A year after the shooting of Philando Castile and the sale of Lowry Grove, Karen Kraco looks at St. Anthony Village residents and leadership. As the vocal St. Anthony Villagers for Community Action challenge city leaders for lack of communication, elected and hired management talked with Kraco about what has been going on in the background to address the issues. Mark Peterson contributed reporting to this article.
St. Anthony residents and others packed the June 27 St. Anthony City Council meeting, with many calling for the resignation of Mayor Jerry Faust, citing what they said was inadequate and insensitive leadership following the shooting of Philando Castile and the Lowry Grove mobile home park sale.
At one point people were standing, fists in the air, chanting “Resign! Resign!”
It was eleven days after Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in the shooting death of Philando Castile, and four days before the residents remaining in the Lowry Grove mobile home park were required to move out. Anger and anguish were in the voices of many people who spoke during the community forum as they addressed the council about the death of Castile, the suicide of a Lowry Grove resident, and about not having a place to live after June 30.
St. Anthony Villagers for Community Action released a statement listing their concerns, which included poor communications by city officials, mismanagement resulting in liabilities to the city, and a deeply ingrained culture of bias and racial profiling in the police department.
“Mayor Faust and the City Council have demonstrated a pattern of practice of ignoring and dismissing concerns,” said SAVCA member Sandi Sherman, speaking on behalf of the group. She called the mayor and council members’ response to the shooting “slow, inadequate and hollow,” and said that their failure to lead has led to divisions in the community.
A week earlier, several city officials, including the police chief, sat in that same room eager to describe, at the Northeaster’s request, the measures the city has taken since the shooting to become a more equitable and inclusive city. Each person at the table, at some point in the conversation, teared up while discussing the tragedy of the shooting and their emotions of the past year.
They talked about the programs they have put in place with a hope of examining practices and attitudes toward race in city government and steps they are taking to become more inclusive of all members of the community.
There’s the GARE program: St. Anthony is one of 17 Minnesota jurisdictions in a year-long cohort of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE). It’s an educational and implementation program that provides tools to change government policies and practices that perpetuate racial inequities.
It’s a collaborative effort in which cities can learn about best practices and speak with officials whose jurisdictions have had some successes in grappling with racial equity, explained Council Member Bonnie Brever. One of the takeaways at the end of the program is an action plan for the city, said Assistant City Manager Charlie Yunker.
On a more direct level, last fall and winter St. Anthony required all city employees, commissioners and council members, and regular contractors to take a Bias Awareness training provided by Racial Equity Network Minnesota (REMn).
Police Chief Jon Mangseth said that the training had “broken the ice” in terms of approaching a comfort level in talking about race and equity, allowing participants to examine their own biases and attitudes without being fearful of being called out for their views.
City Manager Mark Casey added that the training was a step toward a common vocabulary and “normalizing” conversations about equity. A few months ago the city created an inclusion team consisting of a representative from each city department, Casey said. He said that resources and best practices gleaned from GARE will be used as city officials and inclusion team members consider all aspects of city operations—from hiring to contract procurement to the ways services are delivered—through the lenses of race and equity.
Involving residents of color
Casey said that the city was “committed to making changes for the long haul,” with these programs being part of a “journey” in fulfilling the city’s mission to be a welcoming city.
“Different people may have different definitions of what welcoming is,” Casey said. “The question is, ‘How can we engage all members of the community?’”
Making sure that people of color are involved in the process of change has been one of the goals of a community conversation process begun in November 2016 by St. Anthony New Brighton Family Services Collaborative.
Working in partnership with REMn, the collaborative held meetings with residents to identify issues critical to the community. An outgrowth of those conversations has been a workgroup comprised of community members of color.
The group, called St. Anthony Villagers for Equity and Community (SAVEC), is focusing on fostering inclusive leadership and decision making in the areas of education, governance, religious equity and community engagement and awareness. They have met regularly for several months and planned on leading a community conversation on July 15 (after this Northeaster went to press).
In a conversation with Northeaster reporter Mark Peterson in late June, members of the workgroup talked about difficult race-related experiences they’ve had as people of color in St. Anthony, in order to give context to why it’s important to include all viewpoints as the city moves forward. But each person emphasized that such accounts were not the purpose of their group.
“This is not necessarily about sharing the stories of the experience or of the pain or disconnect. That becomes a very hard narrative, especially in the scope of what’s taken place in our community,” said Dan Spriggs, who has lived with his family in St. Anthony since 1997. “The broad goal is to start a conversation and move forward,” he said.
Ben Phillip, whose family has lived in St. Anthony since 2005 and has three children at Wilshire Park Elementary, said he believes in telling the story of St. Anthony in a positive way. “I think the world is taking control of that narrative. I want to make sure that we, the residents, are controlling how we tell that story.”
In the schools
David Elias, one of the members of the SAVEC workgroup, is a 2017 graduate of St. Anthony Village High School, bound for Duke University in the fall. He had been a leader of the high school’s Dare 2 Be Real group, in which students explore their racial and cultural identities. Elias talked about the community conversations the group had hosted, inviting the police and residents to talk openly about racial and other issues.
Elias spoke about the need for diverse perspectives in bringing about change in the schools. “The cultural sensitivity is very, very low, with many offensive statements said in the hallways or at lunch,” he said. He’s had no teachers of color in his 12 years in the school system, he said.
“There tends to be a lack of role models who look like us, who know us more, who know our experiences,” he said. He also said students of color would like to see changes in the curriculum, coursework that promotes “a larger cultural consciousness and makes students of color feel more welcomed, a place where they can even learn about their history … not just the histories of others.”
At the June 27 council meeting, some of the community forum speakers also called for the resignation of Police Chief Jon Mangseth, citing his referring to Yanez as an exemplary employee during a media interview, his positive testimony about Yanez at the trial, and lack of communication with community. Some decried the intended separation agreement with Yanez that the city announced immediately after the verdict. (The terms of $48,500 and up to 600 hours compensatory time were announced on July 10.)
On June 26 during the Northeaster’s conversation with city officials, Mangseth said that he’s committed to achieving equity in all aspects of operations. “As a human being I say that, as a police officer working in this city I say that,” he said. He spoke of the commitment and professionalism of St. Anthony city officials and of his officers. “Everyone wants to do a better job. That is the spirit behind the people I work with,” he said.
His officers have been going out into the community, he said, mentioning the Dare 2 Be Real community conversations, sessions with middle school students and coffees and meetings with residents. .
He also mentioned that Officer Jim South had been trained as a trainer for de-escalation instruction, and will be sharing his knowledge with other officers.
Mangseth reported that the department likely will be wearing body cameras sometime in the fall or early winter, following months of meetings of a citizen workgroup developing policy for camera use. A public hearing on the policy will be held in the fall.
He gave an update on the U.S. Department of Justice’s Collaborative Reform process, a review and assistance program that the city applied for three months after the shooting. DOJ investigators held three public hearings in the cities then served by the department, and met with community groups, individuals, each police officer, and conducted ride-alongs. Mangseth said the department provided lots of data and had been “turned inside out.” He said the officers were “engaged and responsive” during the process.The DOJ concluded the info gathering stage in May, and will have draft recommendations to the city to review and ultimately put into action likely by the fall, with the DOJ program providing assistance with implementation, but not equipment.
July 11 Council Meeting
The July 11 City Council meeting started with chanting of “Faust Out Now,” and as people shouted out “Whose city is it,” and “The people, united, will never be defeated,” Mayor Jerry Faust adjourned after only eight minutes of business. In those eight minutes, the council voted to terminate the police department contract with Falcon Heights. Services will cease January 1.
Faust eventually agreed to hold the community forum, after the room had quieted and St. Anthony resident Mel Chaput asked that Lowry Grove residents who were unable to attend the last council meeting be given a chance to speak.
The video recording was turned back on, and people spoke along the lines of the June 27 meeting, focusing on housing, their perception of city officials’ responses since the shooting. Several talked about the past actions of the city officials in voting against a permit for a mosque in 2012, and reflected whether the community is one they wanted to live in.
Only one person, former council member Jim Roth, spoke in support of the mayor and council, introducing himself as one of the “silent majority.” He was visibly angry and trembling at the podium, and called the other people in the room “pitiful.”
(Roth was the lone vote in favor of the mosque in 2012, and was quoted in the Star Tribune as being “embarrassed” and “stunned” at disparaging remarks against Muslims by people speaking against the mosque during the 2012 council meeting.)
Eva Grooms, a member of St. Anthony Villagers for Community Action presented a petition that she said held 500 signatures and demanded at least 98 units of truly affordable housing on the Lowry Grove site, with priority given to Lowry Grove residents. It also asked for a meeting between Lowry Grove residents and city officials, she said.
During the course of the unofficial community forum, the mayor, Mangseth, Casey and a couple of council members responded to questions, which is usually not the case. The mayor said a flat “no” to meeting with former Lowry Grove residents but also talked about how he and the council have never said that they were against affordable housing. The developer had not yet submitted plans, he said, and it was important not to “tip their hand,” in potential negotiations, he said.
At the end of the meeting, St. Anthony resident Stephen Botts took the podium to say that he felt that “in a small way,” something “had turned” during the course of the meeting, with there being “more dialogue, more discussion and less anger.”
Botts had been one of the people shouting out at the beginning of the meeting, and he acknowledged what he called his “inflammatory remarks,” and said he hoped the dialogue would continue.
In an interview July 13, Faust talked about why he usually is silent during the community forum part of meetings.
“The first take on something usually isn’t the final take,” he said. “We have to be cognizant that what we say has implications beyond the meeting, and a lot of times those statements can be misconstrued or taken out of context.”
He also said that he has heard from people with different viewpoints from those expressed at the meetings, and that some people have said that they are afraid to speak at meetings. He declined to elaborate but simply said: “When you start pitting neighbor against neighbor, that’s not the right thing to do. It’s not what I’m about, We just need to still live civilly with each other, treat each other with respect and dignity, not create a greater divide among ourselves.”
With respect to the city’s efforts since the shooting, he said the following: “The tragedy of Philando Castile being killed has had a profound impact on the community, both here and in Falcon Heights but across the state and country, too. We take that as an extremely serious issue, and we’ve done everything that we can humanly possibly do to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.”
He said that in seeking out the Department of Justice Collaborative Reform process, the city knows it’s getting an unbiased review from subject area experts. “We can look at that and feel comfortable that what they’re telling us is doable and will affect change, and that’s what we’re after.”
He said that he, council members, and the police department are committed to implementation of the DOJ recommendations.
“The problem wasn’t created overnight, it won’t be solved overnight. I know people don’t like to hear that. This has been a long-term issue with the country and it … happened to manifest itself in a tragedy here. We need to face it and do what’s right, and we will.”
Below: Members of Saint Anthony Villagers for Equity and Community. Seated, left to right: St. Anthony residents Thomas Randle, Sirri Nomo, Ben Phillip, David Elias, Dan Spriggs. Standing: Dee Sabol, Xavier Bell, both with Racial Equity Minnesota Network. (Photo by Mark Peterson)
Eva Grooms holds a message for city officials as about 50 people marched from Lowry Grove to the July 11 council meeting. People packed the June 27 council meeting, with many calling for Mayor Jerry Faust to resign. (Photos by Karen Kraco)