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Police Killed John Thompson’s Friend Philando Castile. Now He Is a Lawmaker Fighting Racist Policing

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We look at the long history of police killings of Black men during traffic stops in Minnesota with state Representative John Thompson, a community activist who was elected last year and has attended protests demanding justice for George Floyd and other victims of police brutality. His friend Philando Castile was killed by police during a 2016 traffic stop in a suburb of St. Paul. “We have every right to be angry, we have every right to be mad, and we have every right to use our voices,” Thompson says. “We have a problem here in this state with policing.” Thompson is part of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus that has called on fellow lawmakers in St. Paul to halt budget negotiations until police accountability laws are passed.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Minnesota state Representative John Thompson into this conversation. You’ve been out in the streets. You’re in the Legislature now. You were a close friend of Philando Castile, who was gunned down by police in 2016. Can you talk about this trajectory, if you can call it that, and what you want to see right now and what you’re doing in the Legislature, around the issue of police accountability?

REP. JOHN THOMPSON: We have to put accountability, accountability pieces, into legislation here in the state of Minnesota. Our legislative body has made it so that the law protects the actions of these officers. And sometimes these actions are erroneous actions. Let me see. Can you hear me?

AMY GOODMAN: Yep, everything is perfect. We can see you and hear you fine.

REP. JOHN THOMPSON: Yeah, some of these actions are heinous acts of violence against young Black men here in the state — a traffic stop, your headlight is out, your blinker is not working, you know, you have an air freshener in your window. You know, these are pretextual stops to gain access to the car, but ultimately what’s really happening is these officers are seeing who’s in the car and saying, “That’s a Black man driving that car,” racially profiling these Black men. And some of these traffic stops turn deadly. And these cars are turning into caskets for some of these young African American men — case in point with Philando Castile and Daunte. You know, these are traffic stops. I mean, you should get a ticket and go home, but that’s not the case, even with George Floyd.

You know, the funny thing is, when Philando died in 2016, when he was murdered in St. Anthony — I mean, in Falcon Heights, the buzzwords here in this state were “implicit bias training” and “deescalation training.” That was 2016. But I find it really strange that the field training officer killed George Floyd and the field training officer killed Daunte. “What are you training these officers?” is what I’m asking.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is a critical point you’re making, that the person who was in charge of training the others at the site — Kim Potter, when it came to what happened with Wright, and Derek Chauvin, who was the senior there, who was supposedly training the others — what do you make of this? Because, well, the prosecution, perhaps for other reasons, was making the point that policing is not on trial, Derek Chauvin is.

REP. JOHN THOMPSON: You know, I wanted to talk about something you asked Sister Nekima Levy-Pounds, when you asked her about Maxine Waters and her statements here. You know, me and Nekima Levy-Pounds showed up to an officer’s home this past summer. This officer has 56 complaints against him over his tenure, 11 successful lawsuits over his tenure, and was involved in three police-involved shootings. They voted this man as the president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, and he was promoted to sergeant. So, what does that tell you about policing here in this state? We reward bad cops. And by the way, this guy was also a member of the City Heat, which is a known white supremacist biker gang.

But when we show up to his house, the same thing that happened to Maxine Waters happened to me on the campaign trail. I was called a domestic terrorist, antifa. And he called us mad and angry. We have every right to be angry, we have every right to be mad, and we have every right to use our voices, because their actions are what we are protesting against. Right? We have a problem here in this state with policing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Representative Thompson, I wanted to ask you — one of the things you’ve been trying to do in the Minnesota House, a committee of the House recently approved your bill that would end qualified immunity for police officers. Why is this particular reform so important to you? And what are the prospects, do you think, of getting it through the whole House and then the tougher job of getting it through the Senate?

REP. JOHN THOMPSON: Yeah, as a surgeon, as a doctor, you can’t mistakenly put morphine in somebody’s IV and say, “Oops, I made a mistake.” They’re going to walk you out of there in handcuffs. It should be no different for police officers in the state. Legislation in this state has made it possible for bad officers to get away with committing some of these crimes that they’re committing in our state, right?

So, for me, I proposed legislation that would actually put some meat on the word “reform” here. But the problem is, our Senate is not hearing any of it. They don’t want to hear anything about police reform, because either their friends are police officers or they’re ex-police officers themselves, and they’re catering to these police unions. For the Senate here, they seem to think that the police unions, the chiefs association, they get to tell us what reform looks like. And if they don’t agree with any provisions we put forth, it won’t move through this body.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the relationship between the police union and the Legislature? Could you talk more about what you’ve seen firsthand now that you’re in the Legislature?

REP. JOHN THOMPSON: I’ve seen firsthand the PPP — police unions punking politicians, firsthand. I’ve seen it firsthand. Case in point, with me, for instance. I show up to this man’s house, and I’m being heckled by these patriots. One of them spit at me. And so, I go on this — like, I’m angry, and I yell at him. And I tell him, you know, “If you don’t support Black people, then, you know” — you can google this stuff. It’s me. But I was attacked throughout the entire campaign trail by a police union, the chiefs federation, and police officers all across this state.

And what they did to the Democrats in this state, they said if you had a — if you got a donation from the police unions, they were taking the donations that they’d given you and giving it to the Republican who was running against you in the race. And so, that’s what we see here with policing in this state, is they play a major role in our elections also. And they make big donations to some of our Republican colleagues, who in turn give them exactly what they want when it comes to not voting for reform. Listen, these people got George Floyd killed. They got Philando killed. And they ultimately failed Daunte Wright and several others.

AMY GOODMAN: Look at the timing. Back July 5th, 2016, Alton Sterling was killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. You talked to Philando about this as that news came out, and the next day he was killed by police in a suburb of St. Paul? Can you talk about how this — how your then activism on the street has — what it’s meant to you to be in the state Assembly right now? But, I mean, that is just astounding, from Alton Sterling to Philando, and what you’re doing with Philando’s mother right now.

REP. JOHN THOMPSON: If you would have followed me, in 2016, I promised the legislative body that we would put people in place to replace them. I also told them that I would be replacing some of the legislators who have been here 22 years uncontested, because a lot of the disparities we see in this state happened on their watch. Legislation created everything that we see as far as disparities in this state, and legislation can fix them. I know what I wanted to see out of my legislator, and so I just became one.

Valerie Castile — I don’t know if people know this, but right after Philando died, my son was shot six times at a funeral. And then I lost my mother. And Valerie Castile has been filling that void as far as a mother’s role since then. And so I promised her I’d stick by her side.

We just proposed legislation in the state. It was Minnesota House File 784, which would actually take the need for so much public safety out of our communities, if they were investing in things that they’re not investing in, you know, like jobs and economic development, housing, STEM training, culturally competent tutors and mental health providers. And when I put this bill forth to the body, they told me that this was a racist bill because I’m asking for money for the African American community. You know, this is what I’m up against, dealing with our legislation.

But here’s the thing, is I actually put my name on the ballot, hopefully, to inspire other young Black men like myself to put their name on the ballot. We don’t need another rapper in our community. We need people to be legislators, lawyers, doctors, teachers and everything that we have a void — every void that we have, we need filled by young Black men and women in our state. So I have to show them. If they see it, they can be it. And so, that’s what I’m doing. I’m inspiring others to be the change they want to see in the community.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Representative, I wanted to ask you — back in 2017, the officer who killed your friend Philando Castile was acquitted on charges of manslaughter. What are you watching for in the outcome of the Chauvin trial? And are you hopeful that this time around justice will be served?

REP. JOHN THOMPSON: Excuse my French, but I’ve been a Black man all my life. I watched Emmett Till. I watched Rodney King. I watched Philando Castile. All of their killers walked right out of court and was found, ultimately, not guilty of the crime that we all know they should have been found guilty of. So, this is no different here in this state. We are prepared for the worst and hoping for the best. And that’s the best I can do as far as this right here. I’m not going to beat myself up. I’m preparing for a not guilty verdict, to be honest with you.

AMY GOODMAN: And what will you do then?

REP. JOHN THOMPSON: I’ll go even harder. I’ll go even harder to create the change that we need to see in our community. Listen, there’s going to be another police-involved killing in this state this year, simply because we refuse to hear anything about police reform. You’ve got to think about — half of these people walked into George Floyd’s funeral with VIP tickets. They had these credentials. I’m talking about people in our legislative body. And then they walked right back into the state Capitol, and they gave us nothing on police reform. And that was on Juneteenth. Here we are, this day and age right now, right now in 2021, in April 2021, they’re still not giving us anything on police reform. They won’t even give us hearing. Right now they’re asking for $20 million in our legislative body to bring extra police here to prepare for this verdict, but we can’t even get $2 million for culturally intelligent tutors in our community.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much, Minnesota state Representative John Thompson, part of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus that’s called on fellow lawmakers in St. Paul to halt budget negotiations until police accountability laws are passed, saying reform cannot wait, and Nekima Levy Armstrong, civil rights attorney, activist and executive director of the Wayfinder Foundation.

Next up, the Sikh community is in mourning, after a gunman attacked a FedEx facility. Ninety percent of the people who work there are Sikh. This is the Indianapolis killing of eight people. Half of those killed were Sikh. Stay with us.

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