By Frederick Melo
If elected mayor of St. Paul, Tom Goldstein said he'll advocate for changes that could help prevent "injustice" like the "not guilty" verdict reached Friday in the trial of former St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez.
"With 'use of force' standards written the way that they are, this verdict was not unexpected," Goldstein wrote in his campaign blog. "Until those standards are changed, the message to the community will be that officers like Yanez can act with impunity when using deadly force on the job."
He added later that more St. Paul police officers should reside in the city they serve. "Until they live here and they're part of our community, these things will not change," Goldstein told delegates to Saturday's St. Paul DFL convention at the Washington Technology Magnet School on Rice Street.
Sombered by the jury decision in the Yanez trial and public reaction toward the shooting death of St. Paul Schools worker Philando Castile, St. Paul mayoral candidates and elected officials have weighed in on the verdict with varying intensity.
Some have parsed their words carefully, urging street protesters to show restraint while expressing measured sympathy for their frustrations. Others have advocated openly for police reforms, and called the verdict an unacceptable miscarriage of justice.
"Philando Castile is dead and should not be," said gubernatorial candidate Erin Murphy, a DFL state representative from St. Paul, in a social media post calling for legal changes in police "use of force" laws. "Our society says that broken taillights and smoking marijuana can be crimes worthy of death if you're black."
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, another gubernatorial candidate, issued a statement Friday calling Castile "a son of St. Paul" and announcing three community conversations on race and police-community relations.
"Regardless of how you feel about the outcome, this is a difficult time in our community," Coleman said.
Melvin Carter told delegates to the St. Paul DFL City convention on Saturday that he was the only mayoral candidate who had ever been pulled over for being black.
"This is a hard day for for me, and a heavy day for St. Paul," said Carter, who criticized the police tactics that resulted in heavy injury to Frank Baker in 2016, as well as the death of "Philando Castile, killed in his seat-belt with a 4-year-old girl in the back seat."
"When our state Legislature is having more public hearings about stopping protests then stopping a shooting, no one is listening," he added.
Carter advocated for greater diversity and accountability in the St. Paul Police Department. "It starts with a change in how we hire officers," Carter said. "You shouldn't have to find a fax machine or a stamp to offer feedback on an officer."
Fellow mayoral candidate Dai Thao was introduced at the microphone by John Thompson, one of Castile's friends and co-workers.
Thompson recounted how Thao, a city council member, argued to get St. Paul police officers removed from the Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission, among other reform efforts.
"Who did I see standing right next to me fighting? Dai Thao!" said Thompson, who is featured prominently on the candidate's latest campaign flier. "Let's put a leader in office."
Thao, who has advocated for greater diversity in both police hiring and promotions, said he supported a new $18 million police training facility in St. Paul that will allow officers to practice split-second decision-making using virtual reality technology.
Thao said that the best way to fight crime and improve relations is to ensure the African-American community has access to good jobs.
Mayoral candidate Pat Harris, a former city council member, said he drove home Friday night through a city that felt "broken by distrust, confusion, and a feeling of being out of place."
He said the mood at his home was emotional. "All six of us gathered and we hugged," Harris said. "We told our kids that we love them."
Green Party mayoral candidate Elizabeth Dickinson said she was stunned by the outcome in the Yanez trial, which seemed headed toward a hung jury until the fifth day of deliberations.
"I share in the shock of the verdict," said Dickinson, by email, while acknowledging the case was vigorously prosecuted. "County Attorney John Choi showed personal courage by bypassing the grand jury system and personally prosecuting the case, opening up the system to the transparency and accountability the families deserve."
She added later that police could benefit from more training on dealing with people with mental health issues, active listening and de-escalation, and young people would benefit from being invited to see how police are trained to challenge their own biases.
"More contact," she said, pointing to a police-youth improvisational comedy group that launched in Chicago.
Tim Holden, who is running for mayor unaffiliated with a party, was not at the DFL convention but said by email that Yanez's use of force exceeded the level of threat, and the officer was "jumpy, overly nervous, with a rushed ... response."
Added Holden: "Officer Yanez's response was excessive, unprofessional, guilty."
Holden has advocated for weekly police-community meet-and-greets for all cops, mandatory de-escalation training and stepped up police mentoring of young people.
Goldstein, who was eliminated from the DFL endorsement process after the second of multiple ballots, told the party convention the trial outcome was unacceptable. "Justice was clearly not served yesterday by the verdict in the Castile case," he said.
(c)2017 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)