St. Anthony officials may establish task force to investigate possible police bias

Not all city council meetings begin with peanuts and end with a discussion on a social issue such as race and policing, but that’s what happened in St. Anthony Village Sept. 13.

The city council meeting began with a presentation by Tom Miller, a 20-year member of St. Anthony Kiwanis. The council then designated Sept. 23 as Kiwanis’ 45th Peanut Day in St. Anthony, a fundraiser benefiting clubs and scholarships for local kids.

With that, Miller accepted donations in exchange for peanuts from council members and Mayor Jerry Faust joked, “This is the only time money changes hands here at the City Hall.”

The meeting that followed went as expected — the setting of the proposed 2017 tax levy and general operating budget, so on — but after several items, the council faced another kind of topic, one that’s weighed heavily on the minds of many.

Local residents and activists put forth a request to create a collaborative work group that would conduct a formal racial bias assessment of policing by the St. Anthony Police Department and the city of St. Anthony.

This is something a number of residents and organized groups have been pushing for in St. Anthony and the cities St. Anthony contracts police services to, Lauderdale and Falcon Heights, in the wake of the fatal shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez July 6. 

The death of Castile, a 32-year-old African-American school cafeteria supervisor, is now prompting St. Anthony residents and officials to take a closer look at possible racial profiling within the St. Anthony Police Department.

After more than an hour of testimonials from audience members last Tuesday night, the council revealed its interest, informally, in creating the requested task force or work group that would look at how racial bias might be affecting the way in which the city’s police department operates. 

According to those backing the creation of this proposed group, it would consist of activists, residents, city officials and others.

The meeting, where folks generally remained respectful of one another, was in stark contrast to a Sept. 7 city council workshop in Falcon Heights, where protesters and other audience members shouted over the council members and essentially shut down the workshop session.

The protestors said the Falcon Heights City Council aren’t moving quickly enough to change how the city is policed — many demanded it drop its police contract with St. Anthony immediately.

The disruption, along with previous protests at other city meetings, prompted Falcon Heights to cancel its regularly scheduled Sept. 14 council meeting.

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

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