Unity Autoworks is fixing taillights for free in honor of Philando Castile

A dead taillight bulb is a very small thing that can lead to big trouble.

A dead taillight bulb is a very small thing that can lead to big trouble.

On the night he was shot and killed by a St. Anthony police officer, the story went that Philando Castile was pulled over for driving with a busted taillight.

That story was told calmly, and memorably, by Castile's girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, who filmed Castile's slumped body in the driver's seat and posted the video online

Audio from the police scanner would later reveal that in fact, the two cops who pulled Castile over thought he might have been the man who'd committed a recent robbery. (In a now famous description, Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who killed Castile, said the driver had a "wide-set nose" that matched the robbery suspect.)

If Yanez told Castile and Reynolds that he'd stopped them over a taillight, he was probably lying. But the story rang true for any non-white person who's ever felt like police were looking for any excuse to pull them over.

Like Brandon Jefferson. Jefferson says he and his wife, Lonnia, both black, have been stopped by police in the past for what he calls "questionable reasons." And then come the questions: What are you doing in this neighborhood? Where are you coming from? Any chance you're "up to no good"?

That's why Jefferson, who co-owns Unity Autoworks with Lonnia, took quick action after the Castile story went worldwide. Unity is offering free bulb replacements on all taillights and license plate lights, in an attempt to give drivers peace of mind when they're out on the road.

"A defective bulb should never be a reason to get murdered," they wrote, in a Facebook post that's now been shared 3,600 times.

The use of that word, "murder," has inspired some negative feedback from people claiming to be cops or former cops, Jefferson said, who've told him that he should wait for due process to play out before labeling Castile's death a murder.

But many, many more people have contacted Jefferson to thank him for the offer — including some from far-away states who will never get to take him up on it.

"We can't fix everything," Jefferson said. "But this is one less reason for people to get pulled over. Everybody we've helped so far has been extremely grateful."

Jefferson doesn't think he's getting duped, either. Out of the many people helped so far, he is confident a lot of them were avoiding getting the repair because they're broke. The bulbs are cheap already, but Jefferson buys in bulk — "I might get 10 bulbs for $2," he says — and the service time is minimal. 

They've replaced more than 200 bulbs in about a week, and Jefferson expects to do a lot more, tomorrow, when he'll be offering bulb replacements starting at 10:00 a.m. at Rondo Days in St. Paul. He's hoping to find a similar public setting sometime soon in Minneapolis, so he can bring the same peace of mind to drivers in that city. 

"Hopefully, when all's said and done, we'll have replaced 1,000 bulbs," Jefferson said. "I'll continue to do this until the need isn't there."

God only knows when that day will come.