The president of the St. Paul police union spoke out Thursday against what he called “absolutely disgusting” behavior by some protesters outside the governor’s residence in the wake of Philando Castile’s shooting death.
The protesters were mostly peaceful, said St. Paul Police Federation President Dave Titus, but he added that the media, city officials and the public have ignored agitators who antagonized police officers and neighbors.
“Black officers were repeatedly called ‘Uncle Tom’ and swore at,” he said. “Female cops were ridiculed, claiming they were just sex objects for male cops. Male cops were told that their wives were sexual objects for others as they worked. Another cop was told back in the day, men like him were castrated.
“This is not peaceful. This is absolutely disgusting.”
The federation also called the behavior “vile.”
Khulia Pringle, an organizer with Black Lives Matter St. Paul, said she was outside of the governor’s residence most days, and on part of the day that 70 protesters were arrested in late July. She said she did not witness any of the behavior Titus recounted.
“People were grieving in public, and that’s disgusting and vile?” Pringle said. “[Police] wasted their resources watching people dancing in the streets, making signs, raising their voices, hugging each other, bringing their kids out.”
Titus, along with area business owner Mike Schumann, spoke at a news conference at the Wild Onion bar and restaurant on Grand Avenue, not far from where intermittent protests have taken place since Castile, a 32-year-old black man, was fatally shot by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez during a July 6 traffic stop in Falcon Heights.
Since then, dozens of protesters have been arrested both near the governor’s residence and during a massive action that blocked I-94 in the days after the shooting.
“I just want people to know there are cops in a very difficult climate performing admirably,” Titus said afterward.
Some officers worked 20-hour days and seven- to eight-day workweeks because of the protests, he said, and they deserve respect for enduring confrontations with some demonstrators who spat on them, slapped them and challenged them to fight. One of them antagonized officers by holding a razor blade in his mouth only a few feet away, he said.
Despite relative calm since last week, Titus said he’s speaking out because “this is going to continue,” and this month, the City Council is expected to look into how police handled the arrests of the protesters outside the governor’s residence. He added that city leaders seemed quick to take the side of protesters without considering what officers experienced, referring specifically to Council President Russ Stark and Council Member Dai Thao. Protesters met with council members last week to express concerns about how they had been treated.
Stark was unavailable for comment Thursday, according to his executive assistant, and Thao could not be reached.
Schumann, owner of Traditions Classic Home Furnishings at Grand and Oxford streets, said weeks of protesters blocking the streets is counterproductive, particularly in a residential neighborhood in a city that “is really peripheral to what happened.”
“We could have avoided two or three weeks of turmoil and we could have saved the city $1.5 million on policing costs that are desperately needed funds if we’re going to address some of these issues and try to solve this,” he said.
Pringle said protesters tried to build relationships with residents, and that she saw no harm to nearby businesses. Schumann admitted that the protests “really didn’t hurt Grand Avenue that much.”
“That was a community-building thing,” Pringle said of the protests. “I wouldn’t tell anybody to say or not to say anything [at a protest]. People express their grief and anger in different ways.”
Titus’ and Schumann’s statements followed an appreciation lunch for St. Paul police hosted at the Wild Onion by the Grand Avenue Business Association. About 175 officers, including Chief Todd Axtell, and civilian staffers attended the lunch.
The federation news conference was not a department event, but reached for comment afterward, police spokesman Steve Linders said, “We’re proud of the work our officers did during protests and the incident on (Interstate) 94 and the extended occupation of the street in front of the governor’s residence.”