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St. Paul’s protest costs reach $1M; police reopen Summit Avenue to traffic

ST. PAUL -- Protest costs in St. Paul over the killing of Philando Castile have reached $1 million, according to a preliminary estimate by the city. The figure encompasses all St. Paul departments, including police, fire, public works and parks a...

ST. PAUL -- Protest costs in St. Paul over the killing of Philando Castile have reached $1 million, according to a preliminary estimate by the city.

The figure encompasses all St. Paul departments, including police, fire, public works and parks and recreation, that “have supported the facilitation of peaceful protests,” said Tonya Tennessen, Mayor Chris Coleman’s spokesman.

A St. Anthony police officer fatally shot Castile, 32, in Falcon Heights the night of July 6, and people have been protesting outside the Governor’s Residence in St. Paul since early July 7. Police had Summit Avenue closed to traffic in front of the mansion until early Monday. Officers also have responded to other protests and marches.

“We expect a certain level of protests in the capital city and we budget accordingly, but these are obviously very different because the volume and level of activity is unprecedented in recent history,” Tennessen said.

The estimated $1 million St. Paul protest price tag covers July 7 through this past Sunday, most of it for police personnel. About $750,000 of the costs came July 8-11, with $650,000 of it used by the police department, according to the mayor’s office.

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Protesters shut down Interstate 94 in St. Paul on the night of July 9, and the police chief and Coleman said it turned into a riot when people began throwing objects at officers. Police said 21 officers sustained injuries, which were mostly minor. On July 9 and 10, 102 people were arrested, either on the interstate or on Grand Avenue.

The city has not ruled out asking the state or federal government for assistance, Tennessen said.

St. Paul City Council President Russ Stark said protest costs so far represents about 1 percent of the city’s property tax levy.

“At this point, all we can do is provide the services that we have to in terms of public safety and public works and all those costs,” Stark said. “And then, hopefully afterwards do some figuring out where the resources might come from to pay for it.”

Peter Hendricks, a St. Paul resident, wrote to the governor, Coleman and other elected officials on Thursday and expressed concern about the costs. He said he’d been inconvenienced by the road closure but supported “the right of citizens to protest and the right to live in an orderly society.”

“To free up St. Paul Police for other important duties and to make sure St. Paul taxpayers do not incur the entire cost of the Summit Avenue road closure, I ask you to consider using State Patrol officers to help with the road closure, or have the state of Minnesota partially reimburse the city of St. Paul for this additional cost,” Hendricks wrote.

Anthony Streiff has been protesting outside the governor’s mansion for at least a week. Before police reopened Summit Avenue, he said he saw demonstrators going into the road because police had the road closed, not the other way around.

“If the police just wanted to have the road closed for our protection, then those blockades and things could have been handled by us,” said Streiff, of Minneapolis. “We could have self policed in that way.”

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Preliminary protest costs were not available from the Minnesota State Patrol late Monday afternoon. The State Patrol is responsible for security at the Governor’s Residence.

Protesters to stay at mansion

Outside the Governor’s Residence, protesters have hung a large banner on the fence that says, “We leave when we get justice!” They are resolute about staying, even after police told them again Monday to remove their encampment.

About 6 a.m., St. Paul police informed protesters they would no longer be allowed to block traffic, said Steve Linders, a police spokesman. He said those in front of the mansion “voluntarily packed up their personal belongings and removed them from the area.”

Curtis Avent, who has been protesting outside the governor’s official residence since Castile was killed, said he called a U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service staff member when police gathered Monday morning. The CRS is known as the department’s “peacemaker” for community conflicts, and Avent said he met representatives who were recently in the Twin Cities.

“I negotiated because they were ready to amass and arrest everybody,” said Avent, who described himself as part of a community of organizers that aren’t part of a particular group.

Avent said CRS connected him to St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell. “CRS helped facilitate dialogue between protesters and the police in order to secure a peaceful resolution to the situation,” according to a DOJ spokesman.

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Police said they made no arrests and protesters collected their belongings. Axtell went to the area and spoke with protesters, saying he wanted to hear their concerns.

“We have been very accommodating to the situation here in front of the Governor’s Mansion and we’ve had to keep the road shut down for 12 days,” Axtell said. “It’s been an ongoing public nuisance, according to law, and we decided this morning that we were going to open Summit up for traffic … at the same time allowing peaceful protesters to do just that.”

Looking for change

The location is significant to protesters because they’re seeking statewide change from Gov. Mark Dayton, Avent said. Among the mandates that he’d like to see - that officers get more training and live within 10 miles of the neighborhoods they patrol.

“If you don’t live in the neighborhood, you have nothing invested there, you don’t know the community,” Avent said.

Dayton has said that he would not ask those protesting in front of the mansion to leave. He supports protesters’ ability to express their rights in accordance with the law, he said.

Dayton visited the protesters outside his Summit Avenue residence on July 7, the day after Castile was killed. He has also been consulting with activists, law enforcement and others about changes to state laws regarding police shootings and other related issues. He said last Friday that changes to the laws are unlikely to be part of a possible August special session of the Legislature.

Mary Divine and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report.

Related Topics: POLICE
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