Shooting of Philando Castile spurs public discussion; Turner forms new task force

The Falcon Heights community reacted to the bloodshed with talks and work groups.

Raju Chaduvula

In the weeks after the fatal police shooting of Philando Castile, community members have coalesced, urging city leaders to implement sweeping reforms to police conduct in the Twin Cities.

Two separate public forums, held on July 13 and 27, at the Falcon Heights City Council allowed city residents and community members from surrounding neighborhoods to voice their opinions on what actions should be taken in the wake of Castile’s death.

On July 6, Philando Castile was shot by Jeronimo Yanez, a St. Anthony police officer, during a routine traffic stop. His death spurred a slew of rallies and demonstrations across the Metro area.

Both Falcon Heights sessions were well attended, with a full house July 13 and nearly 100 people July 27.

Attendees asked for immediate changes in law enforcement procedures, while the council itself held that action can’t be taken until the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension finishes its investigation.

Among the topics raised, many demanded more thorough record data collection on traffic stops in the area, improvement to police de-escalation training and to a re-evaluation of the contract between Falcon Heights and the St. Anthony Police Department. Falcon Heights is currently two years into the five-year contract.

Steven McCarthy, a city resident, said that policing itself needs revision.

“I’d like to see the officers out of their squad cars and actually on foot or on bicycle,” McCarthy said, adding that this would let police officers get to know the people in the neighborhood they’re serving.

“This kind of policing would be more personable, more engaged and more accountable,” he said.

On July 27, Peter Demerath — a nine-year resident of Falcon Heights — asked the council to focus on de-escalation during police training as well as more attention to communication and cultural competence within the police force.

“We’re in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, but we have an opportunity to develop a model of policing that can be a national beacon,” Demerath said.

That sentiment was shared by many speakers who insisted on immediate council action.

John Thompson, a Saint Paul Public Schools employee and friend of Castile’s, said at the session that improper police treatment is a systemic problem.

Thompson said he wanted to see the city increase transparency and terminate its police contract.

“The whole world is watching; this town can change how African American males view policing,” he said.

Also at the session were members of Castile’s family. His cousin and mother, Tyree Johnson and Valerie Castile, both asked for accountability and action.

“We sat and watched it happen to Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner … but when it hits home here in your backyard, that’s when you’re supposed to say, ‘No, we’re not going to have that,’” Johnson said, adding that he too is calling for the termination of Falcon Heights’ contract.

Valerie Castile spoke about her son, who worked in Saint Paul Public Schools’ nutrition system since he was 19 and said he loved the children at his school.

“Someone has to step up and hold people accountable for their behavior,” she said.

Mayor Peter Lindstrom said the council will hold more sessions in the future.

“We don’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction, one way or the other, without talking with everybody,” Lindstrom said.

Still, several community members asked for immediate action, including former Falcon Heights Mayor Tom Baldwin, who called for a review of the police contract.

“I hear you say that you don’t have significant facts on this incident. I respectfully, but strenuously, disagree,” Baldwin said.

At the end of both sessions, the council made no formal announcements for actions.

Philip Selew, a Falcon Heights resident, said it is important to keep pushing because residents have a stake in police conduct.

“I’m proud of my neighbors,” he said.

A Task Force on Policing

While concrete action has yet to be taken by the council, a work group on the issues has been considered.

Lindstrom said the group would consist of residents from Lauderdale, Falcon Heights and St. Anthony.

“Its aim is to look at police policy and procedure surrounding best practices and training,” he said.

The group would consider racial profiling, bias training and de-escalation techniques.

Black Lives Matter St. Paul has convened a similar task force to address similar issues.

Rashad Turner, leader of BLM St. Paul, said the task force was made of mostly African-American community members with the purpose of find solutions to improper St. Anthony policing in the Larpenteur Avenue area.

“I know myself; I don’t want to drive up in that area after dark,” Turner said.

Turner’s task force will submit a list of recommendations to Lindstrom’s office, he said. One of the main points will be asking for a termination of the contract with St. Anthony Police Department.

“If we can terminate the contract, there’s a chance to look back at how it operated and change it,” Turner said.

John Thompson, who attended the public forums, said terminating the contract would be a step toward the city healing.

By speaking at the July 27 session, Thompson said, he hopes to say what Castile would say if he could.

“I have to be the voice that can’t be spoken … for something positive to come out of this,” he said.

Thompson said he is hopeful the council will make the changes that are necessary.

“What I got from [Wednesday’s] meeting is that everybody is on the same page [and] have the same goals,” he said.