Community members confronted and challenged St. Paul police and city officials Thursday night over the mid-March shooting death of Cordale Q. Handy and what they say is a pattern of racial profiling and bias by police.
Several speakers emphatically called for changes in police procedures, discipline and in the union contract that protects and defends wrongdoers. They repeatedly referenced the city's $2 million payout to a man who last June was repeatedly kicked by an officer and mauled by a K-9, and an arbitrator's decision in early April that the officer involved, who had been fired, should be returned to his job.
About 60 people turned out for the meeting at Progressive Baptist Church in St. Paul, organized by the St. Paul Black Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the St. Paul NAACP and the African-American Leadership Council. In attendance were Mayor Chris Coleman, Police Chief Todd Axtell, City Council President Russ Stark and others.
Topics ranged from the deaths of Handy and others, to police response to mental health crises to community engagement.
Axtell said that because Handy's death is still under review by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, he can't legally talk about the investigation. But he said the majority of the work by St. Paul police is done with "compassion, dignity, respect and concern."
"No officer I know would take any joy in taking another person's life," the chief said. "They rip families apart; they rip officers' families apart."
Handy's mother, Kim Handy Jones, said neither police nor the NAACP offered their condolences to her personally over her son's death until days or weeks later.
"I'm not going anywhere," she said. "I want justice. I want answers. If you need to speak about Cordale, I'm here. I'm not a hard person to reach."
Handy, 29, was killed March 15 near Sinnen and E. 7th streets after police were called to a domestic dispute at a nearby apartment. The BCA has said officers found Handy holding a gun and he ignored their orders to drop it.
Curtis Avent, Nathaniel Khaliq and others said city officials must look at making changes in the police contract.
Khaliq, a retired firefighter, said he's been coming to similar community meetings about police actions since 1959 and little has changed.
"The system needs to be corrected," he said. "I know a lot of cops that are cool. But there are ones that aren't. And [the Police Federation] continues to defend them."
Another man asked, "How do you support the good cops and get rid of the bad ones? ... What needs to happen?"
Stark said he has no answers. "I want your suggestions," he said.