black men there just accept that they're going to be pulled over, right?

CORLEY: Well, you know, it's kind of interesting. I talked to an attorney in Minneapolis who deals with a lot of folks who go through this. And he says yes - that a lot of people do get pulled over. Even he was surprised a bit by the level of times that Philando Castile got pulled over.

But yeah, talking to people in St. Paul and in Minneapolis - they say yes. It's almost like a fact of life. You know, the phrase that many people use is driving while black. I don't know if that's what happened with him. But he did get pulled over a lot. And a lot of African-Americans that I spoke with say it's not unusual for that to happen.

DEMBY: Did we have any sense of how many other people dealt with a similar level of stops?

CORLEY: Well, the attorney I spoke with in Minneapolis, who belongs to kind of a legal assistance agency, thought that this level was somewhat unusual. Even when I talked to a police chief from another suburb - the Maplewood police chief there - he even had a question about - why so many stops? He said it does prompt, you know, the question about - what was the basis of all of this? But he also talked about the policing priorities that any police department in any community has and what's happening out in the suburbs.

And in some areas where you might not have a lot of calls, for instance, to - like, if you're not dealing with robbery or burglary or somebody breaking into a home, or if your focus isn't, like, domestic violence or those types of things, then, you know, traffic enforcement might be one of the areas where your officers are going to be looking to do something because, as the chief said, you know, there's an expectation by people that we have police officers.

So what are they doing to make the community safe? And if one of the things they want them to do is - you know, can be a traffic stop.

DEMBY: Philando Castile's sister said that she felt her brother, or at least the car that he was driving, was being targeted. Let's just hear what she had to say.


ALLYSZA CASTILE: I'm just baffled. And I've been pulled over in the same vehicle that my brother died in. I've been pulled over in that car probably three or four times in uptown for the same exact reason - supposedly, a broken tail light. And nothing's never happened to me. You know, they just want to - oh, you know, whose car is this? - because my name is Allysza. When you run the plates, Philando - his name - comes up. So I've been harassed driving his vehicle myself. So I know that they harassed my brother. I know that they do.

CORLEY: And that was Allysza Castile, the younger sister. He was about 10 years older. And, you know, the family seemed to just be really frustrated, as, you know, he might have been himself. And she talked a little bit more about the types of cars that he liked. She said old school cars - he was in an older model Oldsmobile.

He liked, you know, the Oldsmobile Delta 88s and the big Monte Carlos. And she said that, you know, those kinds of cars might have a bad image by police officers who think that those types of cars might be used for something else. So she was thinking that the car itself may have been a target.

DEMBY: All right. We'll be right back after a short break. This is CODE SWITCH.


DEMBY: All right, you all. This is CODE SWITCH from NPR. I'm Gene Demby. Today, we're talking to NPR's Cheryl Corley and Eyder Peralta about their reporting on Philando Castile. So, Eyder, at one point, a public defender in the Twin Cities area named Erik Sandvick said, when he heard about Philando Castile's death that the name sounded familiar to him. And it turned out that Castile was one of his clients at one point. Do we have any idea how many of those 46 stops that Sandvick represented Castile for?

PERALTA: So we know that he represented him for one...


PERALTA: ...Which is how we found him - right? - through the records because most of the time, Castile was representing himself. He was appearing pro se, as they call it. And, you know, I called him up, and I said, hey, you know, you're on the records. And he's like, I know. And he said, I don't remember him. I have a vague - I mean, you know, this guy is representing thousands...

DEMBY: Thousands - yeah, hundreds...

PERALTA: ...Of defendants. But he said, I don't remember him specifically, but I remember the pattern. And let's just listen to a bit of what he said about that.

ERIK SANDVICK: I don't remember enough about him specifically to say - you know, to speak of his character or anything like that. But I think what Mr. Castile symbolizes for a lot of us working in public defense is that, you know, driving offenses, you know, are typically just crimes of poverty. And Mr. Castile's story is one that repeats itself countless times, you know, throughout the court system.

PERALTA: I think some people would find that hard to believe. I mean, and just looking at his record, for example, I mean, 47 different stops...


PERALTA: ...Thirty in a six-year period.


PERALTA: And you're saying this happens a lot.

SANDVICK: It does. I think we sometimes call it the cycle in the cyclical nature of driving offenses that - people get stopped, charged with driving after suspension, driving after cancellation, no proof of insurance, relatively low-level misdemeanor offenses. The problem is with that charge and sometimes a conviction comes a suspension of one's driver's license.

Getting that driver's license back costs money. Getting the driver's license back, you know, sometimes involves going and taking the test again, many hoops for folks to jump through that sometimes are a burden to getting back on the road legally.

PERALTA: So that's Erik Sandvick, and he's a public defender in Ramsey County. We should note that he says 47 - or I say 47 stops there. And the reason that we can't decide 46, 47, 48 is because there's at least two times where there's two records on the same day for the same charges.

DEMBY: So you guys can't tell whether or not those are distinct stops...

PERALTA: Or duplicates...

DEMBY: Duplicates.

PERALTA: ...Right. We know that on at least one occasion, he was stopped twice in one day.

DEMBY: In the same day.

PERALTA: Possibly, possibly there was three of those days. But it's hard to tell because it's the same charges. One of the things that happened during this six-year period where there was lots of fines is warrants. So these are warrants for small things, small misdemeanors, which - traffic stops, basically.

DEMBY: Right.

PERALTA: And he gets, you know, hauled to jail for that. And Sandvick, he says he tries to keep perspective on being a public defender 'cause it's basically a thankless job. But this has been a really interesting period for him to be a public defender...

DEMBY: Right.

PERALTA: ...And for all of this to be going on in the news.

SANDVICK: It's sort of ironic that, you know, as we're talking today, my assignment for the last six months has been doing arraignments. So every day, a team of people I work with in our office handles, you know, hundreds, if not thousands, over, you know, a year of misdemeanor and felony arraignments, the first appearance that somebody appears in court on. And there are a lot of driving offenses that we see people that get charged - driving after suspension, no insurance, those types of things that get compounded. And at some point, they can lead to jail.

PERALTA: And he does, by the way, tell his clients to stop driving. And I asked - you know, again, I asked him this.

SANDVICK: Right. Like, if you don't have a driver's license, you're not valid, don't - try not to get behind the wheel. But for so many people, you know, getting that job is so important to them. And when they get a job, they have money. It can lead to, you know, hopefully climbing out of poverty. A lot of times, jobs aren't always on the bus lines or on the train lines here. You know, and that requires them to drive.

And I think that's - a lot of times, you know, the stories I've heard representing people over and over is, you know, I was going to work; I was going to pick up my kid from after-school activities. You know, this isn't - I don't think necessarily people out joyriding always. It's people going to work. It's people going about their daily business.

PERALTA: I think one of the really interesting things about when stuff like this happens is that it puts people in really tough spots. You know, one of the examples that we heard a lot was whether you pay car insurance or a fine. Whichever one you pick - right? - will - could potentially put you in a really tough spot.

CORLEY: If I could jump in, the only thing I wanted to add is that when I spoke to the police chief out in Maplewood, Paul Schnell, he even seemed to understand that. He called it a brutal cycle that many motorists go through. And he seemed to suggest that there had to be some sort of recognition by the legal establishment about what was happening with people and some sort of changes he thought should be made down the road. He couldn't exactly say what that was. But he said that, you know, there needs to be some sort of recognition about this kind of cycle that people get trapped in.

DEMBY: And this is the police chief in...

CORLEY: Maplewood...

DEMBY: Maplewood.

CORLEY: ...Which is about 10 miles away from where the stop with Philando Castile actually happened.

DEMBY: So Philando Castile drove through this stretch to get to work every day? Is that where he was?

CORLEY: Not sure exactly. Where he worked is also in St. Paul. So I think at that point when that stop actually occurred, I think his girlfriend said that they were actually coming from a grocery store.

DEMBY: Do we know what his status was at the time - on July 6, I mean? That wasn't the pretext for the stop...


DEMBY: ...On that day, but do we know if he was...


DEMBY: ...Was his license?

PERALTA: He had gotten his license. And if I could plug npr.org for a bit, if you go on npr.org, we've sort of visualized this. And what you can see is that he had basically started going into another one of these cycles. You know, a few months ago, he had had his license suspended for one stop, but he paid it off immediately. But he had already racked up about $600 worth of fines on the day he died, so that's his outstanding balance. So again, if you look at this graphic, what you see is that it's one of these cycles beginning again.

CORLEY: So it does seem to sort of beg the question, though, of, you know, what exactly was going on? And at this point, we just don't know.

DEMBY: Eyder, you spoke to several people, a couple of professors. One of them, his name is Myron Orfield. He's a law professor at the University of Minnesota, and he's not surprised by stories of policing like Philando Castile's in Minnesota.

PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, and the reason he's not surprised is that he did a study about bias in policing. And this goes back to 2003. But, you know, if you look at the maps that came out of this, they show that in the inner cities, say, in St. Paul, black and brown people are no more likely to be stopped by police. They are slightly more likely. But as soon as you cross the street that Cheryl was talking about, into the suburbs, into the mostly-white suburbs, they're sometimes up to seven times more likely to be stopped. So there's a geographic component to this. And this is what he told me.

MYRON ORFIELD: When you see those really stark residential differences between neighboring communities, it's often a sign that something - there's some underlying discrimination going on.

DEMBY: So the law professor we just heard from, Orfield, from the University of Minnesota, says there's clear signs of underlying discrimination. What are the signs that he's identified, that he's been able to isolate?

PERALTA: I mean, I have to pull out my spreadsheet here.

DEMBY: Sure.

PERALTA: I mean, so one of the things - he sent me all these numbers because he's - this is what he does, right? So basically, what he says is that Minneapolis and St. Paul were once a model of integration. By the mid '90s, you know, this was an integrated city. And now it has become really segregated.

DEMBY: What happened?

PERALTA: Schools are segregated. One of the big reasons he says this happened is that affordable housing stopped being built in the suburbs. And it all started being built in the inner city. And another reason is that, basically, government started allowing people to choose their school. And so you can see the difference in the numbers. So the spread, say, between the whitest suburb and the most diverse suburb was, like, 12 percent, you know, in 1995.

DEMBY: And today?

PERALTA: And today, it's gone up to, like, 50 percent.

DEMBY: Whoa.

PERALTA: And then there's - there's representation issues, right? So there's two suburbs, right? One is Brooklyn Center, and another one is Brooklyn Park, which are heavily nonwhite, more than half nonwhite. And Brooklyn Park doesn't have a single nonwhite City Council member, and Brooklyn Center has one nonwhite City Council member.

And the school boards, it's the same sort of thing. Seventy-five percent of the student body at Brooklyn Center is nonwhite, and only one school board member is nonwhite. So I think, you know, that's a lot of numbers I just threw out out there. But, you know, you can see it in the data. Cheryl, did you notice that divide while you were down there?

CORLEY: Well, yeah. I mean the demographics of the area - I mean, you see this in a lot of areas when you're coming outside of an urban core where the suburbs are primarily white. And you have more people of color inside the city. I mean, even taking just a drive from St. Paul into Minneapolis, I recognize that.

And not being, you know, from the area, that was something I could see fairly clearly. So yeah, I mean, I think those numbers are there. And I think that's why you might hear some of the complaints from folks as they're driving back and forth from one place to the other.

DEMBY: Housing segregation and everything - Eyder, you spoke to Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve. She's a professor of criminal justice at Temple University in Philly. And she said this.

NICOLE GONZALEZ VAN CLEVE: Are we thinking about keeping communities safe and putting resources in the right space? And the idea that these traffic stops are not, you know, confiscating - more contraband and other types of thing - then maybe the policing resources are put to the wrong use.

DEMBY: And she said Castile's traffic stops were a classic case of what she called net widening.

PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, so - and what she means by that is - basically criminologists say that law enforcement has moved to make more aspects of daily life criminal. What she said is - you have just a bunch of people who are leading regular lives, driving. And then they're getting punished. And they get into these cycles. And she says that, you know, this disproportionately affects the poor and people of color.

DEMBY: So if you are not a person who had any outstanding warrants, there would be no repercussions for you, necessarily.

PERALTA: I think it actually begins even earlier than that. I mean, what she's saying there is that in many police departments, the focus is on traffic stops - right? - traffic policing, instead of sort of the bigger crimes. And so when you criminalize small things, you're disproportionately hurting poor people who would have a hard time paying, you know, a $65 fine or a $200 fine.

I mean, if you're middle class or, you know, upper-middle class, you get a $65 fine. You pay it and move on, right? But if you get a $65 fine and you're poor, you have to make these tough decisions that we were talking about, right? And you get caught up in in these cycles. And what she's saying is that Castile is kind of the perfect metaphor for these cycles.

CORLEY: The city manager for St. Anthony has responded to some of these things in a statement that was put out during the week. When you talked about, you know, St. Anthony - the police department and the city - kind of recognizing some of these issues in a vague way, not being very specific - just talking about how they were going to try to address some of the issues and have been working on issues of racial bias.

We don't know exactly what that means, again. But I'd like to go back to just the Maplewood police chief who was very open about just policing in general and talking about the priorities that cities and police departments decide. And he said, you know, that's just something that people are going to have to go back and look at again - and really talk about it because we're seeing all of these things happening and really coming to light.

So we really have to decide what the priorities are and what the impact of those priorities are and really pay attention to what it means for people's lives.

DEMBY: So when Ferguson was in the national spotlight, one of the things that came out was that this same sort of thing was happening there. These traffic stops were falling on the people in the town - disproportionately, the black people in that town. I think, like, close to 90 percent of the stops there were of black people.

And it turned out that those stops and the fines were a major revenue source for the city. And I was curious as to whether we know, like, how much revenue these towns in the area - how much they get from these stops.

PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, we don't have data yet on that. We've put out Freedom of Information Act requests to St. Anthony and surrounding suburbs on that. We don't know that yet. But Cheryl, you were at a rally where the NAACP was making some accusations, right?

CORLEY: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the president of the Minneapolis NAACP did liken the whole situation to Ferguson and said that the St. Anthony Police Department and city and Falcon Heights should really admit what was going on. Now, we don't know what their financial situation is. But there is some feeling, at least by people in the community, that that is what's happening.

PERALTA: And intent is hard to prove, right? I mean, in Ferguson, the DOJ went in. And it took them, you know, a long while to put together all of this information. You know, they even went through staff emails to then figure out intent. And I think that's really hard to prove.

And I think it is worth noting that - you know, what Cheryl was saying about St. Anthony - that they have acknowledged that - look, these numbers look bad. And what they're talking about is that half of the people that their police department arrests are black.

But blacks only make up 7 percent of the patrol area. You know, they acknowledge that this is a problem. But it's complex. And they don't quite get into how they're trying to fix it.

DEMBY: Yeah, that's one of the things I guess we've sort of been realizing in our conversations with police and about policing over the last three weeks - is that you can have a lot of these outcomes and not be able to nail down intent on any individual person's part, right? And that's sort of, I guess, the momentum of America, right?

CORLEY: And I guess, too, that's why a lot of organizations are calling for data, you know, and for tracking to happen. And even Philando Castile's family backs the idea of having, you know, police, when they make their stops, actually have to gather data about what's happening so, as these claims are made, that it can be determined whether or not something is really going on.

And the only way you can figure it out, besides, you know, getting these anecdotal-type stories and seeing the tragedies that occur, is having some kind of information that says yes or no - that this is what's going on.

PERALTA: And that's a key part of when - you know, the Justice Department comes in, does an investigation. And then they reach what's called the consent decree with these local police departments. You know, one of the key components of that is collection of data to sort of understand what's going on, right? And I think we've been having this conversation for a really long time. And we're trying to understand what's going on.

DEMBY: So Cheryl, we just spent, you know, 30 minutes talking about Philando Castile's extensive history of encounters with the police. His name is a national story for the horrible way in which he died. Is there anything that his family would like people to know about him that's not part of the story right now?

CORLEY: Well, I think that they just want people to know that they consider him a guy who was trying to do the right thing with his life - that - and I'm going to go way off the road here - but you know how - when civil rights activists were trying to find just the right kind of person to sit down on the bus during the Montgomery bus boycott?

A lot of people look at Philando Castile in that way. They say, you know, here is a guy who was hardworking, who went to work every day, who was loved by the people he worked with. And that's what they want people to know about him.

DEMBY: NPR correspondent Cheryl Corley and reporter Eyder Peralta reported on Philando Castile's life and death in Falcon Heights, Minn. I appreciate you all. Thanks.

PERALTA: Thanks, Gene.

CORLEY: You're welcome.

DEMBY: All right, you all. That's going to do it this week for CODE SWITCH from NPR. I'm Gene Demby. And before we go real quick, you can hear Cheryl and Eyder's radio story, The Driving Life And Death Of Philando Castile, at npr.org.

You can also take a look at the visual representations of the cycles of Philando Castile's traffic stops, fines, suspensions and analysis of the court records put together by Alyson Hurt and Eyder Peralta at npr.org, as well. Walter Ray Watson is our producer. Our editors are Alicia Montgomery and Tasneem Raja.

Special thanks this week to Andrew Limbong for production help. Our interns our Erica Guevera and Haili Blassingame. Follow us online and on-air. On Twitter, we're @NPRCodeSwitch. And we want to hear from you. Our email is codeswitch@npr.org. Subscribe to the podcasts wherever fine podcasts can be found or streamed. I'm Gene Demby. We're back next week. Be easy.

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