Dozens of St. Anthony residents packed Tuesday’s City Council meeting to force a conversation about race relations in the tight-knit Twin Cities suburb that was thrown into turmoil after one of its police officers killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in neighboring Falcon Heights.
What began as a grass-roots effort on social media morphed into a coalition of concerned citizens several hundred strong who were disturbed by Castile’s July 6 shooting death. A private Facebook group, St. Anthony Villagers for Community Action, gathered steam and encouraged members who were critical of city leaders’ reaction to the incident to voice their opinions at city hall.
“Our city sat back and was silent,” Shannon Foreman, a St. Anthony resident of four years, said before the meeting began. “We truly feel like it’s our time as white citizens to stand up and support the [Black Lives Matter] movement, loudly but peacefully.”
Foreman, a Minneapolis native who has relatives who are black and another who is a police officer, said her family was forced to have those discussions years ago. “[But] there’s a lot of people in the community who don’t know how to have these race conversations.”
At least 75 attendees, many of whom were wearing black in solidarity, waited patiently for the public forum portion of the evening. Around 20 speakers demanded more transparency by city officials, a series of listening sessions for residents to voice their grievances and de-escalation training for police officers, among other requests.
Several residents also recommended implementing a multicultural advisory committee that works with local minority leaders and law enforcement agencies and meets monthly.
The predominantly white speakers and their supporters told the all-white council they had been largely spared from racial injustices before the 32-year-old school cook was killed.
Impassioned homeowners implored action from a town thrust into the national spotlight, that now had an “opportunity to get it right,” said Robert Jones, one of only two black men to address the council about disparities in policing.
“I have that fear, I live that fear every single day,” Jones, of nearby New Brighton, said of police.
“I make a conscious decision about what I wear, what route I take — and I make that decision based on race, because I don’t want to be put in a position like [Castile].”
Jones’ wife, Julie Pierce, spoke of how she struggled to explain Castile’s death to their two biracial children. For her 13-year-old daughter, it meant worrying about what happened to Jones when he interacted with law enforcement.
“For the first time in her life, she was self-conscious about the color of her skin,” Pierce said.
On Wednesday night, the Falcon Heights City Council will hold a listening session for residents, many of whom have demanded that the city cut ties with the St. Anthony Police Department since Castile’s death. The two cities are in the second year of their current five-year contract.