How St. Paul’s new reputation might’ve been avoided

Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic pretty much gets it right today in his assessment of the arrest of Chris Lollie, the man in the self-taken video who apparently violated a law that doesn’t exist when he sat down in the St. Paul Skyway (The First National Bank building was listed as the “victim” in the police report) while he waited for his kids to get out of daycare and then refused to tell the police his name.

You’ve probably seen the video (first posted on Twin Cities Daily Planet) of the January incident by now. But if not, here:

How could this have gone a little more decently?

Here’s Friedersdorf on what Officers Lori Hayne and Jeffrey Stiff might have done instead:

The female officer shown in the beginning of the video could easily have de-escalated the encounter by saying, “You’re right, sir, you have every right to refuse to show me identification, and if you’re just picking up your kids I’m so sorry to have bothered you. If you don’t mind, I just want to walk with you to confirm that your story checks out so I can inform the 911 caller of their error. That way we can make sure this never happens again when you’re just here to pick up your kids.”

Or she could’ve said, “Sir, I totally see why this is confusing–a lot of people would think so. Let me try to explain. That totally looks like a public seating area, but it’s actually private. Don’t you think they should have a sign saying so? Calling me may seem like an overreaction, but technically they can ask you to leave. You’re walking away now, so there’s actually no problem as long as you’re not going to go back. Are you? Okay, then we have no problem, have a wonderful day.”

This wasn’t a high pressure, life-or-death situation. Is a bit of cordiality in service of calming things down too much to ask?

Her failure to do the right thing pales in comparison to the male police officer, who appears on the scene, abruptly informs the increasingly and understandably distraught father that he’s going to jail–for what crime he does not say–and then, after the video goes black but audio coverage remains, proceeds to tase the man. “I didn’t do anything wrong!” he cries, “I didn’t break any laws and you tase me? That’s assault!” Even after being tased, the man is incredulous that he will be arrested, and it’s heartbreaking to listen as he realizes there will be no one to pick up his kids and that he’ll perhaps miss work at a job that he needs to support them.

It all took place in January but apparently was only uploaded this week because the police kept his cellphone for “evidence” until the charges against him were dismissed last month.

That it was returned with the video intact is about the only encouraging takeaway from the incident.

Ferguson, Missouri has opened plenty of eyes to the disconnect between cops — especially white cops — and African Americans and it is interesting to speculate whether this would’ve gone differently in the post-Ferguson world. Saint Paul police chief Tom Smith defended the officers.

As a result of this, Saint Paul is rapidly getting a bad national reputation.

At last check today, the First National Bank building was not being victimized by the ignominy of someone sitting down. And there is still no sign posted that the seats are only for employees in the building.