Dozens of people protesting last year’s fatal shooting by St. Paul police of a mentally ill man marched down University Avenue, briefly blocking Green Line light-rail tracks and entering several big-box stores Saturday afternoon to remind shoppers “how the system failed Philip Quinn.”
The group, which called itself “Justice for Philip Quinn,” was demonstrating in his honor nearly 3½ months after he was killed by police in the city’s West End during what his family called a mental health crisis.
The officers, who were responding to a report of a suicidal man cutting himself, say Quinn ignored commands to drop a screwdriver and charged until the officer had his back against a fence and couldn’t retreat any further.
The protesters, who have called for increased police sensitivity and mental health-related training, included Quinn’s friends and family members, as well as activists associated with Native Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter Minneapolis and St. Paul. It wasn’t clear whether the protest’s indoor interludes were planned or were an impromptu path inspired by Saturday’s frigid, windy weather.
The protesters congregated at University and Snelling avenues about 1 p.m., then marched down University to Hamline Avenue. Along the way, they stood on light-rail tracks and blocked traffic in at least three intersections for short intervals. The protest caused minor delays in train traffic, according to a Metro Transit spokesman.
Police followed demonstrators closely throughout the march, assisting with traffic control along its route. No one was arrested, said police spokesman Steve Linders.
At the protest’s peak, about 50 people trudged along salt-stained streets to the St. Paul Police Department’s western district headquarters at 389 Hamline Av. Outside its main entrance, ralliers called for the firing of officer Rich McGuire, the seven-year veteran who pulled the trigger on Quinn.
Familiar faces from Minneapolis’ Fourth Precinct occupation, who were protesting the police shooting of Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man killed during a domestic call, stood in solidarity with Quinn’s family.
After stopping at the police headquarters, the group turned its attention to the busy SuperTarget across street, filing inside while chanting and waving signs.
Cashiers quietly continued checking out customers, dazed by the surprise commotion.
One employee, frustrated by the interruption, told a protester they “had a business to run.” The demonstrator replied to those within earshot: “So do we, and it’s called justice.”
Rashad Turner, lead organizer for BLM’s St. Paul chapter, singled out a middle-aged white man trying to get by the crowd and exit the store with his two young children. Turner said that man was an example of the reason they had to bring their message to others.
“He’s too disrespectful to stop and listen,” Turner said with a megaphone, sparking chants of “white silence equals violence.”
After exiting the SuperTarget, protesters made a beeline for Wal-Mart, where employees became upset and told customers that the store was closing for at least an hour. Customers lined up to film the rally as it wove around cash registers before the protesters marched outside and on to a nearby Cub Foods. Wal-Mart allowed shoppers to leave during the protest but locked most of the doors behind them.
In the deli section at Cub, BLM Minneapolis leader Adja Gildersleve praised participants for speaking out against police brutality and joining together to demand justice for Quinn — as many still are for Clark.
“They cannot stop our power!” she said through tears.
The crowd then marched back to its starting point before dispersing around 3:15 p.m.
‘What’s the alternative?’
Darleen Tareeq, Quinn’s fiancée, said she was troubled by the fact that the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension didn’t intervene in Quinn’s case as it did in Clark’s.
“There should be a standard,” said Tareeq, the mother of Quinn’s 6-month-old daughter. “When cops shoot someone, there should be an independent investigation.”
Weeks before his death, Quinn had told St. Paul hospital staff that he planned to kill himself and gotten into a long-term treatment program to address his schizophrenia and other mental health problems.
Quinn’s death was one of several officer-involved fatal shootings over the past two years involving a victim who was mentally ill. St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith said in an interview late last year that the uptick in the number of police shootings in his city was partly due to an increase in calls to respond to situations involving mentally ill people.
“What’s the alternative? Who else am I going to call?” Tareeq said of police, adding that in hindsight she wishes she’d called someone else.