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St. Paul Mayor Attends White House Meeting About Police, Community


President Obama stepped out of a meeting yesterday - a meeting with police chiefs and mayors, along with civil rights leaders and activists.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There's no doubt that police departments still feel embattled and unjustly accused. And there is no doubt that minority communities - communities of color - still feel like it just takes too long to do what's right.

INSKEEP: The week after a series of much-publicized shootings, the president acknowledged the feelings on both sides, which leaves the realities of what to do. One person in that meeting yesterday was St. Paul, Minn., Mayor Chris Coleman. Last week's shooting of a black man, Philando Castile, took place in a St. Paul suburb. Mayor Coleman is on the line, back in his hometown now. Mayor, welcome to the program.

CHRIS COLEMAN: Thank you so much. Good morning.

INSKEEP: How has this incident affected your city?

COLEMAN: Well, Philando Castile was a son of St. Paul. He went to St. Paul Central High School and worked at an elementary school and was loved by the kids that were in that school. This has torn us apart. When I talked to the leaders in the African-American community the day after the shooting, I never felt hurt like I hurt - like I felt that day.

The despair and the just kind of sense of almost hopelessness - after all the years and all the work that we've done together, to have an incident like this just really broke the spirit of a lot of folks.

INSKEEP: And what have you heard from the police who report to you?

COLEMAN: Well, you know, this is an - it's an interesting position that we're in because the incident didn't occur in St. Paul. But being the capital city, a lot of the protests have occurred here.

And so we're trying to balance out - to really find work that we've done to reform how we police in the city in St. Paul and the relationships that we built over the years - with the - you know, the challenge of folks that are grieving and protesting, you know, camped out in front of the governor's residence and protesting on the freeways - trying to balance out that right to exercise your First Amendment rights with the need to keep the community safe and...

INSKEEP: Have you found the balance, Mayor Coleman, given that more than 100 people have been arrested in those protests?

COLEMAN: Well, I don't know that, you know, from anybody's perspective there's ever quite the balance. You know, residents on Summit Avenue are frustrated that they haven't - that there's folks out in front of the governor's mansion. And yet, to provoke an incident by quarrying them out is always a challenge.

And we try and strike that balance. I think on Saturday night, I've never been prouder of our department. And even though it ended in arrests for four hours, the patience that was shown, the work that we did to try to get the protestors off the freeway - you know, unfortunately, at one point, people started throwing bricks and crowbar and Molotov cocktails at our officers.

And 21 officers ended up being injured. And so it's just a very delicate line to walk. And so far, we're doing the best that we can.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask in the moment that we have if you can help us push this discussion forward. Many people have said in recent days, it's important for everybody on all sides to listen to each other, to pay attention to people who are different than them. But that then leaves the question of - what next? Did you come out of this meeting with the president with a sense of what to do next?

COLEMAN: Well, I think that we've had a roadmap. The president's 21st century policing report that was put together made some very specific recommendations. I think that that needs to be brought down into the 18,000 police departments across the country, 75 percent of which have less than 25 officers.

It's easier in some of the bigger departments to, you know, have executed an agreement with the Justice Department or the NAACP. We went into an agreement in the early 2000s. We collect data. We've changed our practices.

But for some of these smaller departments that haven't been - racial equity training, the escalation training, some of the things that need to occur - some of the very specific data gathering that the report requires. I think we need to make sure that that's happening in every department across the country.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, Mayor Coleman, thank you very much.

COLEMAN: Thank you so much.

INSKEEP: Chris Coleman is the mayor of St. Paul, Minn., and one of the participants in a meeting yesterday here in Washington with President Obama in the wake of a series of much-publicized shootings. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.