A Student Remembers Her School's 'Lunch Man,' Philando Castile

Jul 6, 2018
Originally published on July 6, 2018 2:24 pm

It has been two years since the death of Philando Castile, the Minnesota man misidentified as a robbery suspect and then shot and killed by a police officer after a traffic stop.

To the world, he was a name in a major news story, but to more than 400 kids at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, he was their "lunch man."

He was the school's cafeteria supervisor. Students there called him Mr. Phil.

Leila Ramgren, 10, a student at the school, remembers that he loved kids.

"He used to have secret handshakes with people," she tells her dad, Chad Eisen-Ramgren, in a StoryCorps conversation last month. "And if you didn't have enough on your tray, he would pull out graham crackers or something. And he did it with his own money."

Chad tells Leila that when Castile got pulled over, he told the officer he had a gun he was licensed to carry.

"I'm glad that Mr. Phil said that. But, I'm sad that Mr. Phil said that," she says.

Castile was shot as he reached for his wallet, telling the officer he was not reaching for his gun.

"He was trying to do what the officer said, but the officer decided to pull out his firearm and shoot Mr. Phil," Chad says.

"The officer should have said, 'Hand me your gun. I'll give it back to you once I know that you have a permit.' Then he should have gave him a ticket and then they should have been on their ways," Leila says.

She says she remembers her dad saying that if Castile, who was black, had been white, he wouldn't have been shot.

"You know how everybody at school liked Mr. Phil and he was a warm presence, everybody felt good around him?" Chad says. "Is it a weird thought to you to think that outside the school there are people who would look at him and think that he was scary?"

"It would just make me feel like, it would just make me feel really sad inside," she says. "Mr. Phil was not scary."

"Yeah," her dad says, "and Mr. Phil paid the ultimate price and that was really unfair."

A jury acquitted the police officer of all charges in Castile's shooting. Leila asks her dad if that made him mad.

"Yeah, I was really mad. And I'm still mad," he says. "Hopefully the world will change."

Produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NOEL KING, HOST:

And it's time now for a StoryCorps. Today marks two years since the death of Philando Castile. He was a black man killed by a police officer after being pulled over in Minnesota. To students at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, Castile was Mr. Phil, their lunch man. His death started a familiar conversation for black parents. For white parents like Chad Eisen-Ramgren, it was not familiar. He came to StoryCorps with his 10-year-old daughter Leila, who had known Mr. Phil since kindergarten.

LEILA RAMGREN: Mr. Phil - he used to talk a lot, and I used to talk a lot. So, one day, Mr. Phil was, like, how was your weekend? And I was, like, it was good. How about yours? And then we just had this long conversation. And people were getting so annoyed because we were holding up the lunch line.

CHAD EISEN-RAMGREN: (Laughter).

RAMGREN: He loved kids. He used to have secret handshakes with people. And if you didn't have enough on your tray, he would pull out, like, graham crackers or something. And he did it with its own money. Today, do you ever think of him?

EISEN-RAMGREN: Yeah. I think of him a lot. And I think about the fact that, prior to Mr. Phil's death, there had been a lot of police shootings happening - specifically to young African-American men.

RAMGREN: Do you know why they pulled him over?

EISEN-RAMGREN: I believe because one of the lights on his car wasn't working.

RAMGREN: And then they shot him?

EISEN-RAMGREN: Well, Mr. Phil told the police, like you're supposed to, that he had a gun on him.

RAMGREN: Was he allowed to have a gun?

EISEN-RAMGREN: Yep. He had a permit.

KING: I'm glad that Mr. Phil said that, but I'm sad that Mr. Phil said that.

EISEN-RAMGREN: He was trying to do what the officer said. But the officer decided to pull out his firearm and shoot Mr. Phil.

RAMGREN: The officer should have said, hand me your gun. I'll give it back to you once I know that you have a permit. Then he should have gave him a ticket, and then they should have been on their ways.

EISEN-RAMGREN: I think you're right.

RAMGREN: I remember, at one point, you brought up, if Mr. Phil had skin like me, then he wouldn't have been shot.

EISEN-RAMGREN: You know how everybody at school liked Mr. Phil, and he was a warm presence? Everybody felt good around him.

RAMGREN: Yeah.

EISEN-RAMGREN: Is it a weird thought to you to think that, outside the school, there are people who would look at him and think that he was scary?

KING: It would just make me feel like - it would just make me feel really sad inside. Mr. Phil was not scary.

EISEN-RAMGREN: Yep.

KING: When you found out the police officer didn't go to jail, were you mad?

EISEN-RAMGREN: Yeah. I was really mad, and I'm still mad. But Mr. Phil paid the ultimate price, and that was really unfair. And, hopefully, the world will change.

RAMGREN: Yeah.

KING: That was Chad Eisen-Ramgren with his daughter Leila Ramgren at StoryCorps. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.