In a case of right goal, wrong tactics, Black Lives Matter St. Paul is threatening to shut down the popular Red Bull Crashed Ice event if a St. Paul police sergeant is not fired over comments he made on Facebook. In its own recent Facebook post, the group said it would hold a “nonviolent shutdown action” Feb. 27 during the Ice Cross Downhill World Championship — a competition that is expected to bring more than 100,000 people to downtown St. Paul.
Before any more damage is done to the event or to the worthy cause of peaceful protest, Black Lives Matter St. Paul (BLM) should talk with city leaders about how it might hold a protest without disrupting the gathering or endangering public safety. This should be familiar territory. During the past several months, the group has held peaceful demonstrations at the Twin Cities Marathon and the Minnesota State Fair after discussions with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Police Chief Tom Smith.
As Coleman said in a statement after the most recent BLM announcement, “… this event will go on as planned. Our law enforcement in St. Paul is expert at protecting both demonstrators’ First Amendment rights and the public — and we will undertake measures to do the same during the Red Bull Crashed Ice event.’’
BLM protesters also should understand that their primary demand cannot legally take place by Feb. 27.
This page agrees that St. Paul police Sgt. Jeffrey Rothecker should lose his job after his Facebook post that urged motorists to run over protesters. However, to terminate an employee, the city must follow a process outlined in state law and contract provisions. That process includes a 60-day window to appeal. And, under state data privacy laws, city officials may not publicly discuss a personnel matter until final disposition.
Meanwhile, Rothecker, who has apologized for the post, is on administrative leave.
BLM St. Paul listed several other demands this week, including filing criminal charges against Rothecker and stripping him of his state-issued police license. The group also wants a racially diverse officer certification board established to issue those licenses, and it demanded changes in the police discipline process under the collectively bargained contract. It also called for the U.S. Department of Justice to reopen the officer-involved shooting of Marcus Golden in St. Paul last year. Regardless of the merits of any of those demands, addressing them will not be accomplished in two weeks.
The BLM movement has every right to bring attention to police-involved shootings and to racial and income disparities in health, education, housing, employment and other areas.
At the same time, threatening to disrupt community events like Crashed Ice risks alienating some who might otherwise be supportive. “Shutting down’’ a public event is not the same as raising awareness as part of an effort to change practices, policies, hearts and minds.