The Village Church pastor Matt Chandler has expressed outrage over the acquittal of the Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile last July and called the case "dirty" and "demonic".
On Twitter, the popular speaker and author weighed in the controversial case: "I can't understand how a court could land where they did on #PhilandoCastile while the department removed him...Feels dirty & demonic," he tweeted.
Police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted by a jury on Friday after being charged with second-degree manslaughter and endangering safety by discharging a firearm.
Officer Yanez testified that he feared Castile was grabbing for the gun, but Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, said he had merely been reaching for his identification to give the officer.
According to the New York Times, Castile was licensed to carry a gun and was recorded on a dashboard camera video telling Officer Yanez that he had a weapon in the car. Officer Yanez told him not to reach for the weapon, and within seconds had fired seven shots.
Prosecutors said Castile had mentioned his gun to allay concerns, not to threaten the officer or escalate the situation. However, the defense said Officer Yanez had to react quickly to what he believed was an imminent threat.
"My son loved this city, and this city killed my son," Castile's mother, Valerie, said as she stood on a corner outside the courthouse afterward. "And a murderer gets away. Are you kidding me right now?"
She added: "The system in this country continues to fail black people and will continue to fail us."
Officials with the city of St. Anthony, where Officer Yanez has worked for several years, issued a statement late Friday saying that they had "concluded that the public will be best served if Officer Yanez is no longer a police officer in our city." They said they planned to offer him a "voluntary separation agreement", but said he will not be returning to patrol.
The verdict sparked several nights of protests across Minnesota; one demonstration, titled "Solidarity March Against Police Violence and White Silence", was attended by about 200 people.
"We are going to have to put more pressure on the system. And we are going to have to put pressure on our predominantly white churches to start for those who profess Christ, for those who claim to be people of faith, we have to put pressure on them to prove it," mayoral candidate Nekima Levy-Pounds said.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Bernard Hebda called for unity amid increased racial tensions: "Let us be sure to pray that we, having been nourished by the Lord's body and blood, might be instruments of unity in our families, our parishes and our communities," said the archbishop, who leads the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. "I ask all Catholics and all who will worship with us this weekend to pray in particular for a mending of divisions along lines of race, religion and national origin, that all too often find expression in violence, hatred, prejudice and mistrust."
He continued: "Let us look for opportunities as individuals and parish families to be promoters of authentic dialogue and encounter in our neighborhoods and communities. Knowing that Christ himself prayed that we might all be one, we can be confident that the Lord will bless our efforts to be peacemakers."