The Edina mayor and City Council members Tuesday night told an overflow crowd of about 150 that they were sorry about last week’s incident between a white Edina police officer and a black man. The apologies followed more than three hours of pointed comments and demands at Tuesday night’s regular council meeting.
A bystander video that later went viral on social media caught last Wednesday’s daytime encounter between plainclothes Edina police Lt. Tim Olson and Larnie Thomas, 34, of Minneapolis. Olson grabbed Thomas by the back of his jacket and reprimanded him for walking in the street near a construction zone in the 5900 block of Xerxes Avenue S. Agitated, Thomas objected to his treatment, sometimes swearing at Olson.
Thomas ultimately received a citation but was not arrested.
The Minneapolis NAACP issued a list of demands following the incident, including an independent investigation, which Mayor Jim Hovland agreed to. But on Tuesday, Hovland said “we learned this afternoon that the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension did not want to conduct an investigation.”
The city on Monday said it believed that “the officers followed established protocol,” but that it was nonetheless dismissing the citation against Thomas.
Hovland spoke briefly at the outset of Tuesday’s meeting. “We are here tonight to listen,” he said. “We know the situation has been very difficult. We know that there are multiple voices and multiple truths, and they’re all right.”
Hovland repeated his belief that police protocol was followed in the incident, but characterized the video as “disconcerting.”
One speaker said Olson “treated Thomas like an animal” last Wednesday. Others described Olson’s actions as “appalling,” “disgusting,” “indefensible” and “racist.”
“Please send a loud, clear message to your police department that this will not be tolerated,” said Cathy Jones, of the NAACP’s Minneapolis chapter. I don’t want to ever, ever, ever see this happen to another black or brown body in this city again.”
Ron Easton, of West St. Paul, said he has lived in Minnesota for 45 years, but “being a child of the Deep South, I’m familiar with police tactics. That man was accosted,” he said of Thomas. “What are you going to do to repair his dignity?”
As the mayor and council member listened without comment, Easton said “there are a lot of good police officers in the state. Lt. Olson is not one of them. What that lieutenant did not only put a black eye on himself but on every other law enforcement officer in the state.”
Many of those present took issue with Hovland’s assertion that Olson’s treatment of Thomas was according to protocol.
7.5 million video views
Carol Overland, who called herself “an older white woman of privilege,” grew up six blocks from where the incident happened, but lives in Red Wing. “This is protocol? No. Show me the protocol. I hate to think what would have happened if this wasn’t videotaped.”
Emily Flower of Black Lives Matter St. Paul said the bystander’s 7-minute video of the encounter has had 7.5 million views on Facebook and YouTube as of Tuesday night, and more than 30,000 comments.
Edina resident Kessea Moses, who is white, said, “I hope this officer is reprimanded so we do not need to be embarrassed again by what we saw” last week.
“When I saw this video I was terrified,” said the Rev. Carolyn Philstrom, of Bloomington. “In Lutheran services, the first thing we do is confess our sins. Until we confess our sins, we cannot move forward. We can do better.”
City officials on Monday had declined an NAACP request to suspend Olson without pay pending an investigation, but said they would provide additional training to police and were open to the demand that it collect race data on its arrests and traffic stops. That response fell short of the formal apology that was among the NAACP’s demands.
‘We can do better’
When public comment concluded about 10:15 p.m. Tuesday, Council Member Bob Stewart was the first to actually apologize to Thomas.
“I think we can do better,” he said. “I will say to Larnie Thomas, I’m sorry.” Stewart added, “we will work to have it not happen again.”
The mayor said, “For Mr. Larnie Thomas, I’m going to meet him face to face. It’s one thing for me to sit up here and apologize, it’s another to meet him face to face.”
Responding to demands to suspend Lt. Olson, Hovland said that would be a matter for the city manager and the police chief to discuss later.
While he was at the meeting along with other city officials, Edina Police Chief Dave Nelson did not comment.
Nekima Levy-Pounds of the Minneapolis NAACP said that Larnie Thomas is very upset. If he is unable or unwilling to meet with the mayor, they still want a formal, written apology from the city.
Hovland said that if Olson’s actions were in line with protocol, the protocol is wrong.
The mayor also said the city is asking for help from advocates, residents and others to come up with solutions and changes.