Earlier this week I wrote about the protests at the Mall of America. A significant number of readers missed the nuance and made conclusions that were not close to being true.

“If you want to support the anti-cop crowd, you should come right out and do it,” one wrote.

Since when are support of free speech and law enforcement mutually exclusive?

Many readers also missed a main point: The Minnesota Supreme Court decided the mall is private, even though taxpayers have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to build and expand it. The protesters knew they were not welcome but chose an act of civil disobedience and trespassed.

The Bloomington city attorney plans to press charges. I have no problem with that. Criminal charges are the outcome of civil disobedience — often even the goal. Protesters who broke the law should be charged.

I understand the emotional responses I got from the column, however. The deaths of young black men at the hands of police in different situations have created a heated national debate. In New York, police have practically blamed protests for the horrible killing of two officers there, which is ludicrous. Blame goes to the deranged man who did it.

In Minnesota, the heads of the police unions in Minneapolis and St. Paul, John Delmonico and David Titus, issued a more helpful statement in response to the “hostile climate” police face.

“The men and women wearing blue each and every day on the streets of St. Paul and Minneapolis endeavor to serve the public in a professional and ethical manner, and to treat citizens with respect and dignity,” they wrote. “Certainly, there have been instances where our officers have fallen short of the line, and we believe that we have been quick to acknowledge these instances. It seems that too often lately we have found ourselves living in a world where feelings count for more than facts.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I also disagree with things the protesters say. The complexity of the two cases doesn’t fit cleanly into slogans. Some of them have made reckless accusations.

But I will always defend their right to be wrong.

Cops live difficult and dangerous lives. Look no further than the trial that starts Monday in St. Cloud. Brian Fitch is charged with murdering Mendota Heights Officer Scott Patrick during a routine traffic stop. Patrick served his community honorably and selflessly and died for it. All officers realize this is a possibility every time they go to work.

I consider myself lucky to have gotten an opportunity early in my career to see just how hard it is to be a cop. The head of the Minneapolis homicide unit at the time, Brad Johnson, allowed me to spend two months with a couple of homicide detectives as they responded to a murder case.

That was back when a reporter didn’t have to negotiate with a public relations team to speak with an officer, and when quotes from them weren’t carefully crafted by politician/cops. That transparency led to more trust between the media and law enforcement, and to fairer and more accurate coverage. I think the increasing lack of transparency by police administrations leads to as much public and media distrust as any protest.

During my long ride-along, I learned officers face hostile, evil people nearly every day. While they worked on the high profile murder case night and day, they were criticized by community leaders. Watching from behind the scenes, I witnessed wildly speculative and inaccurate reports by media outlets. That experience has influenced my reporting on law enforcement ever since.

The two detectives I trailed were smart, honest, perceptive and more dedicated to their jobs than any people I’d met before. And they got the bad guy.

A few weeks ago I went to a party at the home of a friend who happens to be a suburban cop. Just that week he had been spat on twice, was jumped by a woman and attacked by a dog.

A female officer at the party showed me a photo on her cellphone of an interaction with a member of the public the previous week. In the photo she had a black eye and a swollen cheek, the result of a punch by a 300-pound man.

Nice work if you can get it.

I once asked one of the detectives I trailed, now a friend, why I had seen so many reports about bad police officers. He gave me a great answer.

“Unfortunately, Jon, we have to choose our officers from the human race,” he said.

The same can be said about protesters. And journalists.

There is no reason we can’t support them all when they do good and criticize them when they don’t.


jtevlin@startribune.com 612-673-1702

Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin