Protesters took to the streets, avenues and freeways across the nation over the past few days mainly in response to white police officers shooting black men. A section of Interstate 94 in St. Paul was shut down for more than five hours resulting in 21 police officers injured and over 100 arrests. (Protesters were reacting to the questionable killing of Philando Castile (32) of St. Paul by a Falcon Heights Police officer during a routine traffic stop for a broken tail light and other similar shootings in the country). Participants of the St. Paul protest told police that two children got sprayed with mace during the melee.
Police spokespeople said that the “rioters” had thrown hard objects at the police causing physical injury and denied intentionally spraying children with mace. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said the officers “acted with extreme professionalism, extreme patience, extreme tolerance to try” to continue “to protect the ability of the people to protest peacefully, but drawing the line when peaceful acts of protest turn into acts of violence.”
A video was taken by Castile’s girlfriend shortly after the fatal shooting apparently gave the impression that the Falcon Heights officer killed Castile in cold blood. In the aftermath, it has been discovered that the police department has been accused of questionable stop and seizure practices in the past. A lawyer for the police officer in the shooting case is now claiming that his client was reacting to the presence of a gun. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the St. Anthony police department is hinting that although Officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was not wearing a body cam, the squad video has captured some relevant footage. There is speculation that Yanez thought he was stopping a potential armed robbery suspect, but even if this turns out to be accurate, Yanez may not have been following protocol for a felony stop: During a felony stop, officers usually approach cautiously with guns drawn– this does not appear to be the case here.
The fact that Castile has been pulled over at least 52 times in the last couple of years for minor offenses has fueled speculation that police are engaged in racial profiling (Castile is black).
Racial profiling is not a new subject. For years, lawyers across the nation have urged courts to take notice of stops made by police where the driver or the occupants are members of a minority race. A study in Arizona revealed that Blacks are approximately six times more likely to be stopped on the Interstates there than white people. Native Americans are pulled over at even a higher rate. The statistics came to light after neutral groups surveyed actual drivers and their race on the Interstates and then compared their findings to the race of those stopped on the Interstate. The problem remains mostly hidden because most states do not require their officers and departments to track the race of people stopped by the police. Minnesota does not mandate that the police maintain such records and studies that rely on agencies to voluntarily provide this information are inadequate and incomplete.