St. Anthony considers forming group to examine possible police bias

Published 10:27 am Thursday, September 15, 2016

ST. ANTHONY, Minn. — The fatal shooting of a black man during a traffic stop in a Twin Cities suburb has prompted the village that employs the officer to take a closer look at possible racial bias within its department.

The St. Anthony City Council informally expressed interest in forming a task force to look into racial bias within the department after local residents and activists testified for more than an hour Tuesday night, MPR News reported.

“We hear you,” Mayor Jerry Faust told those who attended the meeting.

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The push comes after the July 6 death of Philando Castile, who was shot by a St. Anthony police officer on patrol in nearby Falcon Heights.

“It is serious,” said John Thompson, a friend of Castile. “We need to not be yelling at you. We need to be in the room caucusing with each other trying to figure out a solution to this problem.”

The task force would comprise city officials, residents, activists and others to identify institutional bias in officers’ daily routines. It could also include officials and residents from Lauderdale and Falcon Heights, the two other cities that contract with St. Anthony for police services.

Kristine Lizdas, a St. Anthony resident who’s helping lead the effort, said the effort would need the support of police chief, John Mangseth.

“If an endeavor like this is going to work, and be successful and be meaningful, and have teeth, and truly change policing practices here in St. Anthony and provide a model for other communities that are struggling with this, the chief has to provide real leadership on this,” she said. “I think he has to jump into this 110 percent.”

Mangseth didn’t attend the meeting.

Faust said the city won’t drop the issue of exploring racial bias in policing no matter whether or not prosecutors decide to charge the officer who shot Castile.

Faust also acknowledged some cultural blind spots and unfamiliar terrain for the small-town government.

“This is something we’re not used to doing,” Faust said. “We can build roads, we can build water plants. We can do all kinds of grand things. But maybe we’re not that good at some of the social issues.”

“We’ve come to refer to this as the Minnesota paradox,” Helmstetter said. “Minnesota overall has a really high quality of life, a relatively highly educated and high-income state on one hand. On the other hand, we have among the very worst disparities in the nation.”

Educational attainment is one area that appears to affect the racial disparities in earnings, although Helmstetter said other policy proposals like a higher minimum wage may also affect the gap.